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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Obsessing Over Others

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Obsessing Over Others

Why do People Obsess Over Others?

As you become more fascinated, fixated, enamored and enchanted by the object of your desire -- as you basically obsess more and more about everything associated with this person, whether that be events, material goods, contacts -- you can be rest assured that you’re not going crazy. Simply put, you have your brain to blame, with experts reporting that reduced levels of the brain chemical serotonin may be related to your obsessive thinking. Studies have found that people tend to think about a desired one about 85% of their waking time, with “intrusive thinking” making it nearly impossible to think about anything or anyone else.  As your love affair becomes more intense, your focus shifts dramatically as you daydream more and more about your relationship, with your beloved coming before everything and everyone else in your life. Essentially, your crush takes on a “special meaning” for you as your all-important “love object.”  Even a loved one’s flaws warrant adoration, as you see your loved one through “rose-colored” glasses, and unconsciously choose to avoid conflicts at all costs, even in the face of sound logic and advice. 

Obsessing over and idealizing a loved one, and the relationship, are classic components of being in love. Research has found that this state of preoccupation and being oblivious or blind to the world actually leads to the suppression of activity in parts of the brain that are in charge of one’s critical or logical thinking. As someone “falls madly in love,” the brain suppresses the neural activity that is associated with one’s ability to critically assess others and negative emotions.And as Cupid’s victim falls even deeper in love, the situation becomes even more intensified with the craving of emotional union and physical closeness, as well as sexual arousal, aimed at the beloved. It is the sexual attraction that makes for an even more desirable love object, whose physical and personality traits become eroticized.Completely infatuated, even to the point of reckless behavior, the love smitten one wants nothing but to fulfill a constant desire to see, be with, talk to, and make love to a special one. This person wants nothing more than to become absorbed in the other, driven by a longing to take care of the beloved, yet ultimately for one’s own pleasure and desire fulfillment.

People will often describe being in love much like being on a euphoria-inducing drug. Indeed, the “symptoms” of falling madly in love, like dependency and craving, often mirror those of a drug addiction. Like all major addictions, passionate love for another is believed to be linked to increased levels of dopamine in the brain, explaining why those in love become so dependent upon their Romeo or Juliet and the relationship, as well as why they must absolutely have an emotional union with the other.  So addictive is love, the panic a lover feels when a love relationship seems threatened may be due to dopamine-producing cells focusing a person’s attention on saving the relationship. This boost in dopamine produces more stimulation, energy, and elation, including mania, for the brain, driving the lover in winning over the beloved. It also explains why a lover experiences a devastating depression, an amphetamine-like withdrawal, at the end of an intense love affair. 

While in some respects this practically drug-induced idealization and disillusionment may sound psychotic to anyone not in the love relationship, research has shown that these components of romantic love may actually make for an enjoyable, predictable, more long-term, interpersonal relationship. Driven by a vision, lovers may be better able to realize their desires when they share a positive illusion, that of unreasonably high expectations of the relationship and the image of one’s partner as perfect. Such couples also appear to have greater relationship satisfaction, and fewer conflicts and doubts about their couple-dom.

The cool thing is that the same brain processes that create obsessive thinking can help you nurture a relationship -- even one that is somewhat distressed. For example:

Tip #1: Want to increase feelings of love? Think of situations where you become emotionally aroused and physically active, e.g., while you’re exercising, dancing, or traveling, as studies have found that the more our bodies are already mimicking a state of sexual arousal, the greater our chances of finding another attractive.

Tip #2: Want to Increase your libido? In nurturing your love relationship, take care of what’s between your ears even more than what’s between your legs. Brain researchers, like Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Sex on the Brain, will tell you that healthy brain functioning makes for more loving and sexual relationships, whereas poor brain functioning is associated with greater fighting, less sex, and, not too surprisingly, divorce. After all, your brain is your biggest sex organ!

Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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