Gaydar*
 

The Love Drug


When you look across a crowded room and spot that hot guy often you think you found the man of your dreams. Usually, it is lust that you are feeling—a purely sexual sensation, until you start to talk to him and get to know him. And suddenly you fall into romantic love.

Our society focuses primarily on romantic love and calls it real love. Movies, books, songs on the radio, television all make us feel that if we cannot sustain this feeling, then we’ve “fallen out of love.” Many believe that this rapturous emotion should never end and that keeping the “high” of the connection going should require little to no work at all. That’s just not so. If you two are lucky, this physiological state of infatuation lasts from six to 18 months, tops.

For most people, romantic love is the best part of their relationship. With the selection process in the hunt for love seemingly over, it’s so easy to just lie back and enjoy the ecstatic feelings and the bonding experience. But as an emotional experience, romantic love is simply the doorway to any relationship. Its main purpose is to bring two people together in an emotional “time out” when both partners can feel their sameness, overlook their differences and experience a feeling of euphoria.

Romantic love is nature’s anesthesia. During this stage, people often say they feel drugged. If depressed, they report being less so. If suffering from an addiction, they will experience a diminished craving or feel entirely “cured.” Love’s a stimulant, too: Someone who needs a lot of sleep finds he can suddenly operate on less. And a sluggish sex drive it will ratchet up to match a partner’s higher libido.

The sense of elation, exhilaration and euphoria that new lovers feel is mostly due to their bodies producing a natural amphetamine called phenylethylamine (PEA). So, yes, if you feel drugged, it’s because you are! Most people don’t know that as we fall in romantic love, nature floods us with chemical cousins of amphetamines like PEA, dopamine, norepinephrine—all natural stimulants and painkillers. When PEA is first released, it is actually at its most potent state, which is why people never forget their first loves. This is also what promotes addictions to sex and love, in people who are constantly seeking to access this natural high. The problem, just as with most other addictions, is that each time it’s released, it becomes less and less powerful and lasts for a shorter period of time. But it’s not meant to last. Again, its only purpose is to connect two people to begin the bonding process.

We gay men cherish this time even more than our heterosexual counterparts do, since we’re so often warned that we’ll never find love, that the gay culture is based on promiscuity and short-term hook-ups. So when romantic love hits, it’s like a long-forgotten uncle remembered you in his will.

Alas, it’s only a temporary state that's supposed to end. But people, not knowing this, do all they can to keep it from ending. Some people break it off just to make up again and reactivate those early feelings, plus the PEA. Others use drugs and alcohol to try and make the feeling to stay around—or at least, replace it. Still others decide that relationships “shouldn’t be so much work,” so they dissolve it in disillusionment—or else they have sex with others to bring back that PEA feeling. Too many gay men see the inevitable twilight of romantic love as like confirmation that we cannot enjoy sustained love, that the heterosexists and homophobes were right. But this is another misconception. They are not right, and that’s not so.

Some cultures (India’s, for example, where arranged marriages are still the norm) don’t even aspire to limerence, because they’re aware that it’s not based on reality. If you find a guy who you think is the man of your dreams, just understand that real love involves three stages; and that your first two years together are not necessarily a positive indicator that he’s the right one for you. It’s good to enjoy PEA, as long as you understand that it’s not what real love is all about. This is important because if you go with your feelings while high on PEA, the stage of romantic love ends, you could walk away from the relationship of your dreams.

©2009 by Joe Kort

Related: Issues, Books

Psychotherapist Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills. He also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and columns have appeared in The Detroit Free Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and other publications. Besides providing therapy for individuals and couples, he conducts a number of groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their Lives and 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love. www.joekort.com or E-Mail

* Gaydar (gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular feature where gay readers can discover the many questions and hassles their straight counterparts--and themselves--must face!



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