Passion: Dealing with love and desire

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

Passion: Dealing with love and desire

What is this passionate attraction between two people? That in-the-clouds feeling of wanting to see, do things with, make love to – just be with the beloved? That burst of energy when you see her. That heart palpitating pupil dilating feeling when he walks into the room.

You are fearless; you would do anything, say anything, and fight any battle for the loved one. The beloved is perfect, faultless, precious… angelic.

Okay, this may be a little over the top. These are the feelings of Limerance or romantic love. And it is associated with changes in your brain that make you focus your energy on one person. You are motivated to pursue this particular person, for the reward of intimacy and ownership – you fall in love with him or her.

The Bible recognises the power of love in Song of Songs (8:6-7)

For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.”

This falling in love phenomenon[1] is associated with a spray of the chemical Dopamine from areas in the brain associated with reward and motivation (the ventral tegmental area and caudate nucleus). Other chemical changes include an increase of Norepinephrine and a decrease in Serotonin. As Dopamine levels increase, it leads to the lover’s high of focused attention on the loved one, rearrangement of priorities, increased energy, mood swings, Norepinephrine increase brings on sweating and a pounding heart, emotional dependence and elevated sexual desire. The drop in Serotonin causes a mini obsessive compulsive state with feelings of sexual possessiveness, compulsive thinking about him or her, and a craving for emotional union with this one person. It pushes up the level of testosterone in the brain and makes you desire sexual intimacy with the loved one.

Other parts of your brain are affected. The part of the brain that determines feelings of fear (the Amygdala) is inhibited, as is the part of the cerebral cortex that influences our ability to make judgements. Anyone who has been in the throes of romantic love can understand it: Love is fearless. And yes – love is blind.

The power of love is also why rejection and failure in love can be truly ‘biologically’ painful. It can induce clinical depression and in extreme cases lead to suicide and/or homicide[2]. Being ‘in love’ is chemically like an addiction or obsession and like it; the loss is felt at a neurochemical and whole body level. Fortunately this love crazed phase lasts only 12-24 months. We wouldn’t survive it much longer.

The intense power of romantic love is also why we need to take care when and where we focus it. Falling in love should come with a ‘handle with care’ warning.

And that is what the Bible tells us to beware how we deal with this emotion. In the Song of Songs, three times (2:7; 3:5; 8:4) the woman exhorts her friends to take care when arousing the passions of desire and love:

Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

You need to be wise and very cautious in your response to the emotional rollercoaster of falling in love. Love is both affection (feeling, emotion) and action. The neurochemical cocktail will draw you to the beloved. You ‘fall’ in love. You are motivated to pursue the reward of intimacy with the beloved. This is the feeling, accompanied by the kick in the gut of testosterone driven sexual desire that sends your sex drive into a tail spin.

But as a human with a higher cerebral control system and the ability to choose your response – what you do to follow up the urge is up to you.

You can choose to follow the lustful path of immediate gratification. Else you can stop and let wisdom guide your next action. Loving actions of restraint and other focussed caring are a conscious choice.

This seems out of step with society which works on a ‘try before you buy’ relationship pattern when it comes to marriage. The world calls you to follow your feelings, if it feels good you should do it. You have a right to happiness. After all, you are engaged to be married – why wait?

Society’s consumerist model to relationships takes many forms. It includes everything from testing out sexual compatibility with a series of casual affairs; to a partly relational ‘friends with benefits’ status through to cohabitation. These relationships represent a sliding scale of commitment without the ‘till death do us part’ wedding vows.

Does following the world view of cohabitation and premarital sex bring contentment and happiness?

[1] Helen Fisher, Arthur Aron, and Lucy Brown, ‘Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Bulletin 361 (2006), 2173–2186.

[2] Helen E. Fisher, Lucy L. Brown, Arthur Aron, Greg Strong and Debra Mashek (2010) ‘Reward, Addiction, and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated With Rejection in Love’ Journal of Neurophysiology 104, 51-60.