The Science Of Love Sickness: How It Affects Your Body
They don’t call it a ‘sickness’ for nothing.
Falling in love is a wonderfully sublime experience. It’s right up there with chocolate, Zac Efron, and binge watching Masters of Sex. You’ve finally found ‘the one’, the extraordinary person you just know you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with. Even if you’re not in a relationship, you’re sure you two are destined to be together. It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s a delectable state of being.
At least that’s what they tell you on Gossip Girl. What they neglect to mention though, are a certain troupe of, erm, symptoms, and I’m not talking fantasies about Titanic with Leo charming up a storm.
Here’s the thing about falling in love. It’s actually not all that fun. In fact, it’s not even good for you. You’ll feel sick to your stomach, anxious all the time, and unable to sleep for more than two hours a night. You’re susceptible to inexplicable fits of tears, weird Facebook-related compulsions, and so mentally preoccupied with this one person you’re likely to lose friends over it. I’m talking, of course, about love sickness.
Contrary to popular belief, love sickness isn’t some cringe-worthy word invented by Shakespeare or Lord Byron to explain away an excess of emotion. It’s actually a mental condition, and has been studied as a disease. If left unchecked, it can lead to mood swings, depression and even obsessive compulsive disorder. So if you’ve got chronic feels for some guy you’ve only known for two days, don’t feel bad. You’re not being a sappy romantic. You are literally responding to what your biochemistry is dictating.
Coined by Dr. Dorothy Tennov in 1979, limerance describes what human beings have known for centuries; falling in love makes us go completely insane. Freud had it right when he asked rhetorically in 1915, “Isn’t what we mean by ‘falling in love’ a kind of sickness and craziness, an illusion, a blindness to what the loved person is really like?”
In short, love is blind, love is bold, and it’s out to make our lives miserable. Therefore, if you’re feeling nauseous, stressed, inexplicably happy or chronically miserable, or you’ve completely lost your appetite, you can blame limerance.
Sexual health therapist and relationship counsellor Desiree Spierings sees the effects of limerance all the time.
“When we first fall in love, hormones in the back of the brain start to increase. These are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which have very potent emotional and physiological effects. They make you see that person as more desirable than they really are.”
A case of rose-hued glasses
Ever noticed how the object of your fixation is always completely flaw-free? There’s a psychological reason for that. Excesses of feelgood hormones released during love sickness cause us to focus entirely on the good, skipping over the not-so-good (read: the fact he scratches his balls in public) altogether.
“You truly believe there is nothing wrong with them, want to be in their presence constantly, and have the urge to have sex with them at any opportunity you can,” explains Desiree.
The increase in dopamine that occurs in the brain as a result of lustful obsession is similar to that released from recreational drugs, so it will make you want to do all sorts of weird and wacky things to spend as much time with your stallion as possible. You will call in sick, spontaneously spend a fortune to travel across the world, and forget your friends and family. Everything is secondary to your newfound love. And it’s super-duper irritating.
So why does love have this cataclysmic effect? Why on God’s green earth would the universe subject us to this torture? The reason is purely primal. It’s nature’s rather cruel way of bringing people together to potentially procreate.
The good news
Thankfully, you’re not doomed to walk the halls of maniacal moochiness for the rest of your life. According to Spierings, limerance is temporary.
“It obviously can’t last, because think about it; no one would ever go to work again! With familiarity, the hormones decrease, and you will see that person for who they really are. Flaws included. If there’s enough love between you, you will stay with them, and the hormones will mix into a different cocktail.”
This new cocktail involves an increase in oxytocin, also referred to as the ‘cuddling hormone’. It creates feelings of bonding and commitment, and is a primal influence to raise a family in a secure and safe setting. Convenient, right?
Perhaps. But in today’s society, with the divorce rate higher than ever and social media ruining pretty much everything about dating, the unfortunate truth is, few make it all the way together anymore. And breakups can spell disaster for your physical self. The hormonal stronghold has been so dominant, it makes separation from your lost love akin to coming off a drug high.
“Love is like an addiction,” says Spierings.
“Thanks to dopamine, your brain is telling you in order to survive, you need to be with this person. Not getting that next fix can actually result in a huge amount of physical pain.”
So when people tell you love hurts, they’re actually being serious.
But regardless of its pitfalls, as humans, we’re designed to pursue love at all costs, and when we do find it, there’s nothing more extraordinary. But a word of advice; if you believe in love at first sight, don’t start waxing philosophic about Romeo and Juliet. Remember, they lasted three days and everybody died.
Comment: Have you ever done something totally crazy as a result of love sickness?