Have you ever been in love? Are you in love? What did it? What made you fall in love?
The short answer is: your brain.
I’ve asked questions like this before, like “When did you know you were heterosexual?” and “Why did you get married?”, and usually they’re inspired by something I’m reading. The latter question came to mind while I was reading. What Is Marriage For? and Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, both of which, by the way, do an excellent job of tracing the history of marriage, how it developed and how it has changed during the course of human history. (And, lest anyone point out that “it’s always been a heterosexual institution,” I point to William Naphy’s Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality as one historical resource which suggests that hasn’t always been the case in all human societies and cultures, but that many recognized some form of same-sex or same-gender union).
This time it’s inspired by a book I just finished, Why We Love: The Nature And Chemistry Of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher. Besides reminding me another favorite book, A Natural History Of Love, I was impressed that Fisher included gays & lesbians in her survey of how we experience romantic love; especially in light of some recent studies and reports on the subject.
Fisher looks mostly at “the brain in love,” examining how various parts of the brain play a part in the various stages of romantic love and then theorizing about how and why human beings evolved to need romantic love. Unlike some people, she seems to assume that gays & lesbians love just like everyone else does,and that the only differences in love are due to the social barriers we have to overcome.
One of my unexpected survey results is almost certainly attributable to the role of adversity in love. Homosexual respondents, both gay men and lesbians, reported more emotional turmoil than did heterosexuals. These individuals were more bedeviled by insomnia, loss of appetite, and the yearning for emotional union with a beloved. I think this psychic distress occurs, at least in part, because of the social barriers that many homosexual lovers must surmount.So just try and find some free psychic reading online so you can deal with that.
Gays and lesbians in all cultures also feel romantic passion. As you may recall from chapter one, my questionnaire on romantic love showed that homosexuals experienced more of the “sweaty palm syndrome” than did other respondents. I feel sure these men and women carry in their brains exactly the same human wiring and chemistry for romantic love as everybody else. During development in the womb or during childhood, however, they acquire a different focus for their passion.
It doesn’t seem like such a radical idea, that gays and lesbians can and do love, but some people either don’t think we do, would rather we didn’t, and would prefer not to deal with it at all; like eHarmony which, Kip points out, href=”http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-05-18-eharmony_x.htm”>doesn’t match same-sex couples due to the founder’s conservative Christian beliefs. He has ties to Focus on the family. And I wonder if he has ties to Bob jones university too, since I’ve noticed that their commercials feature no interacial couples.
Oh, and in the commercials for their couples counseling service, it’s always the women who have to change in order to save or repair the marriage. But, for gay Christians there’s Rainbow Christians, formerly GayHarmony, connected to an interesting and apparently LGBTQ-friendly church. (And HanniDate for conservative-minded gay folks, I guess.) The hubby and I met via Love@AOL, which later became Match.Com and was always gay friendly.
Just this week I noticed a few instances in which it didn’t appear enter anyone’s mind as a a possibility. Like the prehistoric couple discovered in a lovers’ embrace recently.
Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua. The site is just 25 miles south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, as their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig.
“As far as we know, it’s unique,” Menotti told The Associated Press by telephone from Milan. “Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging.”
The burial site was located Monday during construction work for a factory building in the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.
The archaeologist did admit that “the Romeo and Juliet possibility is just one of many,” but the general assumption is that the couple is a man and a woman. And maybe we’ll find out for sure. I don’t know how they can determine the genders of the two skeletons, but if DNA testing can determine whether the two are related maybe it can reveal whether the couple is heterosexual or same-sex. Like the boys at Queerty, I like to think that it’s a male couple; but like one of their commenters, I think if the skeletons are two males, they’ll be described as warriors locked in a “struggle to mutual death.” Because, let’s face it, ours is a culture that can accept two men killing each other more easily than two men kissing each other. In fact, we’d prefer the former to the latter most of the time. (One word: Westerns.)
Either way, as a writer I can’t think of this discovery without wondering what they story was, and a same-sex Neolithic romance isn’t entirely out of the question. In Born to be Gay, William Naphy references prehistoric rock paintings depicting same-sex activity, left behind by the Africa’s San people. But Naphy’s history doesn’t just concern itself with sexual activity. It’s also a history of same-sex romantic relationships, and how most (pre-colonial, pre-Christian) societies fit those relationships and the same-sex oriented individuals in them into acceptable cultural niches; from the Japanese tradition of shudo to the two-spirit life in Native American cultures.
Besides, if Fisher and others are correct that romantic love is hardwired in the brain, then of course we also love. After all, we have brains too. Fisher did MRI scans of people in love (and people who’d been recently dumped), to see what areas of the brain were involved.
Close your eyes for a minute and envision all the romantic parts of the human body.
Her beautiful eyes. His strong shoulders. We’ll stop there, but you go right ahead and think about all the body parts you want.
Bet you didn’t think about the caudate and the ventral tegmental areas, did you?
These areas of the brain, while little known to most people, are helping scientists explain the physiological reasons behind why we feel what we feel when we fall in love.
By studying MRI brain scans of people newly in love, scientists are learning a lot about the science of love: Why love is so powerful, and why being rejected is so horribly painful.
In a group of experiments, Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and her colleagues did MRI brain scans on college students who were in the throes of new love.
While being scanned, the students looked at a photo of their beloved. The scientists found that the caudate area of the brain — which is involved in cravings — became very active. Another area that lit up: the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation.
The CNN article doesn’t mention any gay or lesbian participants in the study, but we have Fisher’s quotes above which suggest that the same thing happens in our brains as everyone else’s, just with a different focus. And there’s a difference between the brain in love and the “brain in lust.”
Scientists then wondered: Does a brain in love look much like a sexually stimulated brain? After all, we associate love and sex and sometimes confuse them.
The answer is: Brains in love and brains in lust don’t look too much alike.
In studies when researchers showed erotic photos to people as they underwent brain scans, they found activity in the hypothalamus and amygdala areas of the brain. The hypothalamus controls drives like hunger and thirst and the amygdala handles arousal, among other things.
In the studies of people in love, “we didn’t find activity in either,” according to Dr. Fisher, an anthropologist and author of “Why We Love — the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.”
“We now have physiological data that suggests there are different brain systems for sex and love,” says Dr. Fisher.
The study suggests that there are differences between men’s and women’s brains, when it comes to love. FIsher says a man’s evolutionary mission is to spread his “seed” and that won’t work if he mates with, say, and 80 year old (someone should tell that to the 84 year old grandmother who had sex with an 11 year old boy), while women size up a male to see if he’ll be a good mate and provider. And we already know there are some brain differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals. There’s some slight brain difference between homosexual and heterosexual men. A couple of years ago a similar brain difference was found between homosexual and heterosexual rams, and ended up causing a storm of controversy in the blogosphere. And tampering with a particular gene changes a fruit fly’s sexual orientation.
Of course, for most of us it’s not about grey matter and pulsating glands. At least not immediately. It’s that first glance from across the room, or an impressive show of strength, brilliance, kindness, gentleness, or generosity — or any number of other qualities — that makes us fall in love, over and over again in a lot of cases. And according to Fisher, it’s also an evolutionary imperative that started developing the first time one of our ancestors stood up on two feet, and continued to evolve along with us as a necessary means of facilitating reproduction and sustaining an offspring until it’s old enough to be less helpless and easier to manage.
But, where does that leave same sex-oriented individuals who “can’t reproduce” with their same-sex partners? Well, if you believe in the primacy of reproduction as the passage of the individuals’ genes to the next generation, then there doesn’t seem to be much of a point. The brain functions that made me fall in love with my husband may have been the product of evolution, but since our coupling doesn’t produce our genetic offspring, we’re a biological and evolutionary “dead end;” pointless and purposeless when it comes to propagating the species.
Or are we? Fischer doesn’t venture down that path in her book, except to say that gay and lesbians “brains in love” are pretty much the same as heterosexual brains; with the same drives, desires, and responses — just to different stimuli. Either those highly evolved brains of ours are misfiring, or there’s something else at work. After all, if homosexuality were an “evolutionary dead end,” and ultimately detrimental to a species, it would have died out long ago. But people like Bruce Bagemihl in Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity have shown that same-sex activity occurs in numerous species on levels ranging from genital play and mounting to courtship and pair-bonding’ and has probably always occurred in several species, suggesting that it’s either harmless in an evolutionary sense, or harmless if present in a small percentage of a population whereas it might be detrimental in larger percentages.
And then there are those pre-historic paintings from the San people, and maybe — depending on those DNA tests, if DNA can be extracted from their well-preserved teeth — our recently discovered star-crossed prehistoric lovers, as well as countless legends and histories which show that same-sex activity and same-sex oriented individuals have probably always been part of our species, and as our ancestors evolved and formed their own cultures, they evolved responses to those individuals which afforded them places in their societies. (“Traditional values” are rather recently evolved and, in the bigger picture, not traditional at all.)
In Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, Joan Roughgarden draws on studies of same-sex behavior and bonding in various species (particularly fish), and gender-shifting, theorizing about the reasons those species may have evolved that way, including increasing the reproductive possibilities of the group (as opposed to the individual) and increasing the likelihood of group offspring survival by participating in their upbringing, without having the added burden of reproducing themselves. Other theories include the possibility that members of the group or species who are unburdened by reproductive responsibilities may contribute to the care and longevity of other members, thus benefiting the group. It’s also been theorized that it’s simply one of nature’s methods of population control
Or, i said to the hubby earlier today, in another era — one with fewer options for same-sex oriented individuals in Western Christian culture — I would have been the son who never married and moved away, but stayed home and cared for aging parents, or the “confirmed bachelor” who devoted himself to religious, academic, or scientific pursuits as a calling and an an acceptable substitute for passion (i.e. “he’s married to his work”); like George Washington Carver, for example. I’d have had my counterpart in the spinster aunt who nursed and babysat everyone else’s children and care for elderly or ailing relatives. And if I loved, it would probably have been from afar, and unrequited. And if it were returned, if I were lucky enough to find another like myself, it would have remained secret.
Instead, nearly seven years ago I walked into the living room of my then-apartment, returning from the kitchen where I’d gone to get us some drinks, to find my then-boyfriend sitting the floor by the couch, thumbing through my old magazines. I stopped and looked at him for a moment, and something just happened. I felt warm, and happy, and realized I wanted him to always be there. Maybe it was his kindness, or his gentleness. Maybe it was his generosity, or that we shared similar values, and many laughs because we shared a similar sense of humor. Maybe it was just how happy he made me, and seeing how happy he was with me. Maybe it was just discovering a capacity to love that I didn’t realize I had, and finding something I didn’t think would be possible when I came out back in my teens.
Or maybe it was a rush of dopamine from a brain evolved to make sure I’d want him to stay, and that he’d want to stay; the same one that fires up when I look at the family picture I keep on my desk at work or hear a song that reminds me of my husband, or when I’m coming home from work and see my husband and son arriving at home before they see me,
I’d prefer to think it was all the stuff I mentioned before, rather than mere chemical reactions in my brain. But honestly, I don’t care. I’m just glad it worked.
So, what worked for you? What made you fall in love? A chemical reaction? Or something else?