Test 2

Please select your preferred language.





Remember Me

New to Fridae?

Fridae Mobile


More About Us

13 Feb 2009

Love is dope

Depending on circumstances, Valentine's Day is either a time to celebrate the one you love, or it is yet another time of the year that excessive commercialisation of sexuality and romance in movies, ads, and chocolate specialty shops all lead to anxiety about being single... writes Shinen Wong.

I will be honest with you: I do not believe in lasting love. Perhaps this sounds cynical. However, I am suggesting actually that it is our obsession with perfection and permanence in love that is our root cause of our suffering in relationships. I believe that there is a virtue in relinquishing our attachment to perfection and permanence, without compromising the possibility for longevity in our romantic relationships.

Scientists have been able to trace the experience of being in love to several chemicals in the body. These chemicals are known as "neurotransmitters." I loosely define neurotransmitters as chemicals that transmit certain types of messages in the brain, which biochemically influence our emotions and behaviour in the world. The two neurotransmitters I want to focus on in distinguishing between types of romantic/sexual relationships are dopamine and oxytocin.

I want to focus on the impact that these two neurotransmitters have on the types of love we experience, and by extension, the types of relationships we cultivate. I will also end the article with a suggestion on how to mediate between these two different types of neurotransmitters, so that the relationships we ultimately have with our partners are as fulfilling as we would like them to be.

Dopamine Relationships
When levels of the dopamine neurotransmitter in our brains are high, we often experience this as a rush of energy, pleasure, confidence, increased motivation to do things, sexual desire, and less self-consciousness. The experience of falling in love for the first time, what many people retrospectively speak of as "puppy love," can be partially attributed to the release of the dopamine neurotransmitter in the brain.

Many things affect levels of dopamine. "Extreme" sports such as hang gliding, mountain climbing, and bungee jumping spike up our levels of dopamine. The use of stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and even caffeine (of which coffee is the most famous source) also increase levels of dopamine in the brain. The thrill and euphoria associated with these sports and drugs are directly related to the spike in levels of dopamine that they instigate.

The flip side to these things is that dopamine is also the neurotransmitter most implicated in the experience of addiction. For example, if you drink coffee, you may already understand how difficult it is to give it up. While coffee is often associated with many positive things (increased energy, increased ability to work, sustain attention, have good conversation, etc.), it is actually physically addictive, in part because of the effects of caffeine on the dopamine system in our brains. Part of the reason why people engage in extreme sports and stimulant drug use is because the experience of "reward" that comes from the spike in dopamine levels is so intense that when the dopamine levels begin to crash, we often experience equally intensely the symptoms of withdrawal, such as lethargy, anxiety, aggression, frustration, and anhedonia (an inability to experience pleasure from other sources), which inevitably lead to a wish to repeat the experience to feel the positive effects again. People who have engaged regularly in extreme sports report bouts of depression after the euphoria subsides, and people who abuse methamphetamine and cocaine (often smoking/snorting these drugs repeatedly in 15 minute intervals) often find these experiences so intense and pleasurable that it develops into a full blown addiction and pathology, endangering their lives and their relationships with others.

Let's face it: New relationships also tend to have this effect! Often, we are so driven by our lust for our new partner, our imagined thoughts of bliss that come from "being with someone forever," that we have increased self-confidence, energy, and sexual excitement even simply by thinking about them, or receiving their phonecall. Like the abuse of stimulant drugs, which affects our dopamine levels in similar ways, we sometimes start to neglect our other friends, our work, and everything else, simply to be closer to the object of our love. Many of the patterns of behaviour that come from exploring new relationships (such as checking our phone incessantly to see if they have text messaged, or calling them every 15 minutes, or literally jittering in obsessive and paranoid thoughts wondering if they like us as much as we like them) are not unlike the patterns of behaviour exhibited by people addicted to certain substances.

Chemically, both the thrill of new relationships as well as the indulgence in stimulant drugs have analogous effects in stimulating dopamine levels in the body. They both propel us to states of heightened confidence, sexual motivation, energy, excitement, and both give us this party illusion, false hopes that they will never end. However, as our relationships develop, we became habituated to their company, and hence, it seems to take more and more of the same person to reach the same level of stimulation necessary for the experience of the high. We wax nostalgic for how we felt at the beginning of the relationship, when everything was exciting and mind-altering, when everything was "perfect" and nothing seemed to be wrong. When a relationship loses its original "high," this is when people start engaging in disturbing patterns of behaviour, such as passionate argument, physical abuse, and cycles of breaking up and getting back together. These patterns often come from our ambivalence about a relationship that has lost its thrill, and our addiction to the "cocaine" of the early dopamine high that our relationship used to embody.

Just because all this happens does not mean that I believe that pursuing a new relationship is "wrong," but only that, if we are truly to seek longevity in our relationships, we must move from a "dopamine-based" motivation in seeking relationships, into an "oxytocin-based" motivation.

Oxytocin Relationships
People sometimes joke that chocolate is a good substitute for love. There may be a chemical basis for this! The low-levels of caffeine in chocolate increase our dopamine levels (which, as I mentioned earlier, is implicated in feelings of mild euphoria), while other chemicals and fats present in the chocolate actually stimulate the body's production of other "feel-good" neurotransmitters. One of them is oxytocin.

Oxytocin is another neurotransmitter and is also a hormone, associated with the experience of love. Unlike dopamine, oxytocin is associated with stability, lowered anxiety levels, calm and trust, in contrast to the wild and feverish excitement of dopamine. Also unlike dopamine, which correlates with increased blood pressure, oxytocin actually decreases blood pressure, or at least tends to veer blood pressure toward equilibrium.

The first brush with oxytocin usually comes in our infancy; both mother and child release huge levels of oxytocin in the experience of childbirth and breastfeeding, which bond them to one another. Oxytocin levels in our bodies are also measurably high when we are in the company of close friends. And most importantly for this Valentine's Day article, oxytocin levels are measurably high between loving couples who have been together for a long time.

It seems odd that a hormone so associated with long lasting romantic love can be found not only exclusively in romantic relationships, but in our relationships to our parents and our friends! This goes to show that our ability to experience love in our romantic lifes is at least partially contingent on our commitment to deriving social support from a variety of sources, not just one single person. When we have positive relationships with our family and friends, we are freer to explore romance beyond the escapist addiction to dopamine-surged beginnings. We are freer to give and receive love from a partner if we already feel an abundance of love in our lives.

So how?
There is nothing wrong with the experience of dopamine-love, of course. I believe that throughout our relationships, it is important to engage in activities with each other that increase both our dopamine levels as well as our oxytocin levels. We can pick up a sport together, make love with each other, go on a holiday together, etc. All of these activities help us in increasing our levels of stimulation (dopamine) while being vulnerable together in a shared activity helps bond us in our unique relationship to one another (oxytocin). However, one of the fundamental delusions we have about relationships is this: The more time we spend together, the better. Often, what we need in relationships as often as we spend time together, is learning how to spend quality time apart. This, for one, helps to temper some of the experience of being carried away by our "dopamine addiction."

We need time and space apart, not just physically, but psychologically. We need time to breathe, time to devote to the other relationships in our life; our families, our work, our friends. Often, we are so preoccupied with deriving our One, our Only, our All, our Everything from our Relationship (with capital "R") with our partner, that we forget that we are composed of a lot more than just our sexuality. Every relationship is as much defined by the moments we are together as by the moments we are apart.

Just as in a healthy diet, we need a variety of sources of nutrition (fruits and vegetables for vitamins/minerals, whole grains for carbohydrates, lean meats/beans/nuts for proteins). Similarly, in a healthy diet of human relationships, we need a variety of sources of social interaction, with family, with friends, with work colleagues, with ourselves, and of course, with our partners.

Because, let's face it: If we only eat meat, we will get really sick.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Malaysia-born and Singapore-bred Shinen Wong is currently getting settled in Sydney, Australia after moving from the United States, having attended college in Hanover, New Hampshire, and working in San Francisco for a year after. In his fortnightly "Been Queer. Done That" column, Wong will explore gender, sexuality, and queer cultures based on personal anecdotes, sweeping generalisations and his incomprehensible libido.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-02-14 02:08  
What Shinen Wong has written is factually very accurate, but lacks depth. Further, the style and flow are unsuited to journalistic articles, where conciseness, clarity and impact are paramount. The article is too long, too repetitive and too saturated with scientific jargon to be a good read. Given that he seems to be more engaging when writing articles less heavily dependent on specialist knowledge, I suggest he keep to them.
Comment #2 was deleted by its author
3. 2009-02-14 08:53  
I actually enjoyed reading the article. It makes perfect sense (well ok I have the advantage of being a medic, so the jargons arent really foreign to me)

A lot of us are so obsessed with 'the one' that we keep forgetting of the other things that matter as well!

And for the 2 commenters b4 me - why not take the key messages at the end of the article instead of dismissing it all together?
4. 2009-02-14 11:07  
Ahh I was like.. Oh no when I first started to read this article (as with most articles of this nature...but tbh I think Shinen has produced a lot of good articles in the past, even if I dissagreed or not.. they still had some very good basis and levels of understanding)

and... well I really liked this article! :D

Need I say more?

(helps when the jargon makes sense, I agree

I have always said.. Time together is as important as time apart! (not that I would spend time apart for the sake of it lol! or that its easy!)...nice to be proven Im not one of a estimated smaller minority :3

Lol.... I think some of the comments made on here... sooo take the article out of context... maybe its more theory based because he is wrote it for Fridae... Im happy to have him here... and its not like you were forced to read it lol... Plus what he is writing is something that he thinks and feels... he didnt claim to know it all.. just to have researched it...Like most other articles posted here!

The article is relvent to those who care...also its not like you cant research the jargon on the internet! Im 19 and I understand it perfectly...
5. 2009-02-14 11:59  
Great article, but using a scientific view to analyse and to "anatominize" the great power of love... i think it's just sad.

I mean, example, let's take a couple who has been married for a blessing of 30 or 40 years. Are you saying their love, the hardships they faced, effort, devotion, their dedicated lives and till death do us part vow is jus a couple of neurotransmitters controling n determining their emotions, actions and thoughts?

hey, no offense, i think its great tat this article was posted. just sad that i've now know where the feeling of love for my hubby comes from and that i've read it...

6. 2009-02-14 12:46  
Yes keong_star, that is exactly the case. The human brain, or in fact any brain, is just a couple of million (or billion) neurotransmitters controling in determining the emotions, actions and thoughts of any living being. While it might not be as romantic as you hoped the science has proven this to be the case.
7. 2009-02-14 12:56  
tears....a hug....a kiss....feelings...a mere thought. All these events release chemicals into our bloodstreams which reach our brains that cause temporary or permanent physiological changes in our bodies. This is the way we were designed. This is how we are evolving. We are all biological machines, with the gifts of independent thought and self-awareness. (gifts from where/whom?). The COMMENTS are getting better and better...very entertaining and very revealing. I love lanying's comment that even he, a young squirt of a teenager knows how to research the internet to grasp the scientific jargon....instead of complaining about the excessive use of jargon, the internet empowered him to research, learn and grow. Way to go Mr. Shinen Wong...you know how to stimulate and provoke.
8. 2009-02-14 14:03  
wow. this is a very well-written piece. bravo!
Comment #9 was deleted by its author
Comment #10 was deleted by its author
11. 2009-02-14 18:20  
Great stuff. And even better because it's here on Fridae, the world's only gay site where you can find guys who post sickly sweet sentiments about love and pics of cuddly toys in their profiles. Let's just hope that a little dose of science will help cure the "inner schoolgirl" in some of you.

I'd just like to add that there are significant differences in the brain chemistry of men and women. Testosterone tends to dramatically shorten the effects of the attachment hormone (ocytocin) while estrogen prolongs it. That's why lesbians have a much better chance at long-term relationships than gay guys.

For men, the maximum shelf life of passion is 2 years, 4 months, 2 months, 3 weeks, 6 days and 12 hours. :) But that's the maximum! the average is, oh, an hour or so. For many guys, the best chance for having a really long term relationship is to suppress testosterone levels.

And now for a little skating on very thin ice. And for a little fun with you more earnest, prickly types. (Tongue firmly in cheek). Some researchers argue that a more or less "feminine" or attachment-prone version of sexuality can be promoted by culture, notably the confucist traditions that condemn man's animal (i.e. sexual) instincts. Although it sounds nutty, diet can also make such a message more digestible in some cultures than in others. High concentration of phytoestrogens in soy products can introduce compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen on bio-chemistry and may therefore allow a higher level of oxytocins in Asian males than men in other cultures where typical diets do not include soy products. So guys, if you want to find love everlasting, choose a guy who's addicted to tofu. :) Me, I'm going for the soy-free slut
12. 2009-02-14 22:15  
go tofu! :3

heh, well to be honest... its not really degrading that you can put it to a chemical level..even if it is a bit sad.... But everything has a reason. I agree with keong_star... but you still felt it right... you could have felt it with someone else but you didnt... so you can still be grateful and love you hubby for that.

I dont think its just chemicals that factor into all of this... its everything... "Nothing is !oh so black and white" or Oxytocin or Dopamine. You still experiance and share memories... you still met eachother at a certain time.... you both learnt the lessons that brought you together... dosnt that show that it is still special and unquie... you beat everything agaisnt all odds.
Hah, I maybe 19... but lessons come at a price, I already knew of Oxytocin and Dopamine (however I did research to make sure I got them right). Point is...people whine about Shinens articles.. when really what he is doing is posting pholosophical theories and a well educated and researched theory from his pospective... Im kinda grateful...exactly for the reason he is "peddeling" it here, because you cant get it in other places as easy! And its these kind of debates that cause you to question, research and explore/think and understand further!

Comment #13 was deleted by its author
14. 2009-02-15 15:49  
pretty insightful n enlightening article..keep it up!
15. 2009-02-15 16:37  
there are relationships and then, there are real-tionships.

some produce nice chemicals...

some leave you crying when you wake up after 10 years it became history.
Comment #16 was deleted by its author
Comment #17 was deleted by its author
18. 2009-02-15 20:00  
Post #8 pheramones says (Posted : 14 February 2009 18:20) : "That's why lesbians have a much better chance at long-term relationships than gay guys."

I- a lesbian female- politely disagree. :p
19. 2009-02-16 09:56  
We need to beat all odds and believe in everlasting love. It takes two hands to clap. I know it's easy said than done.

In any relationship , we need to go beyond the physical attributes. After sex , what's next ..we cannot bang on relationship just on sex and physical attraction all the time.

Our relationship got to go beyond that. The reasons why most gay relationship hardly last is because of the weak link. Nothing is good for us after the sex is over. It's sad but true. We always have this mentality , the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. We only realise it just the same old shit after we have crossed over. It's sad but true for most of us.

We live once , why can't we just enjoy life simple pleasures and live with the one we have picked till death do us part ...I know it sounds silly and cynical. BUt if we don't even try ...how to last ???

I know what I have shared here will ruffled few feathers but we just have to bite the bullet and go on. What is good of us going from bed to bed ????? IT;s like prostitution. Very crass and very degrading. My 2 cents.
20. 2009-02-16 10:25  
Sensible, sensitive n v readable.
Possibly ur best so far.
Well done mate!
Keep it up (pun intended,haha).

Comment #21 was deleted by its author
22. 2009-02-16 11:15  
ah...love- my fav topic!
Maybe bcos I'm a Libra...:p
Yeah, sometimes it's really great to have someone thinking of you, pampering you, treating u like royalty...don't we all love that? But for me, there MUST be physical chemistry & passion with the person otherwise it's a complete waste of time getting involved at all.
23. 2009-02-16 11:48  
If anyone is interested in seeing the presentation this article was copied from, see Helen Fisher at TED:

Comment #24 was deleted by its author
25. 2009-02-16 13:57  
shame on you shinen wong.

I suppose this is not the first time you are copying.and i am glad that Livewire caught you red handed!

Please remember that if that is not your text, please reference it. Do not credit what is not belongs to you.

If this artcile is paid, i suggest, Fridae Management should asked for refund.

Do not use "i" when that thought is not from you!
26. 2009-02-16 14:34  
I've heard the whole speech by Helen Fisher and there's nothing there to suggest that unless you mean the mere mention of Dopamine, romance and love.

livewire and imoriental, can you indicate which part of the speech was a rip -off?
27. 2009-02-16 15:35  
i'm with you, kellen... it's kinda pissy for livewire and imoriental to slam Shinen with such mean-spirited and downright wrong accusations... and yeah, i've listened to helen fisher (who is one of at least 100 authors dealing with the same topic of the bio-chemical bases of human emotions)... verdict: shinen did not copy... maybe apologies from livewire and imoriental are in order.
Comment #28 was deleted by its author
29. 2009-02-17 06:37  
@Kellen -- Wong is not a neuroscientist, therefore everything in this article is necessarily second-hand knowledge, but he cites not a single source, not even in journalistic style. I've expressed the same concern about his earlier work on 'straight acting' men and heteronormativity. The overall impression left is that he's the originator of these ideas, and for your information that's just as bad as outright word-for-word plagiarism. Helen Fisher's work, summarised in a nutshell, is about dopamine and romantic love, and the substance here is the same.
Comment #30 was deleted by its author
Comment #31 was deleted by its author
Comment #32 was deleted by its author
33. 2009-02-17 14:44  
Geez, so Shinen could have mentioned Helen Fisher but he didn't and just said: "Scientists have been able to trace the experience of being in love to several chemicals in the body..."

I don't think any of us are led into thinking that Shinen personally did research about dopamine and oxytocin...
34. 2009-02-17 21:50  
@Kellen -- I'm not a citation queen and I certainly don't think he needs to provide sources for the idea that dopamine is a feelgood chemical or that an excess of it produces crazy/druggy behaviour and thinking patterns.

But the specific link between that, on the one hand, and romantic love on the other, was established by Helen Fisher using fMRI studies. She's not some obscure scientist publishing in closed-access journals; she's a fucking rockstar, utterly unavoidable in Google results, and everything Wong presents here is attributable to her work.

Except for the bits he gets - inevitably - wrong, such as his section on oxytocin, which actually replaces the crazy-in-love dopamine-induced feeling of a new relationship and sustains a slower burning, longer-term, family-like love.
35. 2009-02-19 12:56  
wow - what a great article. I am so happy to read about developing a balanced approach to relationships. Modern culture is so caught up on presenting the siginficance of sexual relationships as the primary source of love and stability. As Shinen suggests, romantic love is a great and healthy thing, but only when it is part of a greater whole, and not when it turns into a dependency on dopamine. And once again, the article has ended on a funny note, leaving me in stitches..........

Also, I like the way Shinen has acknowledged at the begining of the article that "Scientists have been able to trace the experience of being in love to several chemicals in the body". This really sets the context of the discussion on dopamine and oxytocin as the work of previous scientists, avoiding him taking credit as it being his own discovery.
Comment #36 was deleted by its author
Comment #37 was deleted by its author
Comment #38 was deleted by its author
Comment #39 was deleted by its author
Comment #40 was deleted by its author
41. 2009-02-26 22:56  
Looks like a bit of DAMAGE CONTROL to me...alas, too little too late.

Please log in to use this feature.


Select News Edition

Featured Profiles

Now ALL members can view unlimited profiles!


View this page in a different language:

Like Us on Facebook


 ILGA Asia - Fridae partner for LGBT rights in Asia IGLHRC - Fridae Partner for LGBT rights in Asia