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Why are we Fools for Love?

If you’re not personally familiar with the feeling, it’s a pretty sure bet you know someone who has simply acted like a fool when they were in love. It could be a middle-aged man who leaves his supportive and beautiful wife for someone half her age, who may well strongly resemble how she looked 20 years ago. Or maybe it’s a woman who has her life together in every way—good job, great friends—but time after time, she falls in love and has affairs with married men. And despite any amount of thoughtful discussion, concern, and care from their friends, these “fools in love” almost seem to, at least temporarily, take leave of their senses.

Throughout generations, the experience of falling in love has often been likened to some aspect of mental illness: a fool in love, crazy in love, lovesick, or madly in love. Loss of reason, obsessive desire, lack of self-control, and unwillingness to deny or defer gratification are commonalities between the experience of falling in love and symptoms of certain mental disorders, notably addiction. People can become every bit as obsessed with the experience of falling in love as some people do when addicted to chemicals.

Falling in love, and to a lesser extent, forming and maintaining any human relationship, floods the brain with a plethora of biochemicals that make us feel great. Table 1 (Berg & Wynne Edwards, 2001) lists just a few of the neurochemicals involved in social relationships.

Neurochemistry of Social Motivation

Androgen and estrogen: Sex drive

Testosterone: Sex drive, monogamy, paternal behavior

Dopamine: Attraction

Norepinepherine and Serotonin: Well-being, reward prediction, behavioral preparedness

Oxytocin and vasopressin: Attachment, anxiety reduction, orgasm, anxiety reduction

Endorphins: Affiliation, maternal behavior, sexual arousal, sexual award, playful behavior, anti-anxiety

Merely glancing at this list should make it clear why we feel so amazingly good, even out of control, when we fall in love. The chemicals that are produced have powerful effects on our brains. And just like we all have unique responses to chemicals we ingest, whether it is a physician’s prescription or a glass of wine (with some of us prone to abusing them), we also respond differently when we fall in love. And for some of us, the choices we make seem to reflect a very irrational process.

One of my closest associates in years gone by fell in love with a beautiful woman, a solid scientist who was an even better artist. But their relationship was one trauma after another, and often the turmoil involved her becoming sexually involved with another man. And while my friend would listen for hours to frank discussions of why this relationship was terrible for him, how his own emotional health was deteriorating and bound to deteriorate even more if he continued the relationship, he always went back. They got married, moved to four different places in a six-year period, and had three children. And the turmoil never stopped. They finally got divorced a year ago, a divorce she initiated because she was bored. My friend told me recently that he always knew the relationship would end badly, but he also said he still thinks he is in love with her.

I want to hear what the experts from have to say about falling in love. What is the “craziest” thing you have ever done as you fell in love? When did you have the absolute most fun when you fell in love? I want to hear the good, and the foolish, stories our readers have about falling in love.