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Pgs. 294 - 297
Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment
Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin
University Press of America, Inc.

The Biochemistry of Falling
in Love

      The past few years have yielded a great deal of new knowledge
about what lies at the basis of the beautiful and glorious feelings we all
feel when we fall in love. Talk show host Phil Donahue nicely sum-
marizes much of this material in his 1985 volume THE HUMAN ANI-
MAL (see especially chapter six of that work).
      The available data indicate that romantic love feelings commence
in the region of the lower brain that is known as the hypothalamus. The
hypothalamus is composed of a dense cluster of nerves which controls
hundreds of bodily functions and impacts in a large host of ways the
entire nervous system. Whenever a person subjectively perceives another
human being as romantically appealing a portion of the hypothalamus
transmits a message by way of various chemicals to the pituitary gland.
And in turn the pituatary releases a host of its own hormones which
rapidly suffuse the entire bloodstream. The sex glands respond to these
hormones by rapidly releasing into the bloodstream their own hormones
which have the effect, even among preadolescent children, of creating a more
rapid heartbeat and a feeling of lightness in the head. Simultaneously
the nerve pathways in and around the hypothalamus produce chemicals
that induce-provided that these chemicals continued to be produced over
a long period of time-what people refer to as "falling in love".
      What current research especially needs to focus upon is the ques-
tion of whether love-shys have a hyperactive hypothalamus that com-
mences to respond and react with "love chemicals" significantly earlier
in life for them than for most human beings--and whether these hypo-
thalamus responses are stronger and more persistant over the first three
decades of life for the love-shys than for non-shy people. As I have
already documented in chapter two, many components of the lower
brain stem are much more hyperactivein introverts than in ambiverts
and extyroverts. The neurons of the locus coeruleus and of other parts
of the ascending reticular formation of the brain appears to be much
more hyperactive among inhibited people than among the uninhibited.
Thus, there is little reason to suspect that the "love nucleus" component
of the hypothalammus (itself a part of the lower brain) might not also
be hyperactive for highly inhibited, very shy men.
     If this is so it would provide a key portion of the explanation as
to why so many of the love-shy fall so deeply in love as early in life as
age 5--much earlier in life than most people experience powerful feelings
of romantic love. It would also partially explain why love-shy men tend
to fall in love so easily and so often right from the earliest years of
elementary school through the years of middle adulthood. Simply put,
for severely love-shy men the "love nucleus" portion of the hypothal-
amus may "awaken to full operation" seven or eight or nine years pre-
maturely, long before adolescence is arrived at with its normal surge of
sex hormones. The prepubescent child who does not have any aware-
ness of sex or of erotic feelings (as these do not usually occur prior to
adolescence) interprets the powerful feelings he does feel as being those
of overhwelming romantic love.
     Among the first signs of "falling in love" is a giddy high similar
to what might be obtained as a result of an amphetamine boost. This
"high" is a sign that the brain has entered a distinct neurochemical state.
This occurs as a result of the hypothalamus releasing a chemical sub-
stance (probably phenylethylamine) that is very much like an amphet-
amine and which, like any "upper", makes the heart beat faster and
confers energy. This biochemically-based "high" is experienced by any-
one "in love" quite irrespective of their chronological age. The problem
for the love-shy of any age is that they are emotionally incapable of
harnessing the energy that is a byproduct of their biochemically-based
"high". In essence, they are incapable of following through, flirting, and
winning the attention of the loved person. If they did follow through
and were rejected, the biochemical "high" would quickly and fairly easily
come to a halt. In not being able to make the approach to the love object
the biochemical "high" remains endemic in the love-shy child's brain
for an indefinite, usually quite lengthy period of time. And the elemen-
tary school boy (or man as the case might be) becomes "hooked" on his
own brain biochemicals. In short, for the love-shy male who cannot
approach the girl, love swiftly becomes an overwhelming strong addiction
that is probably every bit as strong and demanding as a drug addict's
addiction to amphetamine might be. (The ability to share many expe-
riences with the love object would operate to remove the "rosy colored
smokescreen" of infatuation, thus preventing this addiction.)
      Of course, any "high" has to end. The evidence suggests that males
who are able to start conversations with girls in whom they become
interested are highly unlikely to experience any painful "crashes". At
least their susceptibility to such "crashes" will remain very low until
early adulthood. And even then they will be susceptible only if a boy-
girl love relationship of many months duration breaks up against their
wishes. In contrast, love-shy males are susceptible to such "crashes"
from the age of five simply because their inability to start a conversation
with and to get to know their "love-object" causes a long-term preoc-
cupation and fantasy world to develop that can and does often last for
many months. As the cases reported in this chapter suggest, all a 5 or
7 or 9 year old boy need do is look at his love-object in a school hallway
or on a playground, and his hypothalamus will cause the release of a
shot of blood amphetamines that are as potent (and distracting) as a
shot out of hell! Despite the tendency of naive parents to use the dis-
paraging expression "puppy love", the biochemical basis of love is really
no different for the eight year old than it is for the adult.
       A key consideration for anyone who gets hooked on drugs is that
 of withdrawal. Whether a person gets hooked on pills or on natural drugs
 that the brain produces, the "crash" of withdrawal can be highly dis-
 tracting and debilitating for a person of any age. But of especial interest
 here is the finding that people who "crash" after having been deeply in
 love tend to have an unusually strong craving for chocolate. Very note-
 worthy is the fact that chocolate is high into phenylethylamine--the
 very substance that is released by the brain into the bloodstream as a
 concomitant of falling in love. When the love-feelings cease the body
 craves chocolate because it has developed a tolerance to the phenyleth-
 ylamines which it is no longer getting--because the brain has stopped
 secreting them.
       As I shall document in chapter fifteen of this book, from early
 childhood the love-shy men studied for this book had always had a
 significantly above average craving for chocolate and other sweets; and
 they tended to consume significantly more of these items than did the
 non-shy men. This consumption of chocolate and sweets tends to aggra-
 vate the love-shys' problems in a whole host of ways as we shall see.
 For now, suffice it to say that this craving for sweets may be due in part
 to constantly being in the throes of hopeless and terminated, unrequited
 love experiences.
     Finally, Jack Panksepp, a chemist at Bowling Green State Univer-
sity, has obtained evidence indicating that the brain also produces chem-
icals called opioids (which are quite similar to the highly addicting opiates)
when a person falls deeply in love.