The Latest Hype: The Love Drug
Get Over Romance, Already

Oxytocin, Dating and Marriage

Love has an image problem in Western culture. When we say "love," we're usually thinking of passion, romance, the excitement of a new love affair. In a couple years, when that thrill is gone, we say, "I don't know what happened. I just don't love you any more."

But there's love, love, love and love -- and probably a few more flavors besides. "True love," I believe, is the oxytocin bond. It's that bond that begins when we begin to trust someone enough to touch them and let them touch us. It deepens when we have sex, and it's what carries the relationship through after the passionate fire becomes embers.

Western society, with its emphasis on sexuality and its phobia about non-sexual touching, is becoming an oxytocin-poor society. Anesthetized babies are ripped out of the wombs of their knocked-out mothers, depriving both of them of the oxytocin-bathed experience that should set the tone for their expectations from others. Overworked mothers and fathers often can't give babies and kids the nurturing and attention they need, while TV, computers and cell phones take the place of face-to-face interaction.

As a result, kids reach adolescence with an impaired ability to trust and bond at the same time that their raging hormones are pushing them to connect sexually. Pop culture tells them hot sex equals love. They may marry for sex or because they're madly in love, but not be equipped to move to the next stage: deeply bonded love.

In response to a friend's question, in my book I wrote briefly that you don't need to go through the romantic stage to find true love. In the blog al-'Azel min Nasij al-Nabat, Taufik makes the same case to Muslim couples who may be adopting Western-style dating.

According to Taufik, more secular Muslims may feel they really need to date to get to know someone; arranged marriages, they think, are for religious conservatives, the kind whose women wear purdah. But these people are too focused on the dopamine-rush of romance.

Taufik provides a glossary of neuroscience terms; I wish there were one for the non-English words, as well. Dating baru kahwin, I think, means Western-style dating (maybe with sex before marriage?), while kahwin baru dating, I believe, refers to an arranged relationship. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Taufik writes:

It is pretty clear now that dating baru kahwin doesn't come even close to ensure a happily-ever-after relationship. Ironically, those 'extreme 'alim people' are the ones who understand real love and real life, not those Casanovas. Do note that I am not saying if you kahwin baru dating then your marriage will last forever, but if you dating baru kahwin then you are doom to failure. I am simply pointing out that romantic passion has nothing to do about spotting the 'right person' in your life. It is also true that incompatibility may happen between two persons, like there is just no chemistry between the two of you. The point is, you don't need to go on countless hang outs to spot that. You don't need to overload your neuropathways with excessive dopamine to find the supposedly elusive chemistry. It is common sense: You sit down and talk with a person for 15 minutes and you'll know whether you can get along with that person or not. I am talking in general, meaning even with a stranger who you want to make him as your friend, not just your life partner.

The post is a very interesting look at how the romance cult is playing out in a different culture.

See also Romance, Love and Depression and Love Me Like a Vole.