Oxytocin Makes You Forget Who Hurt You
Hug Your Monkey Even If You Don't Want Sex

Fall Out of Love Fast!

Rachel wrote me to ask:

If it weren't for your blog on oxytocin, I would have thought I was going insane. ...Here's the deal:

I met a boy. Gave him my number. He called. When we were both finally free, we got together and hit it off. In fact, we spent 12 hours together on our first date, which was a series of random adventures including going to an outdoor festival, hanging out with my friends and his and eventually ending in a makeout fest with him pushing me into walls and kissing my neck and sucking on my ears generally making me swoon all over this metropolis in which we live. It was hot. It was lovely. But even though I called it a night and we parted and went our separate ways (i.e. no sex), I think I made a huge mistake by making out with him for such a prolonged period of time. 
For the whole week after I met the boy, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. The pleasurable "reverb" was so strong, I literally thought I was going insane. It wasn't until I found your blog that I realized what was going on. I guess because the boy was so skilled and I came to trust him, he ramped up my physical response into something like instant love. Of course I know that I don't love the guy, but now I'm a slave. I need release, because I see the signs. The last time he asked me out he texted me three letters: "Tmw?" He hasn't called me in 5 days. I am not a priority. He just got out of a long-term relationship. Blah blah blah. I know pursuing this further is a mistake and I can handle all of this reality in practical terms, but here is my question: HOW DO I BREAK THE SPELL? How do I get the giddy oxytocin butterflies to knock it off? I need a good night's sleep. Please, oh please, help me.

Dear Rachel:

It sounds like you're in the throes of romantic love, which I believe is different from committed love. Using brain scans, Helen Fisher, author of why we love, found that in the brains of people who were newly, madly in love, it was their motivational centers, not their emotional centers that were in high gear. Her theory, with which I concur, is that the neurochemicals of romantic love are dopamine and norepinephrine, with low levels of serotonin.

It sounds like you've got a classic case.

Oxytocin is probably involved as well; all that touching and making out caused your brain to put out plenty of oxytocin, which activated your social memory, pinning all that excitement and fun to this one particular person. What you need to do now to break the spell is uncouple the giddy effects of dopamine and norepinephrine from this one boy.

Dopamine is the neurochemical of reward, but also of focused attention. It seems to impel us to go after a reward. Right now, you're totally focused on going after the reward of this boy. What other short-term or long-term goals do you have in your life? Now is a time when you can really make some progress on achieving on, because you're so charged up. Norepinephrine will help you in this, because it helps you concentrate and energizes you. If you can't identify a specific goal right now, throw yourself into a project, art, a hobby or a sport.

You can also burn off some of this energy with hard exercise or some equally exciting fun that doesn't involve this boy. I always say bungee jumping, but anything thrilling will refocus your attention nicely.

Finally, you can try to bring yourself down by increasing your oxytocin levels. If you like animals, cuddling with something fuzzy has been shown to calm people down and increase their oxytocin. Hanging out and sharing your feelings with close female friends will also give you a nice oxytocin/estrogen buzz.

And hey, use your brain. You're smart enough to have figured out what's going on; keep reminding yourself that these feelings aren't about him, they're something happening in your body. Be glad about that; it's a wonderful feeling, and it will be even better when it's reciprocated.