Good Interview with Eric Hollander on Oxytocin and ASD
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Why Your Heart and Your Head Don't Always Agree

Dear Susan,

I read Rachel's post and I was wondering what your take would be on my present dilemma. I've got mixed feelings towards my best male friend, who is also an online friend. We've known each other for almost two years now, and it's safe to say that I know most of him. I'm not naive, I made sure he wasn't just some old 35 year old perv from maine or whatever.

My problem is, I don't know how I feel about him anymore. It was platonic for most of the time that I knew him, but I guess I got really attached to him as time went by. I do care about him deeply, but we had some really rough times together.

I've got a lot of bitterness towards him, which I think definitely effects my conduct towards him, even though I try to not let that happen. I get angry and irritated at him for all the mixed signals, dramatics and insensitive moves that he keeps throwing at me, but for the past week, i keep thinking that this is no longer on a platonic plane for me. I feel at home with him sometimes, and it doesn't help that I have commitment issues, and we both have self-esteem issues. I have trust issues as well.

 Neither of us are looking for a relationship, yet I know that we both hope for something real in the future.

I can't even talk to him about this, because nothing will be the same. He's just too dramatic a character even though he appears to be calm and collected.

He rejected the idea of being with me a few months back, and besides I personally think that our goals, values and lifestyle just don't suit each other. More often then not, we're not even on the same page.

I've tried staying away from him several times before, but it never has really worked. I'm trying it again, and am hoping that these feelings will go away. However, what I don't get it, why do I feel this way about him?

My mind does not agree with my heart, but at the same time, part of my heart does. It remembers all the hurt that he has managed to cause. What do I do? What do I think? Please let me know what your take is on all this. Thank you in advance. Sorry for taking so much of your time. Have a good day! :)

Dear Ani,

Thank you for sharing your story. Here's what I got from your post: You feel like you're falling in love with your friend of two years. However, while you care for him, your relationship has been rocky. Intellectually, you don't think that you two are a good match for many reasons, and yet you can't let go of this feeling. Please let me know if I've got this wrong.

I think this is a pretty common emotional situation. I am thinking of a boyfriend I had, with whom I had brutal fights that seemed to come out of nowhere. But it happened so many times before we gave up, because I loved and wanted him so much.

You don't say whether you and your friend have ever hung out in person. If it's strictly an online friendship, then you are likely missing a lot of nonverbal cues and clues that might make his signals clearer -- even if you're having video chats, it's not the same as being in the same room. So, it could be that both of you are taking things the other says the wrong way. It could also be that if you could spend more time in physical proximity, you would realize that it really would not work.

You have doubtlessly built up an oxytocin charge in this relationship. Any time we engage in trusting interactions, including talking about feelings, ideals or dreams, we release oxytocin. This oxytocin bonds us to the other person, and it's a very good thing. We experience this feeling as our heart telling us something.

I think that a strong dopamine element may also be in play in this friendship. Dopamine is the brain chemical that makes us go after a reward. It's also involved in pleasure, and it combines with oxytocin to make us feel in love with someone else.

But here's the thing about dopamine: We get lots of it when we're trying to get the reward, but as soon as we actually get it, the dopamine levels drop.

I have found that getting mixed signals from a potential mate is the best way to get hopeless entangled and even obsessed. If someone will just tell me he doesn't want me, I can get over it. But when he sometimes wants me and sometimes rejects me, I stop being able to think about anything else but how to get a relationship with him.

I wonder if this is what's going on with you. The part of your brain that analyzes and makes decisions doesn't think this man is right for you as a mate. But the reward-seeking part of your brain keeps getting come/go away signals from him, so it is getting more and more focused on obtaining this prize -- and it's telling the thinking part of your brain that it's wrong.

Taking some time off from this relationship is probably a good thing -- but only if you can keep from thinking about him all the time. The best way to do this is to substitute going after some other kind of reward. The substitute reward doesn't have to be super-exciting, actually. Learning something new, going to an exciting movie, skiing … try to do something fun every day.

I know this guy is your best friend, but I hope you haven't neglected other friends. This is a great time to get some emotional support and love from other people. (Just be sure not to spend all your time with them talking about this relationship.)

Once you get your brain chemistry more balanced, your heart and your head can have another talk and make a decision about where you want this to go.