Monday, September 17, 2012

A Rush of Blood to the Limbic System

As I'm sure many of you know, Romance is quite a popular genre - and why shouldn't it be? Romance itself is such a wonderful high, and who doesn't get a thrill out of reading about the sexual tension and lust between two deeply involved characters?

"Romance fiction sales remained relatively steady in 2010, though dipping slightly to $1.358 billion from $1.36 billion in 2009. And romance fiction continued its dominance of the consumer market at 13.4 percent (in terms of revenue of market categories), beating out mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and religion/inspirational titles." - Romance Writers of America

But what is love, really? Why do we get such a high from "falling in love"?

There is actually a physiological reason behind it all, and it's more than just "(s)he's crazy lol".

For those who took any basic psychology courses in college, or maybe even high school, you probably know that the frontal cortex of our brain is in charge of reasoning and decision making. From this, most of you can probably infer that the cortex is not highly involved in our decisions when it comes to romance.

Why do we get so crazy when we "fall in love"? Why are so many of us drawn to that feeling of new love? Why do we chase it, yearn for it, lust for it?

I strongly encourage all romance novelists and romance novel fans to check out this article, "Limbic Love", on the American Scientist website. It briefly discusses why we get those crazy, emotionally-charged feelings when we start falling in love, and the answer is fairly simple: the limbic system.

Those crazy feelings of love, jealousy, and euphoria? The limbic system. Those crazy acts of slapping that person who dared giving "the look" to your significant other? That's the brain redirecting the flow of blood from the cortex (remember: logic, decision-making, etc.) to the limbic system (emotions).

The limbic system is responsible for that Velcro collision called "falling in love." If our limbic patterning is off when it comes to love, we can suffer endless trouble, write psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon in A General Theory of Love. Dreams of falling in love and living happily ever after spin out of "the airy regions of the cortex, which drafts its scripts using imagination, logic and will."

But what happens after that? What happens when the initial "falling in love" ends, and the real relationship begins? And I don't mean the "real relationship" to mean the day you two lovebirds officially mark the day you went steady; I'm talking about the hard work of maintaining a steady, long-term relationship...a topic many romance novelists fail to cover.

Loving is limbically different from being in love. Loving is "synchronous attunement and modulation. As such, adult love depends critically upon knowing the other." Loving is what happens after the limbic thrill is gone, and it's more substantial than that thrill: "In a dazzling vote of form over substance, our culture fawns over the fleetingness of being 'in love' while discounting the importance of 'loving.'"

It's not exactly exciting to write entire novels about a couple finding their first apartment, paying the bills, and fighting over which brand of toilet paper to buy. But it's not to say it isn't important to discuss. Love and marriage isn't all about passionate lovemaking and blasting "your song" through the window at night - it's about coming together and creating a symbiotic relationship together. Your lover should also be your partner and your best friend; without such a bond, the "love" between a couple will eventually fade.

With that, I leave you all with a quote from one of my favorite novels, Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières:

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don't blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being "in love", which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”

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