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You’re a rational person, right? You make good decisions, give good advice. You don’t get sucked in by fast-talking salesmen or shady politicians. You’re level-headed. 

So why are you so stupid when you’re in love?

Don’t take it personally. We’ve all been there. The person we can’t get out of our brains, even though we know they’re not right for us. The obsessive thinking about someone we really don’t want to think about. The searing, irrational pain of “I know why I don’t want you, but why don’t you want me?”

If it’s any consolation, we seem to be learning that it’s not entirely your fault. Apparently when you’re in love — and particularly when you’re rejected — your very own brain turns on you. Big time.

I’ve been speaking for years about oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone that is released in sexual activity. And that goes a long way toward explaining irrational attachments between people who have been sexually intimate. But we seem to be learning that our brains have other ways of messing with us, particularly when we have been rejected.

Apparently, according to the brain gurus over at Yahoo, rejection lights up our brains like a Christmas tree. There are three regions that go into overdrive when our beloved says (or doesn’t bother to say) “goodbye.”

The first is the reward system, which designates the rejecting one as the “reward,” and hyper-focuses our attention on getting him or her back.

The second is the area associated with risk-taking, which ramps up and apparently makes doing really stupid things “in the name of love” seem perfectly reasonable.

And finally, of course, there’s the region tied to emotional attachment, which makes our lack of attachment to our beloved feel so very miserable.

So, no matter how convincing the arguments put forward by our logical brains (“You were too good for him.” “He is a drunk and marriage to him would have been miserable.” “She set fire to your HOUSE, for Pete’s sake.”), our instinctive brains are gumming up the works with their illogical activity. They force the image of the former beloved into our minds. They convince us, with arguments too primitive for words, that our very survival depends on winning him or her back. They lead us to interpret every positive gesture, no matter how small or insignificant, as a sure sign that a reunion is immanent if we just don’t give up.

Makes you feel a little better about yourself, doesn’t it? The odds were stacked against you from the start.

Of course, the goal is that eventually the instinctive brain will give up and the logical will win out. According to the article, “Unrequited Love: Why it Hurts and How to Move On,” the best way to hasten that process is to “wean yourself” — to create as much distance as possible between yourself and the object of your obsession.

And this made me think about the opposite side of the coin. What happens when we are the ones doing the rejecting? How many times do we try to break up, but not all the way? “I don’t want to marry you, but I would still like to keep you around.” It can be very well-intentioned, of course. You want to remain friends. You don’t want things to be uncomfortable when you see each other. You still value her decorating skills or his ability to fix your dishwasher.

That can work — maybe — if the dump-ee wasn’t in too deep and is open to a friendship as well.

But if he or she is on the train to Crazy Irrational Brain Town, forget about it.

A friend once told me that he thinks women need to be brutal when dealing with men in unrequited love with them. I’m sure the reverse is true as well. Not brutal in the sense of being unnecessarily cruel, of course. But brutally honest in the finality of their decision. And brutally firm in backing out of their lives.

The problem is, we want to be nice. We hate to see hurt in someone else’s eyes. So we dance around the truth. We try to cushion it by saying nice things. All of which might be exactly the right thing to do, if we weren’t dealing with someone whose brain is exploding with irrational impulses, and who are wired to interpret any slight gesture as a sign that ALL HOPE IS NOT LOST. NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER.

And then we think “Why is he acting so crazy?”

Some people, of course, are crazy. They were unstable to begin with, and the addition of these brain reactions push them over the edge into what we would call “stalking” behavior. That’s dangerous and needs to be handled with the help of the proper law enforcement agencies.

But even for the rest of us, it’s smart to recognize the power of these reactions, and to act accordingly. If you’ve been rejected, let go of the reunion fantasies. Stay far away. Re-build your life.

And if you’ve been the rejector, you might want to tap the memory of how you felt when you were on the other side. And then act accordingly.

Don’t give false hope. Don’t try to “stay friends.” Don’t call him when you’re lonely, or ask her for help when you need something.

Because the rejected brain just can’t handle that.

           

 

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21 Comments

  1. Debbie-514749 May 26, 2013

    Excellent Mary Beth…!!!

    I so needed to hear these words. It helps to shed light on some recent events for me… on both my rejected & rejecting brain. How careful we must be in dealing with the human heart. There is nothing quite so fragile, especially if a soul’s carrying deep hidden wounds.

    A certain amount of pain is unavoidable when seeking out our beloved, but this knowledge may help to minimize it some what. It give a clearer understanding of both self, & how we should lightly tread with others. Thank you so much for putting this out there…

    His Peace…

  2. Marcus-860000 May 26, 2013

    “I’ve been speaking for years about oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone that is released in sexual activity. And that goes a long way toward explaining irrational attachments between people who have been sexually intimate.”

    That’s probably why people aren’t keen on marrying someone with prior, pre-marital sexual experience – you have to deal with the fallout of those kinds of bonding mechanisms.

    • Olivia-937761 May 26, 2013

      This makes absolute sense…TO be honest brutally honest is the best policy even if it means inconvinience. You can’t feed dreams that will never come true…

  3. Lynea-297530 May 27, 2013

    You know, I used to think that only irrational judgements in relationships were because there was probably the scenario of putting the cart before the horse. There are definitely exceptions! A lack of dating experience just by virtue of Catholic virtues (it’s difficult to find people who truly want to have a chaste courtship even), made me, in some ways, more vulnerable to someone who wanted to make me feel gradually that I made him feel badly about his past or something like that (I’m not sure what he meant, but it had to do with my chastity).

    I was engaged to someone who was dishonest and yet very very convincing. All I saw was what we had in common, and since I am chaste, and he said from his profile that he wanted a chaste courtship, I kind of clung to that. However, I wasn’t used to dating at all, and having my hand held was a huge huge thing for me. That, and having all these hopes for the future plans that we made after our engagement really sold me to overlook inconsistencies and odd clues that something was wrong. In the end, it was my chastity that really made him treat me like I was of no value to him, while he holds women who are loose in great, public esteem, and staying in contact with them while he ended it with me for standing my ground on my values. He used to laugh at my childhood nickname, “Polly Anna” for good reason! Was a naive? Yes, but not out of being unchaste in any way, shape or form.

    • Debbie-514749 May 27, 2013

      Definitely the wrong man for you Sweetie! A good man would value & treasure you for who you are & especially honor you for your commitment to do things God’s way. I know they are in the minority… but there are really good guys out there & definitely worth waiting for…

      His Peace…

      • Erlin-960021 May 27, 2013

        I will for that man …

      • Lynea B. May 28, 2013

        Thank you, Debbie! I agree, but all glory to God!
        The thing about it is there are a lot of deceivers out there that will say anything you want to hear and pretend to share the same values as you, for whatever reason. I would have NEVER even spoken to him had he not told me he shared the same values regarding courtship, for instance. Yes, even smart girls can be fooled as some men have a good deal of practice in pretending to be something they are not and in lying in general.

    • Laura-979049 December 19, 2013

      Thanks, Lynea, for sharing what must have been a difficult experience! That’s awful that he lied you to you – and good to be aware that we need to keep watch for the deceivers. Why they can’t look elsewhere to begin with…

  4. Lucille-758313 May 28, 2013

    That was a great article, very informative. I got a lot out of it. Thank you..

  5. Lucille-758313 May 28, 2013

    I really enjoyed the above article, it taught me a lot. It also helped me realize that one has to be very careful on what one enters into in the love dept. Thank you for the great advice.

  6. Robert-834944 May 28, 2013

    Maybe my brain is just wired differently, but I’ve always found the rejections where I remain in contact afterwards easier to get over. For me, I think it’s because over time I see their facebook activity and I see red flags I never saw before, and I find reasons why it would have never worked out. Actually, one of my best friends is a girl who rejected me many years ago and I have absolutely no desire to change that. I don’t want any of that type of “hope” as far as she’s concerned. Nor do I have any desire to go back to any of those girls who I still see now and then in real life, or on facebook. On the other hand, it was the few girls that completely broke off contact where my feelings lingered for months or even years, until I came to some indirect answer as to what quality it was they lacked which I needed to seek out in someone else. I guess, because of my own experiences, I’ve never totally cut off contact with girls I’ve had to reject. I admit, I may have been guilty of giving false hope a few times, but I think I did give them clear answers as to why it would have never worked out. I guess the point of my comment is… there isn’t one way to handle everything, and I believe it is possible for someone who once liked somebody, or people who were in relationships to become platonic friends.

    • Kristin-967161 May 29, 2013

      I agree. I don’t prefer the “quit cold turkey” style either. I’d much rather remain friends, especially after a long, meaningful relationship. And if we end up drifting apart, then so be it, but the pain is not as intense as just losing someone instantaneously that you’ve been with for years. If you loved that person, why would you want to just completely push them out of your lives just because your relationship can’t go forward, or because you’re not compatible for each other? But maybe I think this way because I am a very emotionally attached person, putting my all into everything I do- relationships included, and I don’t make big changes easily.

    • Caroline-943616 May 29, 2013

      Going through this right now. My choice, be friends. Not because of false hope, just because its easier for me to digest. Plus, I think we can be great friends.

  7. Marty-244468 May 28, 2013

    very good article very informative

  8. Louis-900679 May 28, 2013

    Hello Everyone,

    Well Basically, this read kinda prove my point, that Everyone is in the pursuit of ever lasting Happiness. And Yes I am Still Searching..

  9. Michael-103196 May 28, 2013

    I just broke up with someone at 2 pm and then had a 3 hour drive home with them from Hershey Park. It was a very painful experience and my heart ached for her, because she had told me so much about her 23 year Protestant marriage. The man was a control freak and she had to submit to a lot of sexual and emotional degradation. She kept saying that she loved me, but is think she loved the way I treated her and not the real me.
    I know I hurt her badly by ending . She kept saying she wasn’t worthy of me and I had to keep boost her confidence even as she was buckling in her car. It hope she doesn’t do something horrible to herself. I realized that our personalities were way too much alike to bring happiness to a marriage, at least for my part. But I realize that I damaged a women who was already horribly scarred by her ex husband.
    The one time a women rejected me that i was absolutely in love withI attended Mass 4 or 5 times a week for 9 months . The funny part is that we have become really good friends and would do anything for each other, probably because she is a very giving person .

  10. Bob-59786 May 28, 2013

    … submitting to a lot of sexual and emotional degradation has nothing to do w/ Love.

  11. Espe-410886 May 30, 2013

    I believe it’s easier for a woman to remain friends if the relationship doesn’t work out but I’ve found out from past experience (when I was very young) that the guy would have a difficult time “just remaining friends.

  12. William-921872 June 6, 2013

    I’ve been going through the process over the last 6 months of getting this certain woman out of my mind. I sought professional help for it. That person told me to actively look for other women. I’ll start dating again this weekend.
    I feel the only time I relapse is when I think of the disrespectful thing she did to me while we were out celebrating my birthday-carrying on a phone conversation in the car on the way home with a male friend who happened to call.

  13. Jacqueline-890784 June 18, 2013

    Love is blind.

  14. Richard-143340 July 16, 2013

    Word.

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