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.