Robert Palmer had a hit song a few years back called "Addicted To Love" and now there's scientific proof that may be more fact than fiction.
In the July 19 issue of Time magazine, an article reports that scientists have discovered something most of us have intuitively known for a long time, at least those of us who have ever been in love. A clinical study was done involving people who were still in love, although they were no longer with that person. They were shown photographs of the person they were still deeply in love with and the researchers discovered that the most active area of the subjects' brains was the area involved with motivation, craving, pain and addiction.
These findings help explain why feelings of romantic love and rejection are so hard to control.
The advice most of us receive from friends after the one we're madly in love with ends the relationship is to just move on. Forget about her, they say, and get on with your life. This research suggests it's a lot easier to say than do. Those of us going through the pain and heartbreak of a love gone bad even sometimes wonder ourselves why we're not able to put the relationship to rest and move on. This new evidence says the reason why we can't is that our brains won't let us. We've literally become addicted to that person emotionally, psychologically, perhaps even physically and it's an incredibly difficult task to simply "will" that person out of our life.
It's much like a recovering alcoholic who goes to several meetings a week in an attempt to stay sober. My division chair at the university I taught at before I came to McCook was a brilliant intellectual but he was also a recovering alcoholic and when I asked him one day if he still thought about having a drink, he told me he thought about it all the time. That's why the philosophy of a recovering alcoholic is "I won't have a drink today," because a time frame longer than a day makes the task too difficult. In other words, even though they don't succumb to the temptation, the temptation never goes away.
Being in love is much the same. People who aren't in love or who haven't been in love don't understand why we can't get that person out of our head. They don't understand why we keep pictures and videos and letters and gifts that person gave us when they're the one who ended the relationship. The reason is explained in this new research: We're addicted to them. We keep all those things because they help us recount and remember the breadth and depth of our love for each other, they help us remember the wonderful times we spent with them and they give us hope for the future because maybe that person will someday recognize the error of their ways and return to us once more.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross reached parallel conclusions when she described the grieving process in five steps; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She concluded that most people eventually work through all the steps and become functional once again but some people get stuck in a stage and can't get past it. She was referring, for the most part, to people grieving about the death of a loved one but I think it has a common theme for people who are still in love as well. In fact, I think a case could be made that being rejected by someone you're still in love with makes it much more difficult to proceed through these steps than if that same person had died, except in cases of suicide. Death caused by disease, old age, or accidents can't be prevented, they don't leave us on purpose, and no matter how much we grieve, they're not coming back.
But when a person we're still in love with rejects us, that's done with willful intent. They could have stayed but they didn't. And they're still here; living on the block over, or a nearby town or state. And because we still love them and we know they once loved us, we hold out hope that they will love us again and, because of that, we're never able get to that final stage of acceptance.
So the next time a friend of yours is having a tough time getting over a relationship that ended badly, support them any way you can but don't tell them to forget about the person they're in love with and get on with their lives.
Because they can't.