Years ago, I had just gone through a particularly difficult romantic break up and I was devastated. The kind of devastation where it hurts to breathe. I was addicted to being around him. It was intoxicating. Although I had ended the relationship, it was one of the few times in my life when I felt emotionally out of control and mentally weak; I hated it. That experience erupted a thirst for knowledge to discover more about how romantic love works and what I could do to control it; if that was even possible.
Jason Silva, is a brilliant millennial thought leader, philosopher, and the host of National Geographic’s television series “Brain Games”. He is also on a quest to discover more about the synchronicities and trappings of romantic love. Jason postulates on many subjects of science, technology and philosophy including commentary that reflects his own journey with love and relationships. What I find most interesting about this passionate, stream-of-consciousness thinker, is his ability to orate deeply reflective thoughts into congruent concepts. In an era of the over simplification of ideas with 280 characters, explainer videos and text message communication, Jason’s musing are a welcome commentary. The fact that one needs to listen carefully to follow along is refreshing. Jason was in Toronto on a Canadian speaking tour and I had the privilege to speak with him for this interview. Below are some edits and excerpts from an open and candid discussion we shared about “romantic love”.
AIDA : Do you think love resonates in the heart, or the brain as a series of neurological connections?
JASON: I think we all have an idea in our mind. We form this kind of concept; this abstraction of what we think love feels like or what we think love is. And this is an amalgamation of prior experiences when we felt really connected to somebody, when we really lusted after somebody. Or perhaps from movies that we watched and album covers that once moved us, that we formed as tapestry of imaging. All these iconography that would sort of create this idea and virtual reality of what we think love is.
AIDA : How then do we separate the distinction between infatuation and love? Because often for most of us we think we’re in love and then after its over, we discover that perhaps it really wasn’t love. What do you think the difference is, because I think it’s an important distinction?
JASON : You have probably heard about neuro-plasticity in our brain. Experiences over time can literally etch grooves and create new neural pathways and change us; physically change us. I suspect that, at least subjectively, the madness of infatuation and love feel exactly the same. I think the difference is that infatuation is mediated not only by chemistry but by biochemistry.
If it’s new and if it fades quickly and doesn’t work out, with that chemistry, eventually you go through a period of withdrawal and it gets washed out. I think that where you stay with somebody a really long time and you’re getting consecutive hits of that neurochemistry of infatuation. I think over time it probably has some kind of neuro plastic effect on the brain. But I’m just speculating.
I think that the repeated exposure to the chemistry of infatuation eventually makes it so that the person is now part of your biochemistry, so to speak. That the pattern of information of who that person is and your interaction with that person is now kind of permanently etched itself in your brain. And I suspect that that’s why when you pass that threshold from infatuation into love, it’s a lot harder to get over the person.
AIDA : The ecstatic feeling in the beginning is affected by recurrence. How does, in your opinion, hedonic adaptation (where we drift back to where we started) affect love? Because I think the two are correlated.
JASON : That’s the biggest bummer of all, isn’t it? Anything or anyone that brings you a lot of pleasure, is often attributable to the novelty of it. It introduces a new encounter, a new person, new information. To be attracted to who this person is, a large part of that has to do with how fixated you are, because it’s new. But your brain just can’t run that tension, and like all novelty, eventually you go back to default function ( hedonic adaptation ). What’s familiar has already been mapped out and so we don’t need to engage with it as much anymore. So some people have to put into practice mindfulness and to train themselves to be appreciative of what they have in their life; whether it’s gratitude practice or other things, but again neurologically eventually novelty dissipates. And as soon as it does the excitement and the exuberance moves into something more passive.
AIDA : Then we have phase two of the relationship; where oxytocin kicks in, the cuddle hormone.
JASON : You can’t make a person appear new to you after you know them, but you can radically change the backdrops under which you first meet, and if backdrops are new, interesting and exciting, then both of you are aroused by that knowledge which in turn makes you interact in a way as if you are aroused by each other.
AIDA : I’ve heard that for a long term relationship, scientists say we should do something that can get the adrenaline going; like rock climbing together or something where there’s something at stake.
JASON : It takes you out of your stupor and it like hurls you into the now.
AIDA : The other interesting thing is the idea that most of our brain is running in patterns. The brain being a set of neurons when fired together (repetitively), wire together. I think the other element is that when everything is very new, you’re consciously not able to recognize the patterns that may be negative; like a bad habit or something that your partner is doing that would annoy you. But then your brain eventually picks it up.
JASON : I think it’s something that we don’t like to admit but we were never interacting with the totality of a person.
AIDA : What is the answer then?
JASON : I think that the answer is to treat your romantic relationship the way that you treat a really close friendship that has persisted for many years. Look at the patterns of behaviour, how you organize the way in which you come to get really close. There’s somebody in your life that has persisted through good times and bad somehow for years and you remain close and you still don’t get bored of each other. What is it that you have done right in that relationship and see if you can try to apply those principles in your romantic lead.
AIDA : I find there are so many elements that have to actually come together for someone to stay in a long term relationship, or are we not meant to do so?
JASON : Well you know, Esther Purcell who has written the book “Mating in Captivity”, she says that the problem is that we expect one person to be what a village used to be before. We want this person to be our best friend. But also our kinky sex lover and also our mother figure, our co-worker and business partner and accountant and co-parent. So it’s a lot to ask of a person. We have all these different psychological needs. On the other extreme if you’re a person who is able to nourish those means in multiple ways, with multiple endeavours, and multiple people, it’s also hard to find a relationship. Because when you meet somebody you’re less willing to stay interested for very long. So both extremes are problematic.
AIDA : What are some of the things that you have learned about yourself through your relationships? Because I think relationships are a great mirror to our soul in some ways.
JASON : I’m a kind of psychological case study in a romantic idealization, in that what I’m looking for in a person is salvation. And I know that that sounds ridiculous because clearly I’m setting myself up for failure. In the absence of evidence I continue to have faith that there will be somebody that will fulfill me and absolve me of my mortality, finitude and frailties; that somebody can be my everything. I choose to believe that, because I like it poetically and aesthetically. It matters less to me if I’m ultimately right or wrong. So I have formed these archetypes of what I want in a woman that is an amalgamation of all these females and movies that I’ve loved over the years that I’ve had infatuations for. I call it a simulated reality. I’ve been in situations with the person, where at least for that finite amount of time, they are that archetype for me. And yes I’m 35 and single but I’ve had multiple short term love affairs that have fulfilled that need in me. And I enjoy that altered state of consciousness.
When we first fall in love, it really does seem to be an altered, euphoric state of consciousness – a biochemically induced, simulated reality. This initial phase of romantic love is often ephemeral; a powerful, blissful infatuation phase that eventually disappears or changes. Perhaps if we recognize that relationships naturally have phases, it may influence us to have fewer unrealistic expectations. And without the attachment to the outcome of forever, love can be another adventure in the tapestry of human experience; an opportunity to love and grow as a person. Or like Jason, we can search for the bliss factor that lasts forever; acknowledging that the search in itself is an experience. In today’s world, the ability to crack the long term love code is a feat; so why not grow and evolve with the process, and appreciate the ride…wherever it may take you.
Aida Memisevic is a TedX speaker, media leader and digital strategist in the human potential field, focusing on mindset habits and processes. Find out more at AidaMemisevic.com.