Why Love Can Make You Crazy
Sometimes your mind’s response to falling for a man can drive you off your rocker. We explain the phenomenon and how to deal.
By Molly Triffin and Holly Eagleson
Google-Earthing his house. Mentally decorating the place you’re sure you are going to share one day, even though you’ve only been on a few dates. Feeling insanely jealous when he talks to a female friend. Any of these behaviors ring a bell? If so, congrats — it means you’ve probably been in love.
Most women find themselves acting a bit uncharacteristically cuckoo after they fall hard for a guy, and there’s a physiological reason why passion can have such a strange effect. “Being in love floods your system with mood-altering chemicals,” explains Helen Fisher, PhD, author of Why We Love. “These chemicals throw off your normal brain chemistry, tampering with your common sense and judgment.”
“It’s called falling in love for a reason — it comes upon us quickly and knocks us off our feet,” explains Pamela Regan, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University at Los Angeles. All the emotional tumult can trigger obsessive, impulsive actions, she adds.
And though the vast majority of women won’t do anything that’s dangerously off the wall, being in love has pushed some chicks over the edge when conditions were right. Cases in point: Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut who allegedly drove 900 miles this past February (reportedly wearing an adult diaper!) to attack a woman who was dating her ex. And a few months before, a young Belgian skydiver allegedly sabotaged her friend’s parachute after learning that the friend had had an affair with her boyfriend, ultimately leading to the friend’s death.
Next, we delve into three common-yet-bizarro amour-induced behaviors, plus what factors tip a woman into crazyland.
BIZARRO BEHAVIOR 1: You Get Stalkerish
When you’re head over heels, it’s normal to crave constant contact with your guy — so much so that when you’re physically apart, you become kind of a stalker-lite: You pepper him with texts, call repeatedly, even check his Facebook profile during downtime at work…despite the fact that you saw it an hour ago. You know it’s over the top, but you just can’t help yourself.
And you’re right: You can’t help yourself. “When you’re really into a guy, you experience a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the reward center of your brain and makes you crave your partner very bad,” says Fisher. “You get an intense rush of pleasure whenever you see or hear from him, and because of this, being with him becomes your primary goal, overriding everything else.”
Dopamine also activates your anterior cingulate, an area of the brain that helps you focus. As a result, you’re always thinking of ways to get close to him. It’s linked to our most basic evolutionary survival techniques. “The mental mechanism that alerts us when we need essentials, like food and water, also kicks into gear when we’re in love,” says Lucy Brown, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. If you’re really thirsty, for example, getting water becomes your overriding goal. Romantic passion works the same way: All your energy is funneled into wanting your man, so it seems impossible to concentrate at work because your mind is always on him.
What makes a woman go from sane to psycho: If the man you’re wild about is mostly unavailable or plays mind games, you may develop what Fisher calls frustration attraction: He strings you along, which drives you to take increasingly extreme measures to connect with him. This anguish can cause some women to reach a breaking point. “Their impulse control goes by the wayside, and they may become true stalkers,” says Fisher.
BIZARRO BEHAVIOR 2: You Rush into Things
Ever felt such a strong connection with a new guy that you hit the relationship fast-forward button? For example, even though you know you’re not actually in love after dating for a week, you can’t help uttering the L word. You probably know someone who moved in with her man astoundingly quickly. Hell, practically every week a new celeb duo gets engaged as fast as they drive their Maybachs around L.A.
Again, it’s those feel-good brain chemicals that compel you to accelerate things. “The chemical spike you get when you’re with your partner is so pleasurable, you’ll do whatever it takes to affirm that he feels just as strongly about you,” says Arthur Aron, PhD, professor of social psychology at Stony Brook University.
In other words, you want to cement what, in your mind, could be the most important relationship of your life, and diving headfirst into commitment is one way to assure it can be a reality. On top of this, your ability to reason flies out the window once you’re hooked. Research has shown that people who are in love experience decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain associated with decision making. “Because you’re channeling the vast majority of your mind power on your mate, that compromises your capacity for rational thought,” says Fisher.
A third factor amping your desire to speed things along: Despite the euphoria of those first kisses and dates, the initial stages of infatuation can be incredibly unsettling. “You aren’t sure yet where you stand with your mate, so you’re anxious to shake the ambiguity,” explains Regan. So exchanging I-love-yous or taking things to the next level nails down his intentions and eases your mind.
What makes a woman go from sane to psycho: Having an extremely impatient personality can compel a lovestruck woman to pump the gas on her relationship so much that she may find herself discussing potential baby names without even knowing if the guy wants kids in the first place…a big-time turn-off for him.
BIZARRO BEHAVIOR 3: You Become Super-Jealous
No matter how self-assured you are, it’s normal to have romantic envy when you’re with a new guy. For example, you imagine your man is flirting with other chicks when he’s out with his buddies, even though he gives you no reason not to trust him. Or you’re tempted to hit up a party where your man’s ex will be, just to check her out.
Getting green-eyed when you fall in love is natural because your bond with your guy is still fragile. “Jealousy is driven by uncertainty,” says Regan. “Since the rules of your relationship are up in the air in the beginning, you aren’t sure where you stand.”
It’s also part of our DNA to fend off romantic competition so we get the best catch. “Jealousy is somewhat a biological adaptation to help us lock down a mate and prevent him from leaving us for someone else,” says jealousy expert Robert Lefton, PhD, CEO of Psychological Associates, a consulting company in Saint Louis. Our brains send warning signals that there’s a potential rival, urging us to keep other women at bay. Luckily, this suspicious state of mind likely won’t last — as you get to know him and build trust, your envy abates.
Playing into the equation too: When you’re lovesick, your levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin — which works to keep us happy and calm — may drop by as much as 40 percent, says Donatella Marazziti, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pisa. A change in serotonin can spur jealousy (while levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise). That’s why an innocent comment, like the mention of a cool female coworker, can kick-start your envy. Normally, you’d be unfazed, but with your serotonin bottoming out, the littlest things can make you rabid.
What makes a woman go from sane to psycho: Slipping your arm around your guy’s waist when he’s talking to another chick at a party to convey you’re a couple is one thing, but other women take it too far, like accidentally- on-purpose spilling a drink on her. “Due to variances in our brain chemistry, some people are biologically prone to become suspicious and overreact,” explains Lefton. Also, having been cheated on in the past can cause you to exaggerate the danger of a perceived romantic threat.
Going Nuts for a New Man?
These tips will help pull you back from the brink of batty.
Get a friend’s take. Talk to a trusted pal about how off-the-wall you’ve been feeling lately, and ask her to step in if she thinks you’re acting kookily out of character.
Create some space. It’s hard but worth it — cutting back on your time with your guy, especially the number of nights you sleep over together, will help you catch your breath and gain perspective and self-control.
Sweat it out. It may sound simplistic, but physical activity will ease your anxiety. Also, mind/body workouts like tai chi help you focus on the present so you don’t obsess about the future.
Seek help. Still spiraling? Schedule a session — alone or with your guy — to see a therapist. She’ll help you figure out if your obsession is dangerous and/or masking deeper issues.
Source: Psychologist Barry G. Ginsberg, PhD, Director of the Center of Relationship Enhancement
Should you stick it out? Take these boyfriend quizzes to find out.
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