Helen Fisher on the brain in love (and 10 things to know if you’re looking for love)

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If you’ve ever wondered what is the secret to finding love and making it last, you’re not alone.

Now, more than ever, relationships crumble at the drop of a hat and people are not taking them as seriously as they once did.

How can we continue to find and maintain loving relationships when it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket?

People cheat, lie, and lose interest.

I recently came across this TED talk from anthropologist Helen Fisher which gives us some clues as she talks about what happens to the brain in love.

Helen Fisher’s findings suggest that romantic love gives off the same dopamine hits as other things in life that cause us to feel euphoric, excited, and giddy.

As someone becomes more attached to a person, those dopamine hits become stronger and can call up feelings over time to maintain the bond between the two people.

Her research saw couples participating in brain scans and found that thoughts of their partners elicited strong brain activity that suggested they did not just “love” their partner, but they were “in love” with their partner.

Staying in love is the hard part for people. As people change with age, it can be difficult to stay in a relationship with someone who is completely different than the person you married.

But when your brain recalls the person and dopamine is sent out into the body, the memories you have might be enough to keep you invested.

From reading Fisher’s research, there are significant factors in making love last (as well as many others, but for now, we’ll just focus on these two). They are:

1) The couple’s ability to feel empathy for one another.

According to Fisher, this is one of the nine psycho-physiological traits that are commonly associated with romantic love:

“They feel a powerful sense of empathy toward the beloved, including a feeling of responsibility for the, loved one and a willingness to sacrifice for him or her.”

2) And the introduction of positive illusions.

Positive illusions, according to Fisher, means you have the simple ability to overlook what you don’t like about someone to see the good in them. Focus on what you do like instead.

According to Fisher in Oprah Magazine:

“Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind, and ideal for them in just about every way remain content with each other.”

What’s important about Fisher’s research is that it keeps the responsibility of the relationship on both partners.

Whether you think your partner has wronged you or not depends on how you will handle yourself during the situation too.

So if you find you are always fighting about the dishes, dog, children, car, work, money, why not try to reframe those things in your life to more positive illusions such as: you are blessed to have a home to wash dishes in, you are lucky to have a car to get to your job so you can make money, and so on.

Relationships are a lot of work, and without the efforts of both partners, they will fall apart quickly.

Now if you’re going on dates there’s probably one question you’ve heard a million times.

“What are you looking for?”

If you are looking for love or just dating around and leaving yourself open to what happens, the question can be a bit … unromantic.

I know from my experience that it comes up on dating websites, on dates, on apps, when you’re getting to know someone, before you even meet them, once you meet them, sometimes as a conversation topic on a date.

It can start to feel like you’re being ticked off a list. Income, check. Looks, check. Intelligent, check. Wants kids, check. Helpful, check.

Also, talk is cheap.

If a player or a f*ckboy says “I’m looking for something real and serious” and leads a girl on for weeks just to get sex and ghost her is that worth it for her if she wants something more?

If a guy says “I’m not really looking for something serious right now” but then gets to know a girl and they fall in love and marry should the interaction have been scrapped at the beginning because he was hesitant or initially non-committal?

Talk is cheap, especially on dating sites, and if you’re meeting someone for the first time.

Even if you are looking for love and something very serious these “what are you looking for” interactions can be baffling. I know for me that these kinds of checklist questions stimulate my contrarian instincts and make me suspicious that someone is looking for me to fit a predesigned role in their head or heart rather than seeing me for who I am.

I immediately want to find a way to demonstrate I’m not just a list of checked boxes and categories.

I’m a person who’s fairly complex and even though I am looking for something serious I’m not proud to say I have lied and pretended not to be looking for something serious when I’m not feeling a connection.

Here’s a list of 10 key things you should know if you are looking for love.

1) Someone else can’t fix you

As the shaman Rudá Iandê teaches in his free masterclass on finding true love and intimacy, struggles with relationships and finding – and keeping – love is one of the biggest challenges people ask him to help them with.

Many of us get tied to intense expectations and hopes and fears around love and relationships.

We work on ourselves, sure, but we still cling to that hope and need deep down that someone else will make things good.

Will make us feel complete.

Will ease that gnawing inner anxiety.

Then we cling to a partner and put all sorts of hopes and fears on them and often we sink the potential for true love in toxic codependent cycles or in chasing someone away with our desperation and expectations.

2) If you are looking for love … look within

But the truth is that the more we look for love outside ourselves the more it seems to elude us.

If you are looking for love it can often seem like you’ve been hit with epic bad luck. Your friends and family seem to find what they want, why can’t you?

The truth is that if you are looking for love you need to look within.

Cultivating inner peace and stability and integrating ourselves leads us down the path of love.

When we have love to give the world more than the craving to receive it, that energy tends to find us.

And even if we don’t “get” the girl or guy we want or the storybook romance we always thought would make life worthwhile, we get that deep inner sense of completion we were wanting all along.

It’s a win-win.

3) Most people struggle massively with relationships

The more friends I talk to and the more I learn about love and relationships the more humbled I am. Most people I know and care about have struggled massively with relationships.

Those I thought were cruising through love turned out to be barely hanging on.

Those whose relationships looked like a fairytale so often inform me it was actually a nightmare they wanted to get out of.

So many people have looked for love in all the wrong places and been left back at square one feeling like an absolute zero.

In my case, I haven’t had success with long relationships and have always felt left out and uniquely unlucky, but it turns out those who’ve had long relationships also have their own share of feelings of victimization and disappointment.

In fact, many seem to be even worse off than me.

If you are looking for love and it’s just not working out and you don’t know what to do at least take comfort from the fact that you are not alone.

Not even close.

4) Sex doesn’t fill the hole in your heart

Believe me, I’ve tried. No matter how many holes you fill or how many of your holes you get someone to fill that void you feel won’t magically go away.

Sex feels good for a few minutes, but it is not love and it won’t replace love.

Chasing pleasure is in many ways the symptom of our times, but in the end refusal to face and process pain becomes its own unique kind of deep, unbearable pain.

Sooner or later you have to face the pain inside and heal it.

The best news for me was finding out about self-healing breathwork and how that can re-center us and bring us back to ourselves.

This free guided self-healing meditation really helped me a lot to start refocusing my energy on my own body and inner stability instead of chasing pleasure and gratification externally.

5) You can’t hurry or force love

I’ve heard many opinions about how love takes time and it comes when you’re not looking for it, but I see it a bit differently.

In my experience some strong connections can happen quite rapidly … but they don’t usually last. It’s not that falling in love always takes time … it’s that making it work and finding something that lasts takes time.

As for not looking for love, I think that not looking at all can become a form of defeatism and lead to bitterness. But looking too hard can also be the recipe for loneliness and resentment.

If you are looking for love it’s fine to look for love or at least be open to it. It’s when you become dependent on it and angry or depressed about it that it starts to backfire.

You jump at every chance for love and react with gargantuan disappointment at every time it falls through.

In my experiences I’ve not only tried to convince women I fell in love with to reciprocate my feelings, I’ve also tried to force myself to fall in love with women who felt strongly about me.

Neither of these situations has ever worked out for me.

As the country singer George Strait tells us in his song “You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody”:

You can’t make a heart love somebody

You can tell it what to do

But it won’t listen at all

You can’t make a heart love somebody

You can lead a heart to love

But you can’t make it fall.

6) There’s a difference between open and needy

If you are looking for love it’s fine to notice that it may have just appeared.

What’s not fine is to stake all your hopes and dreams on someone you just went to coffee with or whose smile intrigues you.

Have a little more patience and skepticism. Even the best love stories sometimes go wrong and being needy can drive even the best partner away from you.

Coming from a place of inner peace is like sending a radio broadcast that says: I’m sure of who I am and open to love, but I’m not dependent on it for my own wellbeing or self-confidence.

You can be open to love, you can even appreciate it when it comes your way or might be coming your way.

But you never base your self-worth or future on an external factor.

7) It’s not all about looks, but they also do matter

As much as it is true that attraction is about more than looks, they still matter quite a bit.

There is something about someone else’s energy that piques our interest and attraction or doesn’t. But there’s also elements of their physical appearance, especially their face, voice, laugh, body language, height, hair, and every other aspect of the physical person that either draws us in or pushes us away.

Learning to be true to your body and its attraction is very important if you are looking for love.

Ironically it is also a way to overcome the shallowness of hookup culture.

When we treat others as sexual objects it’s not actually accurate to say we’re only valuing them for their appearance: what we’re often doing, in fact, is devaluing their appearance.

We’re saying to ourselves: well, they have the right body parts for someone of my sexual orientation to receive pleasure, so who cares how attracted I really am to them.

When you’re honest about how attracted you are physically you will notice that only a small amount of people you meet truly cause you to be deeply physically attracted beyond a momentary glance.

And that’s a special thing.

8) You don’t need to share the same interests, but you do need to ‘click’

I’ve dated people who weren’t always on the same page as me in terms of all my interests but we still “clicked” in an ineffable and vital way.

We enjoyed time together, had physical and emotional chemistry and “got” each other in some deep way that surpassed the ABCs of shared interests or viewpoints.

But at the same time, our core values aligned, and we had something special together.

I’ve also tried dating girls I didn’t feel much connection to where our interests and beliefs aligned but there was just something missing …

An energy or attraction or basic pull – all the shared interests in the world can’t make up for that.

9) A shared sense of humor matters … a lot

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that if you are looking for love then look for someone who makes you laugh.

Someone who makes you truly laugh. Not politely or halfheartedly, but with your whole self.

And someone that you make laugh in the same way.

As we go through the trials of life the closest thing there is to a universal medicine for what ails us is laughter.

In many ways, the final power you have deep within yourself is laughing in the face of chaos.

What could be better than laughing together in the face of chaos?

Be true to yourself

As the character Polonius says in Shakespeare’s timeless play Hamlet, “This above all- to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

These lines have stood the test of time because they’re so deep and true.

Communication and compromise are key advice to follow if you are looking for love, but it’s even more crucial that you stay true to your core values and who you really are.

If you hide your true self – the good, the bad, and the ugly – in order to “get” love it will end up being disappointing and fall through. You will feel like you are playing a part in a cheap production.

You must be true to yourself in order to meet a partner who is also true to him or herself.

And if you do this you are on the path to true love.


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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