Is It Romantic Love or Mental Illness?

“We all act crazy when we fall in love, stupid when we miss them, and insane when we lose them.”

― M.F. Moonzajer


Romantic love drives us out of our minds, disrupts our lives, and raises tempestuous sensations in our bodies. No writer, poet, or philosopher can help you understand the hell (or is it heaven?) that you go through when you first fall for someone like a ton of bricks. You can read their books till your brains turn to water, and you will still remain clueless. If you are a believer, you can turn to your god, but I doubt if you will find an answer.

I have always felt that romantic love is a mental illness, and recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I am not the only one who thinks so. Scientific studies have shown that the brain of a person in love is strikingly similar to the brain of a mentally ill person. The serotonin levels of those in love are just as low as the levels of people having obsessive compulsive disorder.

So, Should Cupid Be Avoided?

I don’t think you have a choice, unless you decide to lock yourself in a box and throw away the key. Even then, you will fall in love with the first charming stranger who opens the box and looks into your eyes.

Moreover, studies have shown that lasting relationships based on romantic love are actually good for health, while broken relationships and marriages can wreck your well-being. Brain scans of those who have just broken up show heightened activity in brain areas related to anger control, risk taking, obsessive compulsive disorder, and physical pain, putting them at a greater risk for depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

So love can actually be good for you if you can somehow make the relationship last.

The Three Stages of Love

Lucy Brown, who teaches neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, pioneered the scientific study of romantic love in the mid nineties. She and her partner, Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, not only found that romantic love activates several brain regions, but also came to the conclusion that romantic love is stronger than the sex drive.

Fisher was also the first to outline the three stages of romantic love.

Stage #1: Lust

The male and female sex hormones estrogen and testosterone are responsible for this stage.

Stage #2: Attraction

The neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin play an important role in creating attraction for each other.

If you have ever gone weak-kneed and sweaty, felt your mouth go dry, and had your heart hammering within your rib cage whenever you spotted the object of your love, know that this is because of adrenaline.

And what about that awesome feeling of intense pleasure, similar to the feeling you get while taking cocaine? Dopamine is the culprit here. Fisher says that couples who have just fallen head over heels in love with each other have high levels dopamine and therefore plenty of energy. They need neither food nor sleep to survive.

Why is it that lovers just cannot stop thinking about each other? It’s because of low serotonin level in the blood, about 40% lower than normal. Dr. Donatella Marazzti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa, conducted a study and found that the serotonin levels of couples in love were more or less equal to those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.

State #3: Attachment

The hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which are released after sex, are responsible for keeping a couple together for a long time, at least long enough to have children and raise them as a team.

Interestingly, prairie voles have been found to have more sex than required for reproduction because it helps them stay together. This indicates that couples who have sex regularly tend to get attached to each other more and stay together longer than couples who do not.

How to Fall in Love in Just 45 Minutes

Prof. Arthur Aaron, a New York psychologist who studies romantic love in a scientific manner, says that it takes just 45 minutes to fall in love. But some sources have made this 34 minutes.

The steps are as follows.

  • Find a fabulous stranger.
  • Have an intimate chat with him/her for 30 minutes (it could be 40 minutes)
  • Now just gaze into each other eyes for the next four minutes (maybe five minutes)

And hey presto, you are in love!


17 thoughts on “Is It Romantic Love or Mental Illness?

  1. This is such an interesting perspective! I wouldn’t have linked the two but you’re really on to something there. What inspired you to write about this particular topic?

    Liked by 1 person

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