Oxytocin vs Dopamine: A Tale of Two Loves

This post has been trying to hit the page since Monday night, but its timeliness hit me with such force I had to catch my breath first.  I subscribe to a few yoga, Buddhism, and “New Age” sorts of blogs, and there is one that always seems to have something spiritual crossed with science.  Being a bit of a geek, but a free-spirit at the same time…well, I really enjoy this one. The topic of the webinar was “Love, Sex, and Yoga”.  Ok, you’ve got my attention.

 

Here is a link to the webinar in case you’re interested.  http://lifespa.com/webinar-love-sex-yoga/?inf_contact_key=c13677e407f8f769ebf0e1b57031f5b06eb06ceba82a5f61f88a7fc32bb99c06

 

If you aren’t into Ayurveda or yoga, some of the terms will seem quite hysterical or just plain bizarre, but that’s okay; I’ll try to sum up some of what I heard/learned in more simple terms as we work through this. Ready? You’ll have to endure the backstory first; bear with me. This is some deep shiznit….

 

If you’ve been keeping up with the rekindling of this blog/my journey, you are aware that I am now technically still separated, but right at the edge of finalizing my divorce from my husband of 29 years.  Loads of reasons, some will be implied, but I’ll try very hard to refrain from placing blame either side, as truly, it rarely ever is one-sided.  The marriage ended, for me, emotionally, about 5 years ago with a major event on his part.  I absolutely hit rock bottom then, and I spent the next 8 or 9 months in therapy to figure out why and how to fix it.  But instead of learning how to repair a broken relationship with my spouse, I learned a far more valuable lesson: how to fix the relationship with myself.  I cried more than I’ve ever cried, was angrier, more indecisive, more disappointed, more every negative emotion you can come up with…then I started to take the therapy sessions to heart and really listened.  I did hear him challenge me to answer honestly, but I finally listened to what he wanted me to know.  Mainly, that this marriage was probably over, but that if I was ever going to have a snowball’s chance in Hades of having a healthy relationship in the future, I had to get honest with myself…I had to acknowledge every shitty thing that happened in the marriage as it came to my mind, ask myself what my role was in it, decide how to not do that again, then let it go and move on.  Oh yeah, and while I was at it, wake up every morning and do two things:

 

1. Forgive myself and my ex and,

2. Make a checklist of who I am, what I need to be happy, and what that would look like.

 

Shit, he didn’t want much from me, did he?

 

But I did…over the next few years I started working on my own version of these, as well as a flow chart of progression of a relationship.  My therapist shook his head and laughed out loud with me at the daughter-of-an-engineer’s approach, but he let me own it.  Goes a bit like this:

 

  • Like: You like someone or something, but you could take it or leave it.  It/they don’t typically cross your mind unless you put direct effort into it.
  • Want: You are interested in something/someone, would like to have/experience it, but you don’t require it in order to live. Bit of fun. Nice to experience, but not on the Bucket List.
  • Need: Now we’re getting deeper.  The choices of needs are fewer, and you are more selective.  Without it, life would be more challenging or unpleasant.  You think about it often and create goals in order to achieve it. You cannot see yourself as complete without it.
  • Love: Absolutely must have/do/be with.  A choice to the exclusion of all others (isn’t that the most Unromantic B.S. you’ve ever read in your life?  Yeah…it really was).  Not certain you can breathe without it.

 

As I type these words even now, I’m laughing at myself…how I thought of these.  I still think somewhat in terms of this progression, but I experience it so differently now.  At the time though, I also worked on what it might look like to fall in love again.  I thought he (therapist) was an ass for making me work through this too, but I did it anyway.  I won’t share that partly because it has evolved the most, yet started off the most concrete of the checklists.  I just knew I would be in love if I could check X percentage of items on this list.  As I worked through this list of “me”, I began to realize what he was trying to get me to do: admit to myself what I really wanted in life, from a partner, what I needed in order to be happy and content…and ready for this?

 

…to accept who I am, for what I am, make no apologies for it, be content that I am enough, and to just be satisfied knowing who I am. Celebrate THAT, experience THAT, share THAT, and in time, someone will recognize it in me, and fall in love with the real me.  But if I didn’t love me first, then it was foolish to expect anything but the same shit results again.  Powerful stuff…about like being smacked in the face with Truth.  Painful.  Enlightening. Liberating. You name it.  I felt it.

 

Some of the things that became even more apparent to me as I stuck a toe back into the dating pool helped me clarify even more what I needed in a relationship.  I have found myself returning more and more to my southern roots and being more proud and comfortable with them.  I truly am a very simple person, needing very little to make me happy and content.  Give me a bit of dirt to dig in, good friends, a faithful dog, the room to grow spiritually in my own way, a fluffy down quilt, a cold Belgian wheat beer and someone to share them with….

 

So that “someone to share them with” bit…as I started meeting up with guys for coffee dates, it became clear that some were looking for fun (that’s cool), some were looking for a replacement for the spouse they no longer had (hummm…replacement, sounds like a recall), or just someone to roll in the sack with (MAYDAY!!!)  And for a couple, I just didn’t click for them, and that was okay too.  No harm, no foul right?  But here is where I seriously took another look at dating…what role did I see sex playing in this new chapter?  I had to sit back and really re-examine this new “concept” for me.  I mean, seriously, I had been completely monogamous throughout the entire marriage.  Completely.  Heart and soul.  It was that important to me, and I took those marriage vows seriously.

 

Here is what I knew in my heart based on now knowing myself; I didn’t want to give myself so completely to someone again without there being a connection of the heart.  Connection in spirit.  I needed to bond with someone, care about them, want to care for them, and have them not be “in it to win it” so to speak.  I believe I have a gift to give someone, the gift of me, my heart and spirit, and I was not willing to just toss those parts of me out the window for a cheap thrill.  But how was I going to tell the difference between a deeper connection, love, and its yin: lust?  I figured I would pull out the handy-dandy checklist and start mentally keeping score.  It helped to be honest.  I could remind myself that while, heck yeah the guy on the other side of the table was easy on the eyes or saying all the right things, there wasn’t that real want to know more.  Things didn’t go from “like” to “want”, and I am thankful.

 

I continued to share on Facebook my journey to rediscovering myself, my fears when I had a health scare, things that made me laugh, the massive weight loss on what I affectionately call the “Happy Diet”.  Life was good.

 

Then out of the blue.  I got a private message.  On Facebook.  From a former high school alum.  My life got flipped.  This guy reached out with such a simple, from the heart honest message: he had spoken to my sister in church, and had mentioned how much he enjoyed reading my posts, that he admired my attitude, that I was fast becoming a favorite of his to read.  Oh, cool.  I said thank you, and let it stay at that.

 

A week later, I had been having a bit of an “off” kind of day for a multitude of reasons…none really worth getting excited about. I looked for a positive to pull me out of the funk, and there was the earlier conversation. I had not deleted it for some reason so I replied back that I had a bit of a down day, and had read his note to give me a boost, and thanked him for it.  Shoot, if someone makes you smile, and they don’t know, I figure they ought to know they’ve done something good, right?  He replied back quickly, and the rest as they say, is history.  We’ll skip all the in between chatter that led to the first date, but that first date went from first coffee to first dinner to first kiss over the course of an afternoon and evening.  Whoa.  Pull back and regroup.

 

I’m going to fast-forward again a bit, to the main topic of this post.  Perhaps in time, I’ll share more of the getting to know you stage if you think it may help you connect with someone, but for now, that’s all ours. So when do you know, I mean really know in this ultra-jacked up fast-paced society, that sex should become part of your dating ritual?  Conundrum…I mean, here was this absolutely amazing guy, treating me like a princess/lady, respecting all the boundaries I was throwing out there, but at the same time, eliciting a response from me I didn’t think was possible…or at least, I had told myself wasn’t possible.  How the heck did he do that?

 

We had a very frank discussion about sex beyond the “can you get pregnant” and “are you clean” (we have spent a lot of time sharing our histories…no judgment implied).  I ventured into my thoughts on sex, that I believed for me, sex needed to be the ultimate expression of my caring, bonding, and giving of myself to someone.  That while it may physically feel really good, and some would argue that sex is a basic animal urge (which I don’t disagree with in principle) that I had to know that this was not a one-nighter.  I wasn’t asking for a ring and a promise of the altar in exchange for all of me, but rather a knowledge that giving myself would be met with the respect and understanding of the commitment from me that it would mean.

 

If he was going to run for the hills, this was certainly the time to do it…no call came from a “friend” to rescue him from a flat tire at an awkward moment…no sudden need to write a report or head to the gym.  There was simply, understanding.  He understood, and said it might be tough, since he is a guy and all that (said with this whole face smile he does so well…lights up a room…seriously), but that he completely understood and would respect my needs.  So here it was, I had laid out bare my thoughts on needing to bond, connect, touch, laugh, share, be with this man, and he was still texting and calling throughout the day.  There was, and still is, a somewhat animal urge that creeps up on me at times…I love to bury my face in his chest and just breathe him in… He said perhaps the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard when he hugged me in the kitchen.  He put his chin on top of my head and said, “I love how you just fit perfectly here.”  Nearly melted, died on the spot.  I mean honestly.  This guy has a quirky obsession with Star Trek, loves all things sci-fy, yet is as big a gentleman and romantic as they come.  Awwww…

 

So are we in fact, in love?  That’s an excellent question.  I know that if I should wake up tomorrow to his voice telling me that it was time to continue our journeys apart, I would be terribly sad for a bit, but would genuinely wish him well and be grateful for the amazing memories, as well as a fantastic time spent reaffirming that I am worth someone’s attention and affection.  He made me believe by being so freely giving of himself, that I deserve to be pampered and that all roads do not in fact, lead to instant gratification and sex.  He will always hold a special place in my heart for that.  So, I would say that we love each other as we would any other fellow human we care about. But as for having reached the level of love that is reserved for the person who completes you, then no, we aren’t there. If that love comes, it will come when it is ready, and when we are both ready.

 

So where do the oxytocin and dopamine mentioned in the webinar come into play?  Where was I going with all of this in the first place? Briefly, the webinar explained that the body releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, when the mind and body enter into bonding sorts of activities: actively being kind (specific acts), holding a newborn baby, touching, remembering pleasant events…in short, being kind and available emotionally releases this hormone (which incidentally, our physiology appears to be happy with, regardless of the frequency or duration).  Oxytocin appears to be the hormone we need to take a relationship to the next level.  Now here is the part that stopped me in my tracks.  The speaker said that relationships that start off with sex as a primary focus of the relationship, we in fact tying the act of sex to acceptance.  Sex, releases dopamine, the “addiction” hormone if you will.  It is the feel-good, gotta have more hormone released with thrill seeking, high energy behaviors. When we go straight to sex, we often are looking for that instant high; if we do that as a first response, we are essentially dopamine junkies.  The more we release dopamine, the more of it our bodies require to still get that same sensation, that rush.  It’s why thrill junkies often do more and more dangerous shit until it kills them: they’re hooked. Oh, and awful news of the day…coffee causes us to release trace amounts of dopamine.  Oops….

 

The speaker went on to say that many of us will have those moments or periods in our life where the instant thrill or satisfaction from sexual release is all we want, but that to make a habit of it, makes it hard to retrain the heart and brain that bonding is the ultimate goal; the sex will come as an expression of having bonded so completely with someone that you need to give yourself completely to them, without expecting anything in return, yet knowing that your heart will be returned.

 

How is that for a big ol’ punch in the gut?  The speaker went on to say, that a new relationship that may have started off with early sex, recognized that there may be more to it, still had time to pull back, regroup, and start fresh with oxytocin activities.  Making those the priority would lead to more bonding and develop a need for the bonding…bonding (not “bondage”…get your mind out of the gutter…) is what carries you through life’s ups and downs.  It allows you to trust and love and disagree and forgive without any reservation.  But also of importance, it would allow you to part as friends if that is the path that ultimately proved to be necessary; you would have developed a relationship based on trust and understanding that each is their own person who would be loved and respected for that, not to be molded into what you think you need or want. Go watch the webinar for yourself if you like; understand that he is speaking from an Ayurvedic wisdom and practice and listen for the deeper message and information.

 

So, as I reflect on this post, which has now taken several days to write, I can smile as I think about all the oxytocin I must have bopping around in my brain right now…gardening, cooking, snoozing, spooning and snoozing, relaxing, laughing, smiling….

 

I don’t know about you, but an oxytocin addiction seems like a great one to have….

 

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