Want to know all about love? Dawn Maslar MS aka The Love Biologist answers all of our questions in her new book, Men Chase, Women Choose: The Neuroscience of Meeting, Dating, Losing Your Mind and Finding True Love.
What inspired you to write the book? Was it personal experience that led to science?
It’s almost embarrassing how this all started. It began about 13 years ago. I moved to South Florida and began teaching biology at the local college. The next thing I know, I have a big fat teenage-like crush on a bad boy biker in a band. I would teach during the day and follow the band around at night. It might have not been that bad, except he wasn’t that interested in me. When he became engaged to someone else, I realized the relationship wasn’t going anywhere for us. I also realized I had a painful attraction to men that were wrong for me.
My road to recovery lead me to write my first book The Broken Picker Fixer, which was republished under From Heartbreak to Heart’s Desire. After the publication, I began doing workshops and seminars. During those, the same questions kept coming up. “How does love work?” “How long should you wait to have sex?” “What are the rules?”
I didn’t want to give bad advice, so I decided to figure love out from a scientific point of view. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but I wanted advice based on peer-reviewed science. So, I spent the next five years researching the science of love.
You discuss how brain chemistry drives love. What’s your advice on why so many of us have failed relationships?
Great question. It helps to understand the science of how love works. Love is not just one thing. It’s actually four distinct stages. The first stage is attraction, which doesn’t have much to do with love, the second stage is where we get to know someone and build up the neurotransmitters to fall in love. The third stage is falling in love. This is the stage most people are looking for. You feel euphoric, like you have meet “the one.” The problem is this stage is temporary. After a couple of years your brain returns too normal. When this happens it can feel like the love is over, but there is another stage. The last stage is the stage of true love. It’s here where love turns from a feeling to a practice. Once you understand the way love works, you can make the necessary choices for long-lasting love.
You also talk about their being differences in how men and women fall in love. What advice to you give to men seeking love? Women?
In my TEDx talk How Your Brain Falls In Love; I explain that men tend to fall in love with commitment, while women tend to fall in love with sex. I was surprised to discover in my research that science supports what many Grandmother’s having been saying for decades. That when a man asked a woman to be in an exclusive relationship prior to sex, it actually levels the playing field for love, making them both equally likely to fall in love at the same time.
You also found attraction has nothing to do with love. Can you explain this?
Those butterfly feelings you get with attraction are caused by norepinephrine. It’s a fight or flight response and meant to be temporary. In other words, it’s telling you that something important has walked into the room, but it doesn’t mean it’s love yet. It’s nature way of getting to people’s attention to get closer. This may turn into love, but the original attraction is just basically short-term lust.
For those that are online dating, what approaches would you recommend they do?
Online dating is great, but it really should be called online meeting. The dating needs to occur off line. It’s important to meet in person as soon as you can, because attraction is gauged by your senses. You need to meet so the other senses can register a vote. You can hit it off great online, just to have those feelings evaporate when you meet in person. I recommend a short coffee date, where you meet briefly for the first time to see if you like to see each other more.
You also found that we experience cognitive loss when falling in love. Can this be a reason we fail to spot red flags?
Absolutely! When you fall in love a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex deactivates. That’s the part of the brain that judges the other person. That’s why they say love is blind. Without that part of the brain working properly you tend to see the other person through “rose colored glasses,” in other words, you tend to see the upside.
At the same time, another part of the brain called the amygdala also deactivates. That’s the part of the brain that sounds the alarm if something is wrong. Of course, if it’s not working properly, you can see a huge red flag, but it doesn’t register as being a problem. He has a saw-off shotgun and sky mask in his trunk. Without a working amygdala there is no problems here!
Can this be a reason we ghost, bench or breadcrumb?
Men tend to ghost, bench and breadcrumb when he’s not ready to fall in love. To a man sex is easy and “low risk,” love is risky. When a man falls in love, his testosterone drops. In other words, love costs him his strength and stamina. He’s not going to give it up easy. So, if he’s not ready, poof he’s gone.
Are there other areas that you’d like for me to highlight?
One thing that’s important to understand is that dating is often not personal. I know that’s hard to understand. But, our attraction is largely subconscious based on genetic compatibility and familiarities.
Once you get past the attraction phase, falling in love can have a lot more to do with timing than with the individuals. A man often won’t risk falling in love when he has things he wants to accomplish like finish school, start a business or make partner. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the research shows you can fall in love many times in your life! So, don’t worry, go out there and have fun.