A lot of my fiction deals with characters who try to stifle or completely eliminate strong emotion. This is a theme I come back to quite a lot, as I tend to hate feeling – and especially exhibiting – strong emotion. Especially strong emotional attachment, like love.
As you grow up, you realize that strong emotion – if you’re somebody who feels it – is just something you have to come to grips with and learn how to live with. But there are some folks out there doing research that would, in effect, allow us to turn it off.
I find the idea terrifying and fascinating. It’s stuff like this that keeps me writing fiction.
That raises the question of whether it is possible to “treat” this romantic state clinically, as can be done with OCD. The parents of any love-besotted teenager might want to know the answer to that. Dr Fisher suggests it might, indeed, be possible to inhibit feelings of romantic love, but only at its early stages. OCD is characterised by low levels of a chemical called serotonin. Drugs such as Prozac work by keeping serotonin hanging around in the brain for longer than normal, so they might stave off romantic feelings. (This also means that people taking anti-depressants may be jeopardising their ability to fall in love.) But once romantic love begins in earnest, it is one of the strongest drives on Earth. Dr Fisher says it seems to be more powerful than hunger. A little serotonin would be unlikely to stifle it.
(warning: there are some very non-chemical “women are this way and men this way” assumptions stated as fact right after this paragraph that are incredibly, incredibly annoying. I love that the chemical stuff is backed up with studies, but “women prefer rich men, naturally” and “men prefer youth over money” is just stated fact. Excuse me while I laugh. Let me tell you how that works in other societies)
As far as innate vs. learned behavior goes, I found this interesting, too: “Rats can be conditioned to prefer particular types of partner—for example by pairing sexual reward with some kind of cue, such as lemon-scented members of the opposite sex.”
Or preferring a tall, rich, old man to a skinny young skater boy. Or preferring a big-boobed blond to a geeky lab tech.
We get far more social points, as women, for marrying rich, and far more social points, as men, for marrying Barbie dolls.