It would be nice to think we are masters of our own domain, totally in control of our actions and feelings through the steely resolve of our conscious minds. We're higher, evolved beings, running our lives through deep thought and carefully considered execution of strategy, right?
The tedious reality, however, is we are simply animals, our brains awash with chemicals designed by evolution for one thing only, the continued existence of the human species. We are powerless to resist, like twigs bobbing on a river of drugs of our own making.
The good drug
Consider phenylethylamine (PEA), for a moment. It's an amphetamine that occurs naturally in our brains and when we fall in love, our heads pretty much fill up with the stuff.
PEA also rises when we win a prize, bungy-jump or skydive, take drugs like cocaine, or when we are frightened or angry. It's also in chocolate, which explains a lot. When PEA is released into the body, symptoms include loss of appetite, inability to sleep, butterflies in the stomach, giddiness, intense arousal and a narrow focus on the object of our affections. Sounds a lot like love, but, sorry, it's just nature making sure we mate. Yes, you've got chemistry all right – literally.
It also makes you act like a total idiot.
Signs of an overdose
When I first met my partner, I would stop at her car when she was at work and write secret messages with my finger on her dirty back window. (She never washed her car – how adorable!). Before we lived together, I would buy a muffin in the early morning and present it to her for breakfast in the laneway behind her office. I only found out years later she didn't like them. We'd hug desperately, unable to part, until the very last moment. I'd text her how many hours left until we saw each other again. "Two hours, Baby! XXXX". We texted so much our colleagues got bored with us. People would draw imaginary love-hearts over our heads in bars, we were so truly, madly deeply engaged with each other. We were overdosing on PEA.
The come down
Over time, our brains get used to the mad levels of PEA – it takes between 18 months and four years for things to settle down – and that's when couples wake up blinking at each other, wondering what the hell happened.
It's no surprise people become addicted to this high and want more when it's gone. I've lost track of how many male friends have said things like "she used to rip my pants off every night, now she just yells at me to put them in the laundry."
The real trick to lasting love is learning to live in a PEA-normal environment. It's either that, or throw everything in the air and chase another high, which leads to pretty much in the same outcome as every other form of amphetamine addiction.
But there's an easy fix. Every relationship counsellor and TED talk on the subject will tell us the same thing.
Desire used to fling you into each other's arms. Now, just fling yourselves into each other's arms and you'll find desire is still right there. It's that simple. You haven't fallen out of love. You're in a more richer and more real place and just need to understand the science and work with it.
Keep adoring each other, make time for each other, create for each other what your mad brain drugs used to, and you'll still get high on love.
And that, boys and girls, is the real moral to the tale of the Princess and the PEA.
With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.
Have you experienced a similar PEA overdose? Share your experience and post-high efforts in the comments section below.