High School: Love, Lust and Longing.

"Kiss Collection"
When I was a teenager, I often found myself pondering the difference between love and lust. As I walked the hallways of my high-school, I frequently saw young, and mainly awkward, students locked in passionate embraces as they whispered sweet nothings into each others ears. It was quite comical really; kids who knew almost nothing about anything, seemed madly, desperately and sickeningly smitten with each other. Or were they?

It was a strange time for most of us–that hormonal, emotional, overbearing age of ours. Back then, we were just experiencing our first every-things; relationships, breakups, infatuations, sexual encounters, and, of course, first loves. It was a huge and jumbled mess of neurotic behavior, complete with absurd and unrealistic expectations of what these firsts were supposed to be like; many things didn’t go as “expected” adding to the overall confusion.

Were all those powerful feelings simply the result of our raging chemistry, a side effect of lust? Or did we really, genuinely LOVE? Well, we may not have always been able to tell, but our brains sure could. Researchers from Concordia University, the University of Geneva, West Virginia University and Syracuse University, have uncovered what parts of the brain are triggered by these two different but overlapping emotions. Turns out that both love and lust activate a part of the brain called the striatum located inside the forebrain.

Each emotion ignites a different region. Roughly speaking, lust activates the part of the brain having to do with pleasurable activity only, while love activates the part of the brain involved in pairing value with something inherently pleasurable. So in other words, in order for lust to evolve into love, it must be processed in a different part of the striatum. Surprisingly, love is actually a habit; it stems from sexual desire, as the desire itself is paired with value and rewarded.

You’ve probably heard the expression “addicted to love”, it came about because the striatum is also the part of the brain involved in drug addiction. Love addicts can chase the feelings created by falling in love, as opposed to being in love. It’s a multi-faceted phenomena with many other contributing factors; the activated neural pathways are connected to other parts of the brain that are a lot more complex and abstract, especially as it has to do with monogamy and bonding.

In high-school, a lucky few of us did fall in real love. There’s one specific couple that I can think of who are still together, paired and bonded. Yet most of us were not that lucky. We started relationships, lived and breathed them for a few precious moments, lost them and moved on. We were addicted to love without the skills necessary to maintain it. Whether it was the influx of all the other chemicals in our teenage bodies, our characteristic selfishness, or our inability to pair value with desire, overall, lust was more familiar. –Liz Belilovskaya

Tags: Balance, Brain, Children, Happiness, Neuroscience, Psychology, Science, Wellness

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