From the editor
// Samantha Thompson

“Doubt thou the stars are fire,

Doubt the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar
but never doubt thy love.”
—William Shakespeare (Hamlet, Act II Scene II)

I am not a cynical person. Although I have a reputation for being very gullible, when my brain processes something, I automatically question it before accepting it as legitimate. When it comes to love, many people go through a similar process. The older you get, the longer it seems to take to find something that you actually feel, deep inside, is real. Conversely, in high school, love flourishes. Every day someone else has started a brand new relationship, and teenagers are dipping their toes in the fountain of romance.

What is unique about high school relationships, however, is that they are typically a more intense experience than relationships we have as adults. According to BBC, on average, someone who is 15 will have a relationship that only lasts four to five months. Studies have also shown that, in teenagers, falling in love has a similar effect on the brain to using cocaine – and it feels like an addiction. These relationships also promote face-to-face interaction, which is important for establishing a sense of self, and encourages sharing and trust which in turn contributes to maturity.

Love is what we are surrounded by every day. It has inspired some of history’s greatest writers, artists, and playwrights – and also the worst. It follows us on billboards, in movies, as loud gossip in the coffee line-up at Starbucks – it’s all-encompassing, yet people act as though to have found love is to be incredibly lucky. If you’ve found “the one”, you’ve stumbled across something unique.

To a certain degree, that sentiment is true. To find someone you are compatible with is a very lucky thing indeed, and even luckier if the relationship ends up lasting into silver and gold anniversaries. Although some of the love game is left to chance, there is something else at play: science.

Love captures our interest, piques our curiosity, and confuses us. Despite the fact that much is attributed to the brain now, for centuries, philosophers debated over whether the brain or the heart was the most important organ in the human body. Aristotle believed the heart was responsible for intelligence and vitality, but Plato disagreed and argued that the brain was the most valuable because it was closest to the heavens. Unfortunately for Plato, it was also pointed out that many less-than-intelligent animals also have brains – as well as mating practices.

According to the article Defining the Brain Systems of Lust, Romantic Attraction and Attachment, mammals and birds have exhibited three primary emotion-motivation systems in the brain for mating, reproduction and parenting: lust, attraction, and attachment. Helen Fisher, who co-authored the article, hypothesized that “human beings exhibit at least three interrelated, yet distinct, emotion-motivation systems for mating, reproduction, and parenting: the sex drive, romantic attraction, and male-female attachment.”

Each plays a key role in the overall experience, but can be either interlinked or independent. Put simply, the sex drive is physical, attraction is “falling in love”, and attachment is the emotional commitment that typically accompanies long-term relationships.

It has also been noted that teenage relationships experience the attraction phase more strongly than adults, and fail to enter the attachment phase, which contributes to their short-lived relationships. Fisher is a scientist who has studied the nature of love and the brain extensively.

In her article, The Nature of Romantic Love, Fisher cites research that has found many of the rituals performed by birds and mammals when looking for a mate result in the release of chemicals similar as those exhibited in humans under similar circumstances: phenylethylamine and monoamine neurotransmitters norlogues, which contribute to the exhilaration of attraction.

When a pair of zebra finches are separated as well, both “eat more, defecate more, and lose weight,” – signs of anxiety and emotion that are comparable to those displayed by humans who have been separated from their partner. As for attachment – “concentrations of vasopressin and oxytocin in plasma rise during sexual arousal,” states Fisher. When these chemicals were injected into monogamous prairie voles, there was evident stimulation in pair-bonding behaviour.

It is difficult to clearly establish how brain chemistry affects emotion, but it is relatively simple for scientists to examine the outcome of activities on different areas of the brain. Regardless of whether or not you “believe” in love, science has proven that love has fascinating effects on our brain activity. Our minds have been designed to react to the feelings we have when we are in love. It is part of nature to feel love, to fall in and out of love, to seek companionship and to move on to something better when your mate is no longer adequate. We are meant to do all of these things, because it is a healthy thing to do. Love not only affects your brain, but every aspect of your body – including your heart, which begins to beat more rapidly as the situation changes. In love, everything is connected.

Certainly, love does not always illicit positive emotions, but everything that it causes us – joy, passion, loss and withdrawal – contributes to making each of us a constantly evolving person. We will learn from our mistakes, continue to grow, to experiment, and to have an awesome time doing it.

So to all of us who have loved, and lost – party on. It’s what we’re meant to do.

//Samantha Thompson, editor-in-chief

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