Helen Fisher, PhD

Romance in Vegas

I just ate a black and white cookie the size of a dinner plate.  But I’m finding it difficult to feel too guilty about it here in Las Vegas, where I have come to make a speech.  In the conference ballroom where I just spoke about love were some 300 therapists in the helping professions–eager to understand and help those suffering from multiple addictions.   Outside the ballroom were thousands upon thousands of men and women bent on self destruction now—many holding their drinks close as they ambled from one casino to the next, pulled at the one-armed bandits, or bent over their buffet trays.  I’ve had my share of addictions; I’m utterly respectful of the problems we create when we travel in partyland.  But what struck me most about the crowd was the ever-present force of romance.   I saw three brides dressed in white flowing gowns, parents wheeling baby carriages while holding hands; even the cover of the Welcome to Las Vegas magazine in my hotel room displayed a handsome woman above the caption “The obsession is back.”  We don’t tend to think of romantic love as an addiction.  But it has all the qualities of a first class craving, including intense focus on a particular other, the belief that this individual is special, elation when things are going well, mood swings into despair when things go poorly, the distortion of reality, the willingness to do just about anything to win him or her, sexual possessiveness, craving and obsession.   Someone is camping in your head.  Indeed, with our newest brain scanning experiment, my colleagues and I have found some of the primary centers that become active when someone is rejected in love.  Among them are regions associated with profound addiction.  Romantic love is a primordial drive that evolved to enable us to focus our mating energy on just one person at a time.  It’s magic at the right moment, with the right person.  But just like the black and white cookie I just inhaled, it can get out of hand.