There is a lasting lesson about human behavior and the nature of love in the Shakespeare’s story about Romeo and Juliet. Let’s look at it and see why love can be so deadly, and then see how these lessons apply in today’s Bold New World of Romance.
As the story went, Juliet had been set up by her parents to marry Paris, a man related to prince of Verona. Juliet could have carried on in a grand style if she wanted. But she let it all go when she fell madly in love the moment she met Romeo. That same night, they decided to elope. They were married the next day by their friend, the friar. But facing the danger of reigniting an on-going feud between their two families, they didn’t steal away together. Instead, they decided to meet the next night at Juliet’s home and make love for the first time.
Before Romeo got to her home the next day, he was caught up in the old inter-family rivalry with Juliet’s cousin, Tibalt. When Tibalt suddenly stabbed Romeo’s friend, Romeo killed him. The news got to Juliet’s nurse and she told her about it. Even though Juliet became upset, she still saw Romeo later, and they made love. Her man—the one she had known for two days!—was suddenly more important to her than her cousin’s life.
Romeo was banished from Verona by the prince because of the killing. So Romeo and Juliet used messengers to relay their communications. But Juliet’s most important message didn’t get through to Romeo. She had said she was going to fake her own death so she could steal away with him to another town without being recognized. Through the grapevine, Romeo got word of Juliet’s supposed death,. But he never received her note that would have told him she was really alive. So Romeo believed she was dead. And feeling distraught, Romeo killed himself. When Juliet heard that Romeo was dead, she killed herself.
People may exclaim: “That’s the power of love!”
You, too, may call this love if you define it as going whacko over someone at first sight. But the word love has a dozen different popular meanings and no clear agreed-upon definition. That is why so many of us cannot separate fact from fiction, or media dramatization from reality, when it comes to interpreting what is going on in our own love lives. And that is why it’s important get a modern scientific understanding about what love really is—the stuff that Socrates and Freud didn’t even understand!
Modern science has shown how love arises up within in us from 5 separate physiological systems. The effects of these 5 relationship systems combine—in various and sundry forms—to produce different motivational states. But despite the fact that people are capable of having dozens of different motivational states driven by these 5 distinct love systems, we call all of them by one name: love. And that is one of the biggest reasons we’re never on the same page when we talk about love with another person. We simply don’t know how to define our emotional state in terms of the 5 feelings that arise from the 5 biobehavioral systems. And that’s why we end up doing stupid things like killing ourselves.
If you’re getting confused, hang on a minute. This really isn’t rocket science. Let’s look at the first love system that gives rise to the crazy-in-love feeling. This love-at-first-sight form of romance—which was featured in Shakespeare’s play—arises from the effects of a particular type of serotonin that drives the in-love system.
When this neurotransmitter circulates in the brain, people’s thoughts become obsessive and their behaviors become overly dramatic. This creates the type of feeling people are referring to when they talk about in-love passionate romance—the feeling that makes you feel like you’re walking on a stage.
Romeo and Juliet’s actions are clearly understandable when we look into the psychological processes that motivated their behaviors. From a scientific standpoint, we can say that Romeo and Juliet’s in-love romance, biobehavioral systems got jacked up super-high the moment they met.
That’s not difficult to imagine if you think of a biobehavioral system as (1) a biological system that regulates thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which is (2) an organic circuit that is hard-wired into our brains.
With Romeo and Juliet, their in-love, biobehavioral, relationship circuits impelled them to both see each other as the One–their dream lover come to life.. When that happened, their in-love relationship systems drove each of their thoughts, actions, and emotions related to love. That caused them to focus narrowly on each other, and tune out the rest of the world–and all other possible ways love can be expressed through the other 4 love systems: the sexual system, the friendship system, the bonding system, and the helping system.
What’s Shakespeare was trying to show us with this was that when the in-love system jacks all the way up to over-drive, dangerous things can happen. That’s why the story is about being crazy in-love, not about sexual attraction. Sex was kind of a “whatever” thing with them. Instead, they we’re using the in-love go crazy feeling to help them escape their vindictive, upper-class reality.
The in-love, romance systems that got turned on in their heads is distinct from the sexual biobehavioral system. These systems involve two diverse groups of thoughts, actions, and emotions. Each of these two distinct groups propels you toward a specific type of relationship outcome.
For instance, by falling in love, you select a partner from all the other available ones. On the other hand, when the sex system kicks in, an individual wants to make love. But it isn’t necessarily related to a specific person. It’s about getting turned on and having your body and soul exude a sexual feeling. People are turned on sexually, in other words, by something that caught their attention, firing up their sexual relationship system—not because they believe someone is their soul mate.
These two distinct relationship systems are powered by different neurotransmitters and hormones. Neurotransmitters are the chemical substances that regulate how the messages from nerve impulses flow through our brains. Hormones, on the other hand, are steroids and groups of amino acids that travel in our blood and regulate body functions.
When the sexual neurotransmitters and hormones kick in, we feel sexually aroused. That arousal relates to an environmental stimulus or a something that an individual recalls to mind. This causes a person’s attention to narrow momentarily on whatever has caused him or her to become sexually aroused. A person’s attention does not necessarily stay focused on this particular sexual stimulus afterwards. Once an individual consummates a sexual activity, the hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate sexuality stimulate a different action—which might be motivated by a feeling of relaxation, bonding and reward, or one of frustration.
On the other hand, when the passionate in-love neurotransmitters and hormones kick in, we go goofy and just can’t seem to stop thinking about a particular person. This can go on for months. It involves some of the same neurotransmitters that create obsessive-compulsive disorders—what psychologists call OCD. With our thoughts narrowly focused, we only want a particular partner—now and forever, or so it seems—so much so we can hardly be distracted. It follows that falling in love is about selecting a partner from all the others and not about having sex. That’s how we interpret the rush of hormones and neurotransmitters in our bodies and brains.
Being in love, then, is not necessarily about sex. When seen in this light, however, the idea that being in love legitimizes sex, and justifies rushing to get married, makes little sense. After all, just because your hormones and neurotransmitters drive you to go wacko about someone doesn’t mean it is going to last forever. After all, when you think about it, Romeo and Juliet weren’t even friends. They hadn’t known each other long enough for their romantic friendship biobehavioral systems to kick in.
This also helps to show why so many people have dysfunctional partnerships. If you get married when you are acting like someone with an in-love, obsessive-compulsive disorder, the odds are that you are getting hooked up with someone you don’t know much about. This is why they say the reality of the marriage sinks in after the honeymoon when individuals discover the truth about their partners. Some call this sobering moment the stranger in the bed experience, and they wonder what they were thinking when they got married. The answer is, they were not thinking. They were experiencing the Romeo-Juliet complex.
The other forms of love can be explained in a somewhat similar fashion—in terms of a neurotransmitter or hormonal response to a partner or potential partner. In my book, Low Stress Romance, I explain how the various love systems operate to create 5 different kinds of love. If you read the book, it’ll give you the tools you need to define exactly what state of love you’re in at any time in any relationships. For a summary of how those love systems work, see my blog article How Love Works — The Love Code.
In the meantime, remember is was unbalanced love—without friendship, bonding, or the true desire to help each other—that killed Romeo and Juliet. So when you’re flipped out crazy about someone, you might think about the fact that there are 5 love systems and you can’t have a satisfying long-term relationship until the all kick in.