Synopsis: Fire on the mountain doesn’t mean it’s love; the two big answers; if it’s good for our species is it good for you?, thrilling but not threatening experiences; social thrills and threats; what you can do to protect yourself from this false form of love; okay thrills and threats.
Fire on the MountainTears slowly started to descend Jill’s suntanned cheeks as she told her story. “I just don’t love Brandon like I thought I did. Our romance started in such a crazy way. We met on a trail trying to escape a forest fire when we were wilderness camping on different parts of a mountain in the Rockies. The fire came up suddenly and separated both of us from the people we had been camping with. If I hadn’t run into him I probably wouldn’t be alive today.
“For a day and a night we hiked and climbed to escape the fire and finally made it to safety above the tree line. Two days later we were rescued. Through it all Brandon was my super-hero, knight in shining armor and Prince Charming, all wrapped up in one, who had come to save me from the Fire Dragon. I couldn’t help falling madly in love with him. I just knew we were meant to be together forever. Cuddling together for warmth that first night we just sort of magically melded into making love over and over on that dangerous mountain. It was so thrilling with the light from the blaze less than a mile below us making our naked skin and everything around us have a magical glow to it.
“It wasn’t very long until we moved in together, and a year later our precious baby came along. We tried hard to make it work but now I know it can’t. We are just too different. I love nature and he wants to conquer it. I am a modern, progressive Democrat and he is a disgustingly regressive Republican who would like to take us back to living like we did in the 1800’s. About the future I’m Star Wars and he is Road Warrior. Worst of all, I am a liberal Protestant, equal rights, feminist and he is a reactionary Catholic, secretly all about white male supremacy. How could we have gone so wrong?”
Two AnswersJill deserved an answer and with some work and study she got two. She discovered the fact that when people experience threats and/or thrills with each other their brains produce a host of chemical reactions. These chemical reactions are strongly conducive to causing people to feel emotionally attached or bonded. Often they feel both romantically and sexually attracted to each other whenever they are experiencing thrilling or threatening circumstances. One of these chemical hormones that can flood the brain is oxytocin which can powerfully enhance people feeling strongly connected and bonded together, especially in times of excitement. Another chemical hormone is adrenaline which gives people energy and can help everything a person is experiencing seem more vivid, intense and important.
In thrilling and threatening experiences all this occurs automatically regardless of compatibility, evidence of healthy or real or lasting love, or almost anything else. These feelings of attachment or bonding lead many to falsely think they have suddenly fallen deeply in true love with their rescuer, or the victim they are rescuing, or the person with whom they are co-experiencing some exciting, dire or dangerous circumstance. The problem is when life gets normal again brain chemistry goes back to normal and living in regular reality takes over. It is then that the issues of day-to-day living and factors related to healthy, real, lasting love come into focus. Subsequently false love feelings change and diminish. Sure, once in a while healthy, real love grows in an ‘adventure started’ relationships but usually it does not, as Jill discovered.
Jill also discovered the second set of reasons for her falling so deeply into this form of false love. All her life she had been delighted by romantic, rescuer, love stories full of threats and thrills. In early childhood fantasies she was the ‘damsel in distress’ rescued from the ‘evil wizard’ by the ‘hero Prince’. Later she was Lois Lane rescued by Superman. Still later she was the erotic, slave girl liberated from the sadistic sultan’s harem by a handsome Naval officer. As a young adult her favorite sexual fantasy involved her being a debauched harlot, trapped in a life of sin and submission to an evil vampire count but then saved by a heroic, libidinous master warlock. Jill saw that in romantic and erotic stories from her past she had, in a sense, been subconsciously programmed into vulnerability to the ‘thrill and threat’ romantic scenario. Now Jill saw it was going to be her job to re-program herself for adult, real love.
If It’s Good for the Species Is it Good for You?Some think many forms of false love have their roots in our brain chemistry, and that out of such chemistry grew much of our misleading love lore and our destructive romantic mythology. This chemistry probably was a good species survival mechanism. It makes ‘species survival sense’ for the victim and the rescuer, or two people going through and surviving a dangerous experience together, to bond and, therefore, better help each other through the difficult experience. It also makes survival sense for them to make a baby before the next disaster wipes out one or both of them. But after a child is born the couple may discover they don’t have lasting love, and then break up, and later form new relationships which helps mix the gene pool and genetically make things better for future generations, or so the theory goes.
Thrilling but Not ThreateningSharing thrilling but not necessarily really dangerous experiences can produce very similar results. Paul found his first wife while on a very thrilling, singles white-water rafting trip. He met his second wife while skydiving, and now has a third wife he met at a mundane, church function and she looks much more promising as a real love-mate. You might want to take notice of how ‘thrilling experience’ is hinted at in romantic terminology like “swept me off my feet”, “head over heels in love”, and the ever present “falling” in love. Unfortunately all of these may have more to do with short-lived, false love forms than lasting, real love.
Social Thrills and ThreatsThrill and threat bonding experiences can happen socially as well as physically. People have been known to feel they are romantically bonded together when they have gone through highly threatening legal occurrences, thrilling sexual adventures, fought in potentially dangerous and exciting political situations, and worked together in high action campaigns for economic and social change. The challenge is to explore whether the bonding feelings generated are short term, false love or more long term, healthy, real love.
What Can One Do?What can one do about not getting fooled and trapped by a thrill and/or threat false love, bonding experience? The first thing is to understand this phenomenon. The second is to abide by St. Paul’s pronouncement that love (the healthy, real kind) is patient. Take your time after the thrill and/or threat experience and get to know each other in regular, living situations. It’s OK to experience and enjoy, if you can, the strong feelings of adventures and other thrilling, and even threatening experiences, but wait until normalcy returns before making any commitments.
One also can raise into consciousness and examine one’s subconscious programming. Have the love stories of your culture and upbringing subconsciously programmed you to be vulnerable to this false love syndrome which can occur when exciting, thrilling and threatening situations occur? If so, start working on what healthy, real, lasting love looks like and how you can create, promote and adapt yourself to that which actually works.
OK Thrills and ThreatsIt is to be noted that not all shared, thrilling and exciting events in a relationship give evidence of false love occurring. Healthy, real, romantic love often is repeatedly thrilling in many ways. Couples who plan and carry out thrilling adventures together just may be making their very real love more interesting. Thrilling and even threatening experiences, of course, can occur in long-term as well as short-term relationships.
I know a physician couple who for their 25th year together sailed a schooner around the world. Then there’s the CPA and teacher couple who in their third decade together joined the Peace Corps and went to an isolated, poor, African village to help. A long-term rancher couple I am familiar with now lead adventure tours in the Amazon. You just have to watch out for the false love type of ‘thrill and/or threat’ attachment bonding.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
What are your favorite thrill and threat fantasies, and do they have a love or sex relationship element which may have a programming effect on you subconsciously?