I have something to confess to you. I have never been in a long term relationship. So, you might be wondering why I’m writing a book called ‘How to Win the Love Game’. That’s a good question.
The truth is that I have thought about this topic a lot. I have a long history of not winning the love game, and it was the frustration that I felt from constantly losing that made me sit down and figure out what it would take to win.
This book looks at love from a neuro-chemical perspective. Often times I will share stories about the things that I’ve done wrong and why it was wrong. And by reading this book, I’m hoping that you recognize some of your own behavior which prevents you from winning the love game. And I hope that this book puts you on the path to finding love and making better decisions about what you want.
But, before I get to the heart of the matter, I thought I would share with you my challenges with love. They involve a specific set of circumstances which, it could be argued, couldn’t have led me anywhere else but here, writing this book. In those challenges, you will see many of the concepts that will be addressed later.
My journey to writing this book had to have begun when I was 13 years old. That was when I hit puberty. That was also around the time that I discovered something about myself that would shape everything about the rest of my life. That was when I began to get signs that I was bisexual.
As a young black, boy growing up in the Bahamas (the country which once banded the movie ‘Harry Potter’ for being about witchcraft) wasn’t easy. It was well known that if the police caught two men kissing, they would beat them up for it. The homophobia was as bad as anywhere in the world, and my starting to have sexual desires for boys wasn’t a welcomed feeling.
What made my bisexuality even more confusing was what I would discover later. The truth was that no matter who I met, I never had more than sexual feelings for guys. I had had debilitating crushes on a number of girls along with some sexual feelings for girls. But my feelings for guys remained strictly sexual.
What did this mean? Was I gay because my sexual attraction to guys was stronger than my sexual attraction to women? Was I just a straight guy with wild oats to sow since I felt nothing emotionally towards men? Or, was I just screwed and doomed to either live a lie or to forever be alone?
Another issue which shaped my romantic life was something I’m sure that many of you can relate to. During my formative years, my parents’ marriage was falling apart. I witnessed a number of things that a boy my age should never have to experience while forming his self-image. And although I am grateful for everything that my mother has done for me, there is no getting around the fact that her treatment of father shaped the trust issues that I continue to struggle with today.
The final issue that has led me to the creation of this book is something that you probably won’t be able to relate to. It took me years to figure out, and once I did, a lot of things in my life made sense. I am what’s referred to as dopamine insensitive. Later on, I will deep dive into what dopamine is and how it relates to winning the love game. But for now, I will explain the way our body regulates this neuro-chemical with an analogy.
Imagine a music concert. On stage is the singer and she is singing into a microphone. Behind the scenes is a sound mixer. It is the sound mixer’s responsibility to ensure that the audience can always hear the singer, and that the music never gets uncomfortably loud for the audience.
To do that, the sound mixer sits in front of a sound board with a lot of sliding levers. One of those sliding levers is called the gain. When the singer sings a quiet song, the sound mixer pushes up the gain. When the singer yells into the microphone, the sound mixer lower’s the gain.
As any good sound mixer will tell you, you don’t continuously raise and lower the gain as soon as you notice a difference. A good sound mixer will listen and observe what’s going on for a moment. Once they have determined that the singer will be quieter for a continued stretch of time, they increase the gain. And once they have had to lower the gain, they are slow to again increase the gain to baseline levels.
Well, this is how our brain’s receptors work. When our body releases neuro-chemicals and hormones, our body’s receptors play the role of the sound mixer. When our body is flooded with excess amounts of a neuro-chemical like dopamine, our gain is lowered. And in the case of people like me who are dopamine insensitive, our sound mixers are quick to lower the level of our gain, while also being overly cautious about returning our receptors’ levels to baseline.
This condition results in a particular set of behaviors. I’m sure you’ve heard of adrenaline junkies. They are people who jump out of planes and take unnecessary risks. I’m sure you’ve also heard of drama queens. They are people who always manage to stir up controversy no matter where they are.
Both adrenaline junkies and drama queens are people who need more and more dopamine to feel normal. And once they lose their high source of dopamine, they will feel depressed, even if people without their condition would consider the same situation thrilling. These people are considered dopamine insensitive.
For years I was dopamine insensitive and didn’t know it. The first hints of it were when I was a sophomore in college. It was then when I began working as a professional actor. The pattern which developed was that I would get an audition and it would make me feel ecstatic. I would ride that wave throughout the audition process and the job. But as the weeks would pass without another audition, I would get more and more depressed.
If it took too long before the next call from my agent, things would get dark. I can remember times when I thought about laying on top of the sink and slitting my wrists until the life drained out of me. The thought would grow until my agent inevitably called again. After that, the exhilaration-darkness cycle would reset and the countdown to darkness would begin again.
After graduation from college, the source of my dopamine rushes changed depending on what was available to me. There was a time when I couldn’t get enough beach volleyball and racquetball. There was a time when I would ride my motorcycle at 40 mph between the cars on L.A.’s 405 freeway. And there were still other times when I experienced the same cyclical pattern with sex.
It was those three conditions, my bisexuality, my trust issues, and my dopamine insensitivity, which have prevented me from ever being in long term relationships. And, it is those three things that have led me to this book. Freud, the father of psychotherapy, didn’t research the mind because he was a well-adjusted person. He did it because he was driven to understand himself.
That, too, has been what has driven me to understand how love works. Without my bisexuality, my trust issues, and my dopamine insensitivity, I would never have been lead down the path to understanding. Now, thanks to what I’ve learned, I feel in control of my destiny instead of feeling victim to it. Now, I know what has prevented me from falling in love with the interesting, beautiful people that I’ve known, and what I have to do if I want the life I say that I do.
What you will notice as you read this book, however, is that not everyone needs to fall in love. Love is not the end-all, be-all of life. It is a series of chemical reactions in the body that feel glorious when you’re experiencing them, but inevitably evolve over time.
The power of this book is that it puts your destiny in your own hands. You can use the knowledge gained within to understand why you might not have fallen in love with the guy who seemed perfect for you. Or, you can use it to understand why the person you’ve fallen for hasn’t fallen in love with you.
Past that, you will be able to use the information gained within to increase your likelihood of finding love. You’ll be able to set up the best conditions for someone to fall in love with you. And you’ll be able to move closer to a state of peace about not being in a relationship although the world keeps telling you that you need to be in one.
Choosing to not play is another way of winning the love game. Because, as you will learn, love is simply a series of chemical releases. Those releases aren’t limited to romantic or sexual interactions. And knowing that is step one of how to win the love game.
My biggest pet peeve whenever someone is describing how to play a new game is when they don’t start off by stating the game’s premise. For that reason, I won’t assume that you have the same definition of love that I do. So, in the following chapter, I will do what poets and philosophers have tried to do for a thousand years, I will define what love is… or at least, what it will be from the context of this book.
What is Love?
When people hear the word ‘love’, they think of a number of different things. They might think of the feeling they have for a family member. They could think of the feeling they get when watching their favorite sports team. Or, they could think of the feeling they have for their romantic partner.
All of these feelings are love and they share the same mechanisms that define romantic love. But, for the purpose of this book, we will define love as romantic love. And the feelings which define romantic love will be; that overwhelming desire to be with the person we are romantically interested in, while simultaneously feeling the heartache which comes from being apart from them. For the purposes of this book, that will be what love is.
As I’ve stated, all of the other forms of love include one of these two compulsive feelings. The love we have for a parent or child usually involves that heartache we feel when we are away from them. The love we have for a sports team involves the compulsion to be around the thing that brings you pleasure.
What I am describing as romantic love is more intense than either of these two experiences, however. That doesn’t make any other form of love less valid or less important. It just makes it different.
And if your current relationship doesn’t include those two compulsive feelings, it doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your relationship. It just makes it outside of this book’s definition of love.
Also, keep in mind that nowhere in my definition have I mentioned sex or sexual desire. A desire for sex does not define romantic love. Sure, you might want your relationship to include sex. But this isn’t a book about how to win the relationship game or the sex game. This book is strictly about how to win the love game, and you don’t have to want to have sex with someone to become overwhelmed by your desire to be with them while feeling heartache when they are not around.
For some, it might be sacrilegious to limit love to the series of neuro-chemical reactions that cause it. Those who say that might argue that love is more. They might point out the role love plays in the worship of a higher power, and the spiritual connection it can create between two people.
I’m not arguing against that. I think it’s possible that love is magical. It’s possible that love is a gift given to us by a higher power to experience heaven or the glory of God. But like everyone else in the world, I don’t know if it is.
What I do know is that the way our body interacts with love is by the use of specific chemicals. Below I will discuss those chemicals and the role it plays in us falling in love. If you look at the textbook definition of these hormones and neuro-chemicals, you might find something different. That’s okay.
‘How To Win The Love Game’ isn’t meant to be a textbook. This is meant to be a user-friendly guide for love. Because of that, I might gloss over the role that some chemicals play in the love game. I’m doing that because if I kept throwing long scientific sounding names at you, at some point your eyes are going to glaze over and the book will stop being helpful.
The purpose of this book is to help you. For that reason, I’m going to limit our discussion to the activities of three neuro-chemicals and three hormones. By keeping track of these six things, you will become your own game master. And you will know how to reshape your world into the world you want.
Although endorphins are one of the most important neuro-chemicals involved in falling in love, I’m not going to spend much time talking about it. The reason is that there is another chemical which we can pay attention to that already has the effects of endorphins calculated into it. It’s sort of like how, when playing a video game, your health score takes into account the number of times you’ve been injured and how much longer you can survive. In that way, dopamine takes into account the effects of endorphins.
But, simply put, endorphins are what is responsible for all of the good feelings in your life. The feeling you have when you’re in love is because of a rush of endorphins. The feeling you get after winning a game or doing well on a test is because of a rush of endorphins.
In fact, the reason why crack cocaine is addictive is because it releases endorphins. But, to win the love game, we don’t have to worry about our release of endorphins. What we have to worry about is our release of dopamine.
Whereas endorphins are directly responsible for all of those mind altering feelings of pleasure, dopamine is the neuro-chemical that focuses us on the pursuit of pleasure. Dopamine is what clears out all of the possible pathways in front of us and sends us down one path, the one that leads to endorphins.
When you become lost in a good book, it is because of dopamine. When an hour passes by in what felt like five minutes, it is because of dopamine. When we can’t stop thinking about someone, it is because our brain has identified that person as a source of endorphins. A large quantity of dopamine is then released to help us obtain more of that wonderful endorphin goodness.
Alcohol releases endorphins. Gambling releases endorphins. Risk taking releases endorphins. And “love” releases endorphins. As a result, our body releases dopamine whenever it seems possible that we can get an endorphin hit.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m choosing to focus on dopamine instead of endorphins since it is actually endorphins which are responsible for that classic feeling of love. That is because dopamine is what creates that need to be with someone which is associated with love.
Why is that? It is because our brain has a way of playing some pretty good tricks on us. We don’t actually have to get a hit of endorphins to NEED to be with someone. In fact, not only could your obsession not trigger your endorphins, they could be abusive and cause you harm.
But the chemical that keeps drawing you back to them, and prevents you from getting over them, is dopamine. And for that reason, to win the love game, we will be paying attention to the amount of dopamine our body releases instead of the amount of endorphins.
Oxytocin has a different effect on us than endorphins and dopamine do. Oxytocin has the nickname, ‘the cuddle drug’. It does because a rush of oxytocin is responsible for us wanting to cuddle after sex. It is also responsible for us bonding with others. Oxytocin plays a large role in helping mothers bond with their newborns after birth. And Oxytocin is what is responsible for men bonding with their kids.
Unlike the other neuro-chemicals, oxytocin can be purchased over-the-counter as a nasal spray. Because of that, it is sometimes used by marriage therapists to help estranged couples open up and reconnect. Its effects have also been put to the test by measuring the increased time men play with their kids after a dose.
Although there might be a cascade of neuro-chemicals responsible for a couple’s bonding, like dopamine, oxytocin is what we will look at instead of measuring every neuro-chemical interaction.
In every good story, there is a villain. The villain in this love story is cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone associated with all of the bad feelings that we have. When you feel tired, that agitation you feel is largely cortisol. When we feel stressed, it’s cortisol. When someone does something to turn you off, that visceral feeling of dislike is cortisol.
Our brain needs a way to signal that we should remove ourselves from situations. Yes, there are neuro-chemicals that could put us on alert and to trigger our heart to race. But being on alert and having a racing heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, those same feelings also appear when we are in the throes of passion. Most would classify those situations as very good.
But it is cortisol that unequivocally tells us to get out of there. Cortisol makes us feel uncomfortable and worn down. And for that reason, cortisol will be our antagonist in this love story.
I know that testosterone is a hormone that needs no introduction. We have all been taught that testosterone is what is responsible for the development of body hair and the male physique. We might have also been told that it is what is responsible for our sexual desire, but that isn’t testosterone’s full story.
Although testosterone might be what’s responsible for the sex drive in some people. More testosterone doesn’t mean a higher sex drive. The sex game is a lot more complex than that. At the same time, though, there is a reason why the myth that more testosterone means a higher sex drive has been perpetuated for so long. It is because of the effect that testosterone has on a person’s decision making process and their genital’s sensitivity.
It is no secret that genital stimulation brings most of us a lot of pleasure. Using the neuro-chemicals I’ve already discussed, we can see why genital stimulation releases a lot of endorphins. Because genital stimulation is a known source of endorphins, we release a lot of dopamine when we think genital stimulation is a possibility. And because genital sensitivity can go up with a surge of testosterone, and more sensitive genitals will lead to more endorphins, during a surge of testosterone, we will experience an even greater rush of dopamine.
But, as great as it feels, we can’t spend every moment of our lives focused on stimulating our genitals. At some point, we do need to feed ourselves which often means going to work. So, how does the brain prevent us from masturbating all day, everyday? It empowers another part of our brain which is responsible for analyzing the merits of our actions.
When we wake up and wonder whether or not we should stimulate our genitals, the analytical part of our brain kicks in and says that we shouldn’t because the dog is staring at us. Once we have taken the pouch for a walk and we no longer have his piercing eyes on us, we might choose not to simulate our genitals because it would make us late for work.
There are times when the analytical part of our brain takes over and wrecks havoc, however. When staring at a gorgeous guy across the room, we might consider if we should go over and talk to him. We might consider where he’s standing, who he’s talking to, and what his outfit says about whether or not he would be receptive to our advances.
You could stand across the room thinking endless about all of this. Meanwhile, your love interest could give every sign that he’s interested before giving up and leaving, all while you continue to weigh the pros and cons. This is an example of your analytical brain being in overdrive trying to figure out your best move.
This is where our friend testosterone enters into the picture. Testosterone doesn’t simply make us chase after sex. It slows down the analytical part of our brain to point at which it is practically shut off. A rush of testosterone will cause us to ignore the consequences of our actions. And when the analytical part of our brain is shut down, it allows the pleasure seeking part of our brain to rise to the surface.
Under the effects of testosterone, our brain immediately looks around for the most obtainable source of intense pleasure. If genital stimulation is determined to be the best option, dopamine will flood our brains focusing us like a laser on getting it. If genital stimulation isn’t an option, but the rush that comes from a bar fight is, then it will get a friend to hold your beer and some skulls are about to be cracked.
The most important function of testosterone in the love game isn’t that it makes you chase after sex. It’s that it quiets the analytical mind and allows you to chase after what brings you pleasure. Be that a mate, winning at a sport or starting a new business. Though it isn’t the most important part of the love game, testosterone is a very important part.
Another chemical that plays a large part in the love game is estrogen. Like testosterone and cortisol, estrogen exists in a number of different forms. For me to detail each wouldn’t help the readability of this book. So instead, I’ll mention, in broad terms, the role estrogen plays in love.
Unlike how testosterone shuts down your analytical mind, estrogen can rev it up. Not the entire analytical mechanism, of course, but an essential part. The largest role estrogen plays in the love game is the part it plays in supercharging the part of our brain responsible for reacting to emotions.
It’s interesting to hear about the experiences of people who were born female but decide to take testosterone to present as male. A common thing they talk about is that, although they might be experiencing the same situations as they did before taking testosterone, they are no longer as inclined to react to it with tears.
At the same time, when men take estrogen, or experience a condition where their body produces too much of it, they will experience overwhelming waves of emotions. Those increased emotions are almost solely due to the person’s increase in estrogen.
Estrogen is important in the love game and we’ll go into further depth about it later. But, for right now, that’s what we need to know about the three neuro-chemicals and three hormones that control the love game. Now, let’s talk about how you play and how you win.
How You Win the Love Game
Now that we have an overview of all of the game pieces, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. It’s time to talk about how we win the love game. And like every game, winning will be determined by obtaining points.
The object of the love game is to gain 100 points. You can gain those points from two columns; the column for dopamine and the column for oxytocin. It doesn’t matter how many you gain from each column as long as it equals 100. And you will lose points if cortisol is introduced to the game.
That seems simple enough, right? That’s because it is. The purpose of this love game is to reproduce and propagate the species. It can’t be complex. We can make it complex by overthinking it and adding in unnecessary obstacles. But, even within the shifting rules for men and women in our society, the love game has never changed.
So, how exactly do we gain points from dopamine and oxytocin? That’s a good question. To explain, we’ll discuss each separately.
As previously stated, dopamine is linked to pleasure. It’s not a direct link, but it is linked. So the things that give us pleasure, or have given us pleasure in the past, give us dopamine points. What are examples of such things?
Just like how birds know to migrate for the winter, and how salmon know to return to their birthplace to lay their eggs, human beings have instincts. Instincts aren’t a magical thing. It’s just about the way the brain is structured and the physical layout of its neuro-receptors.
That would be one way of saying it. Another would be to say that there are physical objects in our brains which are designed to trigger a particular response.
This physical structure is something which has evolved over time. Our ancestors who didn’t have these physical structures were less likely to have kids. The ones that did were more likely to have kids.
As a result, this physical structure has been refined over time. And now, we can point at certain human traits which our society might judge as character flaws, but have played a vital role in our species’ survival. What traits are they?
We, as a species, have evolved to experience a rush of endorphins when we see certain forms in nature. There are three in particular. Humans receive a lot of pleasure from seeing things that are balanced. We receive pleasure from seeing things that reflect the curves of a fertile woman. And we receive a lot of pleasure from seeing objects that reflect the shape of a penis.