About the Experiment

Friday, February 13, 2015

Part 2 of 2: The Brain, Being a Ferrari, and Letting It Go

At the end of Part 1 I was writing about my frustrations with being a calm, rational person in most areas of my life, but being *ahem* not so calm or rational when it comes to my love life (especially breakups).

I started to see this as the literally different parts of the brain (I studied Neuroscience a bit in college and find it fascinating), so I’m going to talk nerdy to you for a minute.  In the human brain the Neocortex is “involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language.”  Let’s call this the Mammalian Brain, which I see as the part of my brain that understands reason and logic.

But buried underneath the Mammalian Brain we have the same parts of the brain as all other vertebrates: sections that control lower brain functions like heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Let’s call this the Reptilian Brain, which I see this as the part of the brain that doesn’t give a fuck about reasons. It sees things as yes/no, fight/flight, kill/be killed, and there no space for the nuance of the Mammalian Brain.

(Disclaimer: The Mammalian Brain/Reptilian Brain division is a way that I had been explaining this dilemma to my friends, when I did more research I found that the terms are used in Paul MacLean’s model called the Triune Brain, which is criticized for being overly simplistic.  I recognize that the brain is ridiculously complex, and I think they’re useful terms in this context but this is not intended to be Neuroscience 101. If you’re interested in the intricate workings of the brain, there's lots of info online or find some Neuroscience textbooks.)

For much of the past few months my Mammalian Brain and my Reptilian Brain have been yelling at each other, and I’m working on how to get them to cooperate rather than fight. For example, my Mammalian Brain will say that there are lots of guys in LA and statistically speaking there must be straight, single, monogamous guys that I’m attracted to who are also attracted to me, and I just have to be patient. But my Reptilian Brain doesn’t understand statistics, anything theoretical, or patience, so it says, “Where are these guys? I don’t see them, they don’t exist!  You're definitely dying alone!” The Mammalian Brain replies with some logical, reasoned response, which the Reptilian Brain cares not a whit about.  And they go back and forth like this.  It's exhausting.  

In Episode 4 of the Love Hurts series in the Strangers podcast, Lea Thau interviews a guy, Joe, who had wanted to date her but the feeling wasn't mutual.  Part of the mismatch was that he’d developed emotional intimacy with her by listening to her podcast, but that didn't allow her to develop the same intimacy with him (which was interesting to me in the context of this blog).  She used to be concerned that talking about her personal life in the podcast could hurt her dating life, and Joe says that he thinks it will filter out the wrong people and the right guys will like her more for it.  Then he adds, “This isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re not for the faint of heart. You’re kind of like a Ferrari, this barely street legal car with license plates,” and Lea laughs at being compared to a Ferrari.  He adds that most people are looking for a Camry and “the fact that few people are compatible and want this does not make it an inferior thing.”  Oof.  For me, Joe hit the nail on the head. I've often wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” with regards to dating.  I've also often thought that I’m not for the faint of heart.  I don’t try to make things difficult, I’m not high maintenance, but my life just tends to be...complicated.   As Joe says, “It’s not that you’re crazy, I recognize that you’re fairly rational, but I just feel like there’s so much passion and intensity there. There’s just a huge amount of horsepower under the hood…”  Joe doesn't see this as a bad thing, it sounds like the passion and intensity is what he liked about Lea and the fact that few people are compatible makes it more special when someone is compatible.

I've dated guys who were too intense for me, but I've felt too intense for others.  When I’m getting to know someone, I’m usually holding back quite a bit until I feel like they can really handle it.  Joe calls Lea out on trying to turn down her horsepower because she’s worried that it will scare guys away, that she’s trying to pretend she’s a Camry instead of a Ferrari, when it’s better to just own it.  Honestly, one of the big things I miss about being with B#9 is that I didn't have to pretend to be a Camry.   I don’t think he totally understood the intensity, but he wasn't afraid of it and seemed in ways to enjoy it. I didn't feel like “Too Much.”  I believe it’s what they call Acceptance: people who like you exactly as you are, and aren't telling you (directly or indirectly) to think less, feel less, talk less or be less.  So Acceptance is something I'm moving up the priorities list in friends and potential romantic partners.

I recently saw the movie Frozen for the first time, and noticed themes of acceptance.  In both "Let It Go" and "For The First Time in Forever," Elsa sings, “Don't let them in, don't let them see/Be the good girl you always have to be/Conceal, don't feel.”  This resonated a lot with me, as with many people, which I think this is part of why Frozen is popular with adults as well as kids. In searching for the lyrics I found interpretations of Elsa as queer or anorexic and lots of different interpretations abound on the internet.  Many people hide who they really are for many different reasons, and can see themselves in Elsa.  Growing up I was told I was "too sensitive," so I tried to hide how much I felt (about everything).  I'm trying to Let It Go, take the gloves off and stop hiding, and it's a daily challenge.  Writing this, being really honest about the heartache and arguments in my brain, is even part of it.

There are theories that what we're attracted to in others shows the areas we need to heal with ourselves (a very hippie explanation of this).  I've been trying to be aware of this with B#9: I was so drawn to how kind and accepting he is, so I'm trying to be more kind and accepting to myself (and others).  Not trying to "be an island," but perhaps if I can be kind and nurturing to myself it can ease the grip that attachment has on me.  Or at least I'll be less of an asshole to myself.  

Lastly, a friend shared an excerpt about Heartbreak from David Whyte today, and I was quite moved by it.  It's quite long, but I'll share a few parts:

"Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is just as much an essence and emblem of care as the spiritual athlete’s quick but abstract ability to let go. Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.

Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around...

…If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is a deeper introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something or someone who has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the last letting go."


  1. This was an amazing post. In so many ways, I can see myself in you. I am, too, intense, for most people I know. However, not everyone triggers my 'intensity'. When they do, though, I struggle to hide it. And I know this has scared many in the past. Subconsciously, I know I deeply crave someone who accepts me fully and who can deal with all of this - I feel this is also, unfortunately, what makes me unhappy about most of my partners and sometimes I do think I have unrealistically high expectations. I think, with the time, I have learnt the difference between 'not knowing how to deal with...' and ' not accepting...'.

    1. Aw, thanks Yessica! I was nervous about posting about my "crazy" and intensity, so it's nice to hear that someone else relates. Believing we're "too much" is also a way that we can push people away, so when someone likes us for who we are it's wonderful but also terrifying! But hopefully we're both learning how to accept those who accept us :) I have to register for Wordpress so I can read your latest post, last I saw all was good with you and PC... hope things are ok!