Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Why Do I Get Attached?

oxyDear C:

I want to know why every time I sleep with a guy, I get attached. Men just don’t seem to do this. I hear a lot of my female friends say the same thing, but men seem to want to jump out of bed and run out the door. Is it an emotional thing? A gender thing? A cultural thing?

What the Hell

Dear Ms. Hell:

Everyone has a theory on this, but women aren’t the only ones who get attached. Men can, too. It really depends on the person. It also depends in part on a human hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin was coined as “the bonding hormone” when the media discovered it back around 2010. It had been known for years that oxytocin was intrinsic in developing mother/baby bonding, but what really fascinated the news mongers was oxy’s connection with sex. During arousal, oxytocin multiplies rapidly, exploding in a burst at orgasm. In fact, in women, the strength of orgasm is directly related to the amount of oxytocin they release. For a while it was thought that men and women were affected in a similar way by the hormone. For instance, when it came to bonding with kids, both genders were far more attached and attentive to their children when dosed with Oxytocin. But as science is now discovering, there is often a striking disparity in how body chemicals affect different people. In 2014, new headlines came out: “Oxytocin makes women friendlier, makes men more competitive!”

In those studies, a group of 62 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 37 were videotaped in social interactions over several weeks. Half of the participants received doses of oxytocin and half got a placebo. All of them were asked to interpret and identify the qualities of friendship, intimacy and competition in others. Oxytocin seemed to improve everyone’s ability to interpret social interactions. But depending on gender, they focused on very different things. The women were better able to identify friendship and intimacy … the men were better able to identify competitive behavior.

The really interesting thing about this chemical is that it has different effects depending not only on gender, but also on personality type and social context. For instance, men in committed relationships avoided being too close to attractive women after getting a spray of oxytocin, while single men showed no change in behavior at all. Oxytocin seems to exaggerate decisions and personality traits already in place. In some healthy young adults, too much oxytocin can result in an oversensitivity to the emotions of others that borders on neurotic. Others just get more combative.

Here’s one thing we do know: A lack of oxytocin, while not life-threatening, can produce an emotional indifference that bodes well for no relationship. In fact, animals that are lacking in oxytocin are far more likely to eat their young. Our hormones affect us in very profound ways that we are only just beginning to understand.

So, in answer to your question, that emotional attachment you feel after sex may not be so emotional after all. It could just be a reflexive female response to a rush of oxy during intimacy.You are also under the influence of human society and its expectations; nothing is as personal as we think.

Unfortunately, the media and merchandisers have nothing to gain from such an unromantic truth, so we all grow up receiving messages that every thought and emotion in our head is a personal directive we need to follow in order to find our true destiny. Far too many women make the mistake of thinking that their exaggerated attraction to a guy after sex is a sign that he is “the one.” That’s how it happens in movies and on TV, right? We never stop to think that it’s really just some hormone, along with cultural brainwashing, that is screwing with our common sense. I also doubt many women realize that when men run out the door, it’s not really personal either.Very few of us stop to think about other possible reasons for anyone’s behavior. We take it all very personally, and react, react, react.

The next time you get an urge to plan your wedding and choose colleges for your future children with some guy you’ve only known for a couple days, don’t get carried away. Stop and think. Does this really have anything to do with your purpose and future? Or could it just be Oxytocin mixed in with the last commercial you saw for a dating site?