“Love is a choice.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read that statement. But in my fifty-one years, it’s been enough that every once in a while, it comes into the front of my mind.
It hit me like a sledgehammer this morning. But before I explain why, I need to delve into the mechanics of menopause for a minute.
In women, estrogen rules.
During the past five years, I’ve done a lot of research into perimenopause, trying to figure out what’s been going on with my body, whether this symptom or that is normal for a woman in her mid- to late-forties (they all have been, crazily enough). The crux of the matter is this: estrogen is required for an insane number of functions in the female body, either directly or indirectly, functions that never occur to the average non-medically trained person.
For example, those hot and cold flashes perimenopausal and post-menopausal women experience? Estrogen is required for proper functioning of the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.
Ah! I see a light going on above your head!
Estrogen works with the nervous system, as well. So when levels of the hormone are low, a woman might experience inexplicable itching, crawling, or stinging sensations on her skin, as well as random aches and pains that make zero sense, as well as tingling in the extremities.
For the purposes of this article, I want to share a new piece of information I just learned: estrogen is required for the production of oxytocin.
The love hormone…that’s slowly dying inside me.
Oxytocin. Remember that? If you’ve had children, or ever looked into how having an orgasm with your partner makes you feel “in love” with them, you may have learned all about it. Oxytocin is the “love hormone.” It’s released during orgasm, and released every time a woman breastfeeds an infant. It’s also released when a father interacts with his baby child. I’m guessing it might also be released when friends share a life-changing moment or experience together, during which they support and encourage each other, and cry and laugh together.
It is, in essence, the chemical that powerfully bonds one human to another.
And it dwindles down to sometimes minute levels as a woman nears, and passes over, menopause. Why?
Because you need estrogen in order to produce oxytocin!
“More than a feeling…”
Most of the time, when you hear people talk or sing about love, they refer to it as an emotion, whether a tender feeling or a passionate urge.
Think on what I’ve just told you, and you’ll realize that’s completely wrong.
The “feeling” isn’t love. It’s a natural, chemically-induced high resulting from an explosion of oxytocin in the brain.
Most people don’t know that. So, women approach the age of fifty, and what happens? They lose that feeling, and think they must not love their husband anymore. They wonder why on earth they ever had children, because they wish those teenage monsters would disappear. They realize with sudden shock that they feel no love for their children, and exchange guilt for that love.
Which, of course, isn’t love at all. Never has been.
Because love is a choice.
But a lot of women who don’t realize that, end up abandoning their families. Or, at least, divorcing the person they once thought was their soul mate.
A relief, and a new frustration
I was relieved to discover that I’m not alone in my diminished feelings of affection for both my husband and my son. It’s not an “attack of the enemy” on my mind, nor a result of a selfish desire for independence. It’s a perfectly normal experience for a woman over the age of forty-five.
On the other hand, I’m frustrated that it’s taken me so long to realize the truth of the statement, “Love is a choice, not a feeling.” Here I sit, at fifty-one years old, having to force my mind through a Grand Canyon-sized paradigm shift, and it ain’t comfortable. I have to change my definition of love.
Love choosing to put others’ needs ahead of my own. It’s choosing to stick with them, no matter how hard the road gets. Of course, I’ve known that in my head for years. But I spent those years mistaking the oxytocin flowing through my blood for the real thing.
For my husband, this shift means choosing to stay faithful to my wedding vows, even when I don’t feel like it (not that I haven’t been planning to. It’s just that the paradigm shift makes it less of a struggle). For my son, it means choosing to continue to mother and nurture him, even though what little nurturing I had in me before has shriveled like a forgotten grape on the vine.
Please understand: I don’t mean to say that I never feel affection, or a wave of “in love-ness,” toward my husband. Or that all maternal feelings toward my son are gone. I’m just saying that I experience them much less frequently than I used to, at lower levels.
Regardless of my frail human emotions and delicate brain chemical balance, thank God for Yeshua, who is my perfect example on how to live in real love.