Fall in Love Again by Voting With Your Partner
The supposed “love hormone” oxytocin is triggered not just when we’re cuddling but also when we’re gearing up to go to war together.
By Fred Dust & Rob Healy
Fueled by Ted Talks and Goop articles alike, oxytocin has had a great PR run in recent years. Colloquially called the “love drug” or “cuddle chemical”, oxytocin is a pair-bonding hormone that doubles as a neurotransmitter. It gets activated whenever we are cuddling with one another, petting dogs, sharing food with each other, singing together, and yes, even during sex. In fact, some companies are even now selling spray bottles of oxytocin mixed with pheromones promising a Love Potion in a bottle.
Oxytocin is everywhere in our familial and social lives. We can’t escape it. It is the neurochemical social glue tying us all together. Its purpose though is not to entice us to have more sex with each other per se (we don’t seem to need any more incentive as a species in that department, although some recent research suggests otherwise) Rather its evolutionary function is geared toward fostering group cohesion, building trust, and increasing our social and tribal bonds with each other.
As with most things in the brain, however, there is no such thing as a free-lunch and oxytocin has an often overlooked precarious duality to it. Solidifying in-group preferences also happens to antagonize our out-group suspicion and indifference while over-emphasizing differences rather than commonalities. Oxytocin is to blame when dog owners think theirs is “the cutest puppy”, new parents think theirs is “the most adorable baby”, and highschoolers think theirs are “the funniest friends in the entire world”.
And so it should come as no surprise that oxytocin gets activated when a group is gearing up to go into battle together. It’s as much Braveheart as it is Romeo and Juliet. It’s your favorite sports team at the stadium wearing the same colors and shouting the same cheers in unison. It’s the small-town gossip circle sharing secrets with each other. It’s the mama bear sacrificing her life for her cubs. It’s the Navy Seals before their mission making eye-contact and nodding with each other as a way of assuring their fellow seals they have each other’s backs.
So for this election day, if you and your partner happen to be politically aligned, then use this “hormonal liability” as an opportunity for intimacy. Your brain perceives voting together in person as a sort of civic battle. An affirmation of your group values and a commitment to your tribal loyalties which is a roundabout way of committing to your partner. The experience can help bond the two of you closer together while deepening your feelings of intimacy and kinship for each other.
If you and your partner, on the other hand, happen to be one of the 30% of American couples who are not politically aligned, perhaps consider trying to find other ways to facilitate pair-bonding with each other while the results trickle in to short-circuit any political disagreements and estrangements before they arise. Try concentrating instead on the values the two of you still share that stretch beyond national politics. Reaffirm your shared commitments to the importance of voting and civic engagement. Consider maybe setting aside time to hold hands on a walk around the neighborhood after you vote, eating comfort food together without watching the polls, or watching a favorite, nostalgic movie together while huddled up on the couch. And if all else fails, find some dogs to pet. Even if they are just your own. Even more so if they are your own.
Knowing that the very hormone that motivates us to love our partners more deeply and our friends more fiercely is the same hormone that sometimes edges us closer to tribal conflict can give us an edge up in navigating the emotional tension of the next few weeks. It can help give us a little more perspective on ourselves, patience in our relationships, and understanding for our neighbors. Especially the ones we have yet to meet.