Must Breaking Up Be Hard To Do?

Breaking up is hard to do - but does it have to be that way? Can modern technology provide help to the lovelorn?

The prairie vole is famously monogamous – it forms one life-long bond. However, when Larry Young at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, injected female voles with a drug that blocked either dopamine or oxytocin, they became polygamous. "This suggests you might be able to block oxytocin and sever a long-term attachment," says Young.

But oxytocin is important for all relationships, not just romantic love. You might cure your broken heart, but is it worth impairing all your other relationships?

Young's team has also shown that blocking corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a hormone involved in the stress response, stops the depressive behaviour that prairie voles exhibit when their partner dies. Young doesn't recommend blocking CRF for unrequited love, but he says it could be helpful to relieve the depression that comes with persistent grief.

Should we expect to see quick-fix solutions offered off label or in some anti-love black market? "I think there would be a real market, but I certainly don't recommend it," says Young.

Other groups are trying to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder replace a memory with another that is less emotionally fraught. "Hypothetically, you could imagine a similar therapy being used to dampen the memory of love," says Fisher. One day it might even be possible to use brain stimulation to decrease activity in the ventral pallidum, to speed up the healing effects of time, she says.

I must confess to readers that, when I started this site, I sometimes doubted whether or not I should bother typing an author's most unusual and frivolous "inventions" into the site's database. I soon learned, however, that even the most unlikely idea might actually become reality.

In his 1965 collection The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age, Stanislaw Lem writes about a monarch with a problem - an unrequited love. Does this age-old problem have a technological solution? Of course it does!

He set up his equipment in the magnificent royal gardens and in three weeks had converted the Temple of Contemplation there into a strange edifice full of metal, cables and glowing screens. This was, he told the King, a femfatalatron, an erotifying device stochastic, elastic and orgiastic, and with plenty of feedback; whoever was placed inside the apparatus instantaneously experienced all the charms, lures, wiles, winks and witchery of all the fairer sex in the Universe at once. The femfatalatron operated on a power of forty megamors, with a maximum attainable efficiency - given a constant concupiscence coefficient - of ninety-six percent, while the system's libidinous lubricity, measured of course in kilocupids, produced up to six units for every remote-control caress...
(Learn more about Lem's femfatalatron)

Read more about this idea at If I Could Just Stop Loving You: Anti-Love Biotechnology and the Ethics of a Chemical Breakup; via New Scientist.

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