Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love dissected (What really drives romantic love)

I am currently reading a great book- “Screw the fairytale” by Helen Croydon.

It is well-researched and among other things she presents great background and explanation to why we feel sudden overwhelming attraction to someone-it has to do with our “romantic love system” being triggered.

Here are excerpts from the book.

Dr. Helen Fisher is an anthropologist who dedicated her whole career to studying the chemical and anatomical explanations of love. She has spent decades examining brain scans of honeymoon couples, long-term couples, randy lovers and more.

Romantic love, Dr. Fisher explained, is one of three different drives that make up the brain’s system for attraction: we have a sex drive, a drive for romantic love and a drive for attachment.

No prizes for guessing what the sex drive is responsible for. It’s linked to the hormone testosterone and its evolutionary purpose for our prehistoric ancestors was to encourage us to copulate and secure the continuation of human race.

The drive for romantic love is less talked about but experienced much more strongly. It is linked with feel-good chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Its evolutionary purpose was to motivate us to woo and win a particular partner and to make us enamoured enough to start building a family with them.

Romantic love is by its very nature a bit trippy. It makes us obsessed and immune to any of our love object’s faults.

Attachment is linked to the hormone oxytocin-known as the “cuddle hormone” because it gets released through human touch, or any affectionate touch (this includes animals-your dog gets a hit of oxytocin when he rests his head on your stomach).
This is why we love our backs stroked so much.

We also release oxytocin when we feel long-term familiarity, trust and companionship for someone.

These drives evolved about four million years ago, but the drive for romantic love is the strongest of them all, even stronger than our sex drive. ‘If you sexually attracted to someone and they turn down your sexual offers, you don’t go killing yourself. But if you are romantically attracted to them, rejection is far more severe’, explains Dr.Fisher. ‘People stalk over romantic love; they ca eve kill over romantic love’.
This explains why we often can’t get any work done when we are in throws of romantic love.

‘When the romantic love system is triggered, we lose control. The person you desire becomes the centre of your world. You become obsessive, you get lots of energy, you become elated when you see them, you begin to crave them and you become highly motivated to win them. You are likely to do anything for them, eve die for them.

The attachment drive is much less fervent. When you attached to someone you trust them deeply and you miss that person when you are not with them. But you’re rational.’

This makes attraction three-dimensional. There is sexual attraction-obviously. There is social attraction-when you get on with someone and enjoy their company. But there is also a third, crucial but overlooked dimension: romantic attraction. This is the elusive “spark”. That’s why you can find someone physically attractive and perfectly agreeable to, but you just don’t feel the magic-they are not triggering the release of dopamine in your brain.

The thing with romantic love is that there is no off button. Dr. Fisher says it’s typical to become ‘highly motivated’ to win our infatuate.

‘Obsession’ states Dr.Fisher, ‘is the essential component of romantic love. Being in love means being obsessed’. 
She knows that because she put 17 people who had either been rejected or had strong feelings for someone they couldn’t have into a brain scanner. The patterns from the neuroimaging turned out to be exactly the same as someone with a crack cocaine addiction.
The areas of the brain for cravings and addiction were raging with activity. ‘I looked at the data and I thought these are drives!” Dr. Fisher exclaimed. ‘Not emotions. If you are angry with someone you can get over it in the afternoon-because it is an emotion. But if you are hungry, or thirsty, or you are craving your addicted substance, you remain thirsty or hungry or craving your addiction, until you get what you need. These three systems-sex, romantic love and attachment are no different’.

In the 1970s psychologist Dorothy Tennov wrote a whopper of a book called Love and Limerence. ‘Limerence” was a word she came up with to describe the ‘involuntary state of mind which results from romantic attraction and leads to an overwhelming, obsessive need to have your feelings reciprocated’.

One of Dr. Fisher’s studies found that a quarter of people say they’ve experienced love at first sight. ‘All it takes is for someone to trigger the dopamine system in your brain and for you to be open to falling in love’, she explained. ‘If someone walks into a supermarket, they are smiling, they are wearing a T-shirt with your favourite sports team logo and they are humming a song you relate to, that can be enough to trigger it. Its most often triggered at times of change. When people move to another country, get a new job, inherit a lot of money or lose a lot of money, it creates novelty and with that you feel more susceptible to falling in love.

Here’s the irony. What all married people declare as ‘proper love’ isn’t romantic love. It’s actually ‘attachment’ and concerns a whole different group of brain chemicals.

Bottom line: while there is still a place for long-term, deep robust relationships for those who want them, that model will always be challenged by the more forceful drive for fervent, passionate, new romantic love.

Never has the force been as strong as it is today. The Internet guarantees us anonymity for affairs, a faster paced life means we become bored more easily, better health allows us to live longer and stay sexually active later, modern domestic appliances and services permit us to live alone, giving us leverage to walk away from a stale relationship.

The scientific evidence proves that the stability of long-term attachment and the excitement of romantic love are two different forces. The conventional fairytale marriage doesn’t look so strong wavering in between the two.

Monday, April 7, 2014

United Arab Emirates-best country ever

UAE (Dubai specifically) has been on my bucket list for ages.
This year, after closing somewhat of a milestone of a business deal, I’ve decided to treat myself: booked business class trip on Emirates to Dubai.

I can tell you that I’ve chosen a carrier and destination wisely-my expectations were exceeded by a long mile. Was worth every penny!

I’ve spent most of my time in Dubai, exploring the culture, sightseeing and shopping and took one day trip to Abu Dhabi.

WOW! The country is simply amazing. 

After learning about it and its history and talking to locals (expats and natives) I have become a great big fan of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (the Ruler of Dubai and Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE) and His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ( the President of UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi).
Not that either of the Sheikhs would care at all that some white infidel chick is a fan...LOL...

Abu Dhabi and Dubai (through their Rulers) have managed to achieve in years what other countries are struggling to achieve decades on.
Let me paint a picture for you:

-All Citizens receive FREE healthcare

-All Citizens receive FREE education

-If a Citizen wishes to study at University abroad, Government pays for it (NOT a loan). If the Citizen wishes to remain abroad after finishing his studies, he will have to re-pay the Government the cost of his education, but interest free

-When Citizens get married, they receive 70,000 Dirham as a gift from the Government to spend as they wish

-Government also gives the Citizens who just got married FREE land to build the house on and 500,000 Dirham interest free loan to build the house on it.

-These days in an effort to increase Citizen’s population young families are given free land with villas already built on them (based on need). So young family with not much money can start out relatively stress free with roof over their head and no mortgage.

-There are no taxes

Some of you might say “But of course-they have all that oil”.
Well, oil wasn’t discovered in UAE until 1962 and at this stage oil constitutes only 7% of Dubai’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

What really impressed me about the Rulers is great vision for their country and the means they chosen to get there.
Instead of going full speed depleting their natural resources, they use those carefully to build a significant foundation for developing future wealth of the country that is not at all dependent on exploitation of natural resources.
Instead of lining their own pockets, Rulers put great deal of money into infrastructure and into increasing well-being of their subjects.
Mind, I am not saying either Sheikh lives in poverty and self-denial-they enjoy the fruits of their labours just as you and I would. However, their people are on the forefronts of their minds.
Here’s a good example:
Out of his care for his citizens  social stability and welfare and keenness to provide them with a dignified life, President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has ordered settlement of defaulting personal loans of 6,830 citizens for an amount of about AED 2 billion.
The initiative aims to alleviate the suffering of citizens who cannot pay back their loans.
.Agreements were signed with lender banks, stipulating that the defaulting personal loans of 6,830 citizens, worth about AED2 billion, will be paid off, and cases against the defaulters will be dropped immediately. 88 banks were involved in the debt settlement process.
Simply put, Sheik has paid off the loans of people who were in serious financial trouble. No strings attached.
Compare above with goings on in US just a few years ago when whole families were literally forced out of their homes because they defaulted on their mortgages due to the crisis created by greedy banks (which are doing fine, by the way). Gives you a pause, doesn’t it?

UAE (Dubai especially) is the first country I’ve been to which promotes and practices its religious beliefs without hypocrisy.
Here’s what I mean. Friday is the day of rest in Muslim religion. Many religions have such day (different days of the week). However, in many countries quite a bit of native population still works on those days in order to provide for their families and, as a country, to continue putting the money in the coffers by taking it from tourists. Imagine not having major malls and shopping centers open one day out of every week-financial impact would be quite significant.

Not in Dubai J. The place is full of non-Muslim foreigners eager to work. So while Arabs truly enjoy their day of rest, the money is flowing full speed into the Treasury: happy infidels work hard to take it from other infidels (whom are just as happy to part with it) all the while driving country’s economy.

Which brings me to something that truly impressed me: a very elegant solution by Rulers to migration problem (which most countries struggle with).

It is quite easy to get a working visa for Dubai: all one has to do is secure a job. Any job. There are no “skill shortage” and “special requirements” lists. If you secured a job as a toilet cleaner or a shop sales assistant, a cook or IP specialist-whatever-you can get a work visa (provided you passed the character requirements test -police background check-which is standard for every country).
Fact is, expats constitute about 80% of entire Dubai population.

How can it be good, you ask? Like I said-very elegant solution by the rulers.

First of all, work visas have to be renewed every year. For big companies, like Microsoft, for instance, and their upper management it’s every 2 years.
Naturally, renewal costs money (think revenue for the country) AND one has to pass police background check (so no bad element has a chance of staying in the country).

But it’s not just that. If an expat wants to open a business in Dubai (any business), he/she has to have a “sponsor” who is a Citizen.
What it means in practical terms is the sponsor Citizen is technically listed as an owner of that business and expat as a manager. But it’s not at all “wild West”- like.
Everything is strictly regulated and spelled out in official documents signed by both parties and enforced by court system.
There are 2 options:
-Expat can chose to pay a larger one-time amount to “sponsor” (amounts are calculated based on the type and size of the business and number of employees) and the sponsor will have no involvement in the business at all.
-Expat can choose to pay a smaller amount and sponsor will have a say-so in business decisions. What it means in reality, every time expat needs sponsor’s signature, sponsor can ask for more money.

It used to be that Citizens had no limit on how many businesses they can “sponsor”. From what I understand, now it is limited 10-15 per Citizen. Still, that’s a nice money-making opportunity for Citizens, especially considering that no work is involved at all.

So the more expats want to open a business in Dubai, the better for the locals: someone else doing the job all the while giving more money to the locals for the privilege (in addition to business license fees and visa renewals fees).

There are several “free zones” in Dubai where foreign companies can open up shop –they are exempt from any corporate or personal taxes. Huge giants like Microsoft have offices in “free zones”.
One might ask how is that profitable for Dubai? Well, leases of the buildings are not cheap, plus licensing and visa renewals for the company itself and all employees. Not to forget the fact that all those employees have to live someplace and spend money (living costs+leisure spending) every day.

Of note is the fact that while utility costs are not at all outrageous in Dubai (in line with most countries), expats are paying full rates and Citizens only 10% of the full rates (which amounts to next to nothing)-so, again, great benefit to Citizens from bigger population of expats.

Obviously, you won’t find any Arab bitching about “those foreigners who came here and took our jobs” (like you find locals do in just about any other country)...LOL...

Property/land in some areas of Dubai (usually older, historic ones) is not available for sale to foreigners, only to Citizens. Foreigners are free to rent there if they wish, though. Foreigners are free to purchase property/land in most of newly developed areas (at a significant cost).

A great deal of effort is applied towards attracting more tourists (and taking their dollars ;)).
Tourism constitutes about 14% of GDP (twice of GDP percentage of oil) and the plan is to make it even more.

Tourism dollars are the “easiest” money there is-for any country (as opposed to mining natural resources or manufacturing). As long as infrastructure is supplied (hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc), people trip over themselves in their eagerness to fork money over.

I saw it with my own eyes: people line up to go up Burj Khalifa ($35US if pre-booked online and $130US if purchased onsite) and it’s booked 2 days out usually with tours happening every hour on the hour during business hours.
High Tea at the Sky Lounge at Burj Al Arab is booked out 3 weeks ahead-at the cost of $160US per person.
The list goes on.

And there are so many more money attractions being built as we speak: Dubai World, which would be the size of small city, combining several amusement parks, attractions and hotels, The Map Of The World islands-price tag several billion per, two more Palms (mostly consisting of villas and apartments that far from cheap and 5-star hotels with average room prices ranging from $600/night to $1200/night).

Dubai is one of the safest places as well. Probably the safest I’ve been to. I think part of it is yearly visa renewal requirement-those who even think of doing something untoward know full well that punishment will be swift and ultimately they will lose the good life without any chance of return. It obviously works. 
Civil and traffic courts operate by Egyptian law and family court by Shariya law.
Good example of it is Dubai Metro. It gets quite busy and often cars are full of people-just like sardines in a can. I rode Metro all day every day I was there and not once was there even a hint of impropriety-no man brushed against me, never mind rubbed or groped.
Several times I was returning to my hotel late at night and I felt absolutely safe.

I found Dubai and Abu Dhabi to be very progressive and open-minded. “Open doors-open minds” is the motto. There are several mosques where non-Muslims are allowed (not at all a common thing) and dress code in the city is very relaxed for foreigners-I saw girls doing their daily exercise run in their spandex shorts and tank tops and no one cared. Plenty of expats wear light summer dresses and club wear is what you’d expect in every country.

Although alcohol is prohibited by Muslim religion, non-Muslims are not at all deprived of it. There are plenty of bars that serve all manner of mixed drinks, wine, beer and champagne. There are even “ladies specials” with free drinks offered to ladies during certain promotional times.

Alcohol is not cheap (many would say VERY expensive), but that’s yet another revenue source for the Treasury: no one needs alcohol, so if one wants some, they have to shell out some $$$-it’s a free choice ;)

Expats living in Dubai can purchase alcohol in special shops (it is not sold openly), but they first need to obtain a license (yip, more revenue) which involves their income statement (to make sure they can afford it and purchasing it won’t affect their finances), permission from their employer (to assure the consumption of alcohol won’t interfere with performing their jobs) and a statement from a doctor (to assure they don’t have a problem with alcohol-i.e. binge drinking, alcoholism,etc).
Although it sounds like a great big undertaking, it actually is not that tedious of a task (according to expat I’ve spoken to) and when you think about it a great way to prevent at least some problems. Perhaps not a bad idea for some countries known for alcohol issues? ;)
Again, alcohol in shops is far from cheap, so it is definitely a choice (and more revenue).

Of note is the fact that all the expats I’ve spoken to (a Philippino, a Russian, one Brit and two Kiwis) were obviously holding Dubai in great regard (as opposed to many times when I spoke to expats in other countries and they often “bagged” their host country). People like living there and it’s a great testament to the way Government operates and treats people.

In fact, Dubai shot right to the top of my list of countries I would like to live in. Melbourne remains at the very top as the love of my life, but Dubai is now firmly in the second place :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The case against marriage

Great article in today's Sunday star times by Emily Simpson- "Flouting the fairytale. Fools rush in"

I agree with everything said.

Several paragraphs strike the cord with me especially:

- just like Helen Croydon, I far prefer living alone and enjoying "low maintenance lovers"

- "It just feels like I wilt when I', in a relationship. I've always felt that my thirst for life, my spark, my energy, my joi de vivre, my productivity, my career, my health, my sleep, my walking routine, my friendships, my libido... have been best when there is just me"

- "Even in a healthy relationship there's still this pull on your sense of self and your independence"