One might assume that someone controlled and collected enough to handle potential disasters in outer space would take such information in stride. To which Louann Brizendine, MD, director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of The Female Brain, replies with a hearty "Not so fast." The pioneering neuropsychiatrist explains, "Every person who falls in love becomes crazily obsessed with their love object. Your brain is flooded with dopamine, oxytocin, estrogen, and testosterone. The amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex—your worry and caution centers—get turned way down. It's a lot like being on Ecstasy." Strangely enough, she goes on to say, "the state of early romantic love can be reignited by being dumped, which actually heightens the phenomenon of passionate love in the brain circuits." So when a man breaks up with a woman, that can send her into an agitated, attentive state, where she becomes obsessed with getting him back.
"Now, most jilted women can't eat, they can't sleep, can't work, can't concentrate," Brizendine says. "They cry all the time and may think about suicide. But Lisa wasn't just any jilted woman, right? All her training said, 'Fix the problem. Act.'" True, Nowak wasn't used to taking no for an answer. The Catholic Standard reported that while speaking to schoolchildren about how she'd applied to test-pilot school six times and beat out thousands of applicants to become an astronaut, she said, "If something looks like 'I can't do this,' it doesn't mean it's the end of the road." She advised the children to treat obstacles as opportunities.
"Nine hundred miles in a diaper," says Brizendine, "ain't nothin' compared to all the other obstacles she'd overcome in her life."
If brain chemistry wasn't on Nowak's side, neither were hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. "Jealousy is a universal emotion," says David M. Buss, PhD, a world-renowned expert on the evolutionary psychology of human mating. In addition to writing the first textbook on the subject, Buss is the author of The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex, which explains how hardwired this most volatile of emotions is. In the name of reproductive success, we've inherited a fierce instinct to guard against what Buss calls mate poachers. According to his research, the vast majority of subjects who are the victim of "love thieves" admit to fantasies about killing them, often in painful and gruesome ways.
Buss has identified more than 19 strategies designed to ward off a threatening rival. One favored by women, he says, is telling the straying mate that she'll change to please him, then devoting herself to becoming his ideal of physical attraction. Others range from staying by a partner's side at a party to throwing acid on a rival's face to murder. As to what causes an escalation from vigilance to violence, Buss says, "Unfortunately, we don't know, especially in terms of 'snapping.' However, one thing we do know, based on my research, is that women who are married to men with high income and status are more likely to devote intense efforts to mate guarding."