Science of love
Move over Disney, this is chemistry!
Butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, the sheer excitement of being in love and finding “the one.” It’s the stuff of love stories and every Disney movie ever made. But what is love anyway?
Most movies portray the same ideal: love at first sight followed by happily ever after. That may happen in fiction, but in reality it’s never quite the same. Love is not two souls making one, not rainbows and butterflies, but rather a series of chemical reactions in the body.
There are three levels of love: lust, attraction and attachment.
Level one: Lust
Lust is that first moment when you meet someone you find attractive — and takes less than seven seconds.
Those are not butterflies you feel in your stomach, but instead a rush of adrenaline from the adrenal glands located on top of your kidneys. Adrenaline is the reason you feel excitement, increased heart rate and sweaty palms at the beginning of a new crush.
Level two: Attraction
The second stage has to do with attraction and is where our bodies’ “happy hormones” — dopamine and serotonin — kick in. Attraction can be very powerful, and is also referred to as the honeymoon stage because these hormones help create a kind of utopian feeling when you are near the other person.
The increased levels of dopamine during the second phase usually have beneficial symptoms of increased energy and less need for food and sleep, according to Dr. Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.
Higher dopamine levels make your body react the same way as it would on cocaine and can cause a similar withdrawal when the love is gone.
Serotonin is your brain’s other happiness hormone, and it keeps you always thinking of your new love. All the hormones work together to make you feel happy, high and wanting to see more of the person.
During the first two stages, the brain will also work to make the person look perfect by purposely ignoring your sweetheart’s unattractive traits.
The early stages of love will alter your state of mind and that’s the reason it can be so addictive and alluring.
It is the second stage that gets talked about the most, the happy romantic love, but this part of the relationship only lasts between six and 18 months, which explains why many couples break up after all the hormones level out.
Level three: Attachment
Attachment is the third stage of love, when all the hormones have subsided, and making it through the intoxicating romantic stage of the relationship is a good sign of a lasting bond.
In attachment, the happy hormones are not as high as they used to be, but the brain starts producing other hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin, the “cuddle” hormones.
Unlike the second stage, oxytocin and vasopressin cause the couple to stay together and make it last. It is a vital stage of any relationship, and is similar to the bond between parents and children on a chemical level.
Love is not what movies make it out to be. It is not as simple as love at first sight and then walking into the sunset. It is a physical and psychological reaction that is produced and consumed by the brain.
Your brain makes you love sick, and can cause you “heartache.” The hormones you need to survive can also trick your body into doing some crazy stuff, all in the name of love.