Love: society is obsessed with this four–letter word. It’s in every song, book, movie and TV show. When we aren’t in it, we’re jealous of everyone who is, and when we are, we flaunt it for everyone to see. It is, quite arguably, the best feeling in the world… and why shouldn’t it be? It activates basically every feel–good chemical in our body.
But what exactly does it mean to be in love? Love is still not fully understood by scientists, though they have made headway in pinpointing exactly what’s happening in our body that gives us those crave–worthy tingles. Well, I’ll tell you what I know, because it’s my job to be straight with you: love is alllll science! It’s a series of chemical reactions that cause us to feel certain ways and cause certain physical events to take place in our body. Does that take the romanticism out of love? Maybe, but it gives us a lot of leeway to act on our emotions.
I was actually excited to discover how much of “love” is really just our body’s reaction to increased or decreased chemicals in our brain. That whole idea of being “crazy” in love actually makes sense now. And poor Tom Cruise took so much slack for jumping on Oprah’s couch. Ha!
Let’s have a look at what’s happening inside our head. When we’re strongly attracted to someone, when we feel that undeniable pull towards them, it’s for good reason. They become an addiction––and I DO mean this quite literally. The same chemicals that cause addiction, the ones that live in the same area of the brain, become active when we’re around or thinking about “that person.” So, those obsessive behaviours we display, like when we check their social media page at least 15 times a day, is actually your body just responding to desires set forth by chemicals released in the brain. I’ll pause for the obligatory brow wipe because that’s right: you are not CRAZY. Those impulses are natural and acting on them just solidifies that you have legitimate feelings––chemicals––for that person.
In the first stages of love, the brain releases dopamine, the same chemical that’s released when you get high from a drug. So, as you crave more and more time with your new love interest, it’s really just your body looking for its next “high.” Your body also releases increased amounts of testosterone, a powerful sex hormone, which is why the desire to get down and dirty with them is so overwhelming and why you tend to have much more sex in the earlier stages of a relationship. As these chemicals increase, another chemical called serotonin, responsible for keeping us level, decreases. Sooooo, if our serotonin is decreased and our “happy” chemical, dopamine, is increased, you can see why we feel crazy-happy feelings towards our crush.
In the first stages of love, the brain releases dopamine, the same chemical that’s released when you get high from a drug.
Alright, so things have been good; great, even. He posted a photo of you two on his Instagram account, so you know he’s serious. Fast forward a few months and your serotonin level is at an all–time low. Reports show that it dips so low that it matches the level of serotonin in someone with OCD, which is fitting since “obsessed” doesn’t begin to cover how you feel about this person.
So, we know that dopamine and testosterone increase, and serotonin decreases, but the chemical activity doesn’t stop there. Norepinephrine (NE), phenethylamine (PEA), cortisol and oxytocin levels also rise, and these chemicals are responsible for many of your “lovesick” symptoms: PEA is responsible for your unwavering focus on your heart’s desire; NE is why we remember every little detail about our lover and every comment they make; oxytocin causes us to verge on clingy; and cortisol makes our heart race, palms sweat and stomach flutter.
These chemicals are also responsible for the black hole we crawl into and the pints of ice cream we binge on when the relationship doesn’t work out. We literally go through withdrawal as the “high” we’ve become accustomed to feeling is taken away from us. As our chemical levels drop, we’re left in an emotional heap and our friends have to drag us into the shower as they pry the Dorito bag out of our hands. We keep craving that person until our body adjusts to “normal” again.
But let’s say it does work out. Things still have to calm down, right? Anyone who’s been in a long–term relationship knows this well. The good thing is that as the “honeymoon” period wears off, there’s no one to blame, unless you want to blame the brain. After some time, your brain chemicals begin to plateau and the rise we once saw doesn’t happen at the sight of a text anymore. You may notice that your social media stalking has really settled down (which is good because it’s time–consuming to Instagram stalk your lover!). But if those increased chemical levels that made us feel so passionate towards our partner decrease, what will keep us feeling the love? The answer is … can you guess? If you said chemical reactions, you are correct. If you answered the dog, you are likely still correct.
The aforementioned Oxytocin chemical really becomes the star here. Oxytocin is produced and released in both men and women, and stimulation for its release comes from physical contact, sex and especially orgasm. Oxytocin becomes responsible for our strong attraction towards our partner, helping to deepen and strengthen the bond between you. Then, our brain’s endorphins kick in and we feel content and safe in our relationship. These are the feelings that keep the relationship going.
Now, what about those couples who have been together for years and still say they’re “crazy” for each other? Who calls bull sh*t on them? Well, turns out, they may not be exaggerating. For some, dopamine can still spike just as much as it did in the early phase of a relationship; it doesn’t typically produce obsessive feelings, but it can give make you feel a euphoric high that’s interpreted as “love.”
So, call it love, call it lust, or just call it an emotional and behavioural response to specific chemicals reactions happening in the body: no matter what, it all equates to the same thing… those flutters, those tingles, those smiles and giggles.