The Science Behind Falling in Love
I've always been fascinated by the chemical effect that love has on the mind and body. A person before experiencing love is a completely different person than the person after. What is it exactly about love that causes us to lose our minds? To go crazy? What is it about love that is so "addicting"? Why does it feel so good?
Turns out, love can be scientifically classified into three stages. The first stage, lust, or libido, is a result of our natural desire to receive sexual gratification and reproduce. The feelings we get from this sensation actually improve health and reduce stress. Testosterone, estrogen, and androgen hormones respond to the pheromones being emitted by our potential partner.
Lust leads to the second stage - attraction, which stimulates an increase in the production of adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine, as well as a decrease in the production of serotonin. Dopamine is a hormone that is produced during pleasurable experiences (such as doing drugs like cocaine, or eating sugar) that cause us to feel ecstatic, excited, and happy. The lower levels of serotonin, a hormone related to appetite and mood, may cause us to feel less hungry than usual and create those feelings of ecstasy. Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenalin, is actually a hormone released during sympathetic state (fight or flight) which causes us to be alert and focused. This combination adrenaline, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin causes an increase in energy, a decrease in appetite, less time sleeping, and hyper-focused attention on the person that we are falling for. Both lust and attraction deactivate the prefrontal cortex of the brain which controls rational behavior, self-awareness, and critical thinking. So this explains why people in love may appear to have lost their common sense.
This leads us to the third stage: attachment. Once the pair has become physically connected, they begin to release oxytocin, a hormone that forms a strong bond between them. This can be induced during sex, breastfeeding, childbirth, and cuddling. This powerful hormone can help couples interpret cues from one another and enhance communication. Last but not least, vasopressin, is released after sex from the pituitary gland. It inspires a positive outlook with a strong sense of unity.
Unfortunately, these same hormones that make us feel amazing can also make us feel incredibly low. There can always be too much of a good thing, and this applies to Dopamine and Oxytocin. Dopamine runs the reward pathways in our brain and we need it in moderate amounts to enjoy our lives. Too much, however, can cause us to become addicted and emotionally dependent on our partners. When it comes to oxytocin, too much can actually cause us to feel closer to the people we love and more alienated from those who we find to be unlike us.
Perhaps this is why it's so important to maintain separate lives to a certain extent, so that your hormones stay in check and you both keep your sanity. So - as they say - everything in moderation ;)