Good Chemistry: Love Changes You0
Romantic love is a universal human experience. It exists across cultures, through time. It brings people together and keeps them together, sometimes inexplicably.
From a scientific perspective, love originates from the primary goal of all life: to reproduce. Humans are driven by libido, mate selection and pair bonding to produce and raise healthy offspring. Although the subjective experience of romantic love encapsulates so much more than these biological mechanisms, it still relies on good (body) chemistry.
When you’re first falling for someone, you think about them constantly. People in this phase have a serotonin deficiency, which often occurs with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Adrenaline and norepinephrine production increase, causing nervousness, focus and those butterflies in your tummy! Alongside a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, the body and mind interpret courtship as a crisis. Fortunately, shared stressful experiences help form social connections.
Perhaps further aiding bonding, testosterone levels converge between partners. It drops in lovestruck biosex males (who usually have high levels of this male sex hormone) and rises in biosex females (who usually have low levels). With a role in regulating aggression and libido, these changes might align lovers’ temperaments.
These specific love-related effects dissipate after a year or so. Then, passionate love gives way to a less euphoric but also less stressful compassionate love. It’s built upon two hormones that keep lovers attached.
The “love hormone” oxytocin makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It reinforces bonds, inspiring feelings of security and contentment with someone. Cuddling, kissing and orgasm – activities we particularly associate with romantic relationships – flood our bodies with oxytocin. We begin to crave it, which is partly why it’s so hard to keep away from a new flame.
The other chemical keeping you coming back is dopamine, the reward hormone. When you start fancying someone, it follows the surge of adrenaline to give you a pleasurable rush. Even decades into a relationship, partners still continue to respond to their beloved with just as much dopamine. This hormone is more addictive than oxytocin, so it always makes seeing your special someone a very special occasion.
Chemicals swirl beneath the intricate sensations of romantic love. While it’s natural to effervesce when we first mix with certain people, time and care can nurture something stable and long-lasting.
Words: CHARLOTTE LIEHR