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The Chemistry of Love
We’ve all heard friends talk about chemistry and relationships. Rock stars sing about the “chemistry between us,” and movies depict racing hearts, sweaty palms, and love at first sight. Have you ever wondered where all these scientific, chemical and physical terms and ideas appear in relation to love and attraction? You’d be surprised how much hormones are invested in your relationship.
Why do we have “chemistry” with other people?
Long ago in our evolutionary history, before we partook in courtship and ’till death, our ancestors needed encouragement to reproduce and raise children. In response to the need to continue the species, humans evolved certain romantic functions to enhance the desire to find mates and create family units. The first basic instinct, which most animals have, is sexual desire, or the need to reproduce; This led to the desire to find a partner. Romantic love, or the instant chemistry you feel when you meet a great partner, then developed to fixate on just one partner at a time; It helps and helps us save both time and energy. Finally, we developed a sense of attachment. Attachment and bonding create desire for long-term partners, allowing us to form a secure family unit and raise children.
Why does love feel the way it does?
The emotions we associate with falling in love, especially the early and most romantic and passionate stages of a relationship, are the body’s response to three major chemicals. These chemicals affect some of the brain’s powerful pleasure circuits, creating feelings of pleasure and focus on your partner; In fact, early romantic feelings work like a drug.
Dopamine is the most prevalent chemical involved in this love reaction. Dopamine is considered the “happiness chemical” and is responsible for feelings of pleasure and physiological responses in the presence of your partner. Combined with phenylethylamine, it creates the racing heart, flushed skin, and sweaty palms that let you know you have a crush on the other person. Norepinephrine is another chemical and acts similarly to adrenaline. This chemical creates the rush of excitement we feel when we are around our partner. With dopamine and phenylethylamine, we feel intense energy, insomnia, cravings, and increased focus.
We can thank dopamine for paying attention to our partners. When we feel romantic love and attraction for our partner, we increase blood flow to areas of the brain with high concentrations of dopamine receptors. Our brain starts to focus on our partner, as if we are addicted to that person and our body’s reaction to them. Combined with norepinephrine, we begin to focus our attention on our partners; Our short-term memory increases and we engage in goal-oriented behavior, usually focused on being with our partner.
Some researchers have suggested that serotonin is also involved in feelings of love. During the early stages of attraction or romantic love, we have low levels of serotonin, which makes us behave differently. In fact, people in love have serotonin levels similar to those with obsessive-compulsive disorder; This explains why some of us become obsessed with our partners.
What comes next?
After the initial courtship, filled with racing pulses and days of excitement, we begin the process of chemical bonding. When you have sex with your partner, your body starts releasing chemicals that promote bonding or feelings of deep attachment. Oxytocin, the hormone released during intercourse, creates a deep bond; This feeling grows with each release. Vasopressin, another chemical associated with the formation of attachment and long-term relationships, is also released. When combined, oxytocin and vasopressin begin to interfere with dopamine and norepinephrine; It can give partners a feeling of less passion, but a higher level of attachment.
Why don’t we carry these same feelings of love and attraction throughout the relationship?
The longer you stay with a partner, the more mature the relationship becomes. Instead of that rush of excitement we used to think only of our partner, we can feel a little complacent. They may no longer be the image of perfection they once were, and we may sometimes feel resentful of them.
The excitement of attraction is associated with the very early stages of a relationship; Once they are gone, the relationship has either dissolved or matured into a long-term relationship. In fact, after two or three years, the researchers found almost no sign of the initial dopamine and norepinephrine responses.
Long-term relationships are based on the attachment formed during the initial physical relationship. Other chemicals, oxytocin and vasopressin, are hard at work, creating feelings of satisfaction and attachment when you’re with your partner; These are strengthened when you engage in healthy, physical relationships. Endorphins also work to keep you secure in your relationship and happy with your partner.
Doesn’t the idea of science and chemistry take the romance out of it?
Some people may find the idea of evolution in love somewhat preposterous, but scientific theories and hypotheses have not taken romance out of relationships. Consider this: Humans are one of the only species on earth designed to love. In fact, we only proved that love was not created by men or imagined for medieval poetry. We have evidence of love in over 150 societies and can trace evidence of love poems and slogans dating back 4,000 years. We have proof that love exists.
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