Love and hate come in many forms, degrees, and variations. You can hate to love running, love to hate reality TV, and…well…have very mixed feelings on buying a vibrator. Defining love and hate, ultimately, comes down to the object of affection, and if that object makes your heart flutter and your stomach tie up in knots, it’s safe to say you’re dealing with romantic love (or the tub of ice cream you ate last night is not agreeing with you). When it comes to romantic love, it’s generally thought that the heart is somehow involved (at least according to Hallmark), but, it turns out, that love is motivated by a very different part of our anatomy, the brain. External characteristics may drive you to a potential partner, but love will only ensue if internal processes initiate and release the proper chemical cocktail necessary for love to flourish. These chemical processes are actually the same processes seen with addiction, so from a chemical perspective, love is, literally, a drug.
There are three phases of falling in love; lust, attraction, and attachment. Each phase is driven by a different set of chemical reactions. The first stage, lust, is the phase of initial desire and it is initiated by the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. The second phase, attraction, is the stage when the connection grows and intensifies. Attraction initiates your stress response, which increases the levels of adrenalin and cortisol in your blood. This increase is responsible for increased heart rate and perspiration that transpire when you are around your new beau. The next chemical that drives attraction is dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of intense pleasure. According to researcher, Helen Fisher, “Couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in the smallest details of this novel relationship.” Serotonin is also involved in the attachment phase of love and it causes your mind to focus on your new love interest. The third phase of love, attachment, is the phase that helps couples stay together long enough to have children and raise a family. Oxytocin and Vasopressin are the chemicals involved in the process of attachment, as the production of oxytocin deepens the feeling of attachment and creates a strong bond between couples and Vasopressin reinforces long-term relationships.
Falling in love is just as much a chemical process as it is an emotional one, and your brain is doing more work than your heart, because when it comes to love, it’s all about the chemistry.