The Illusion we call Love
Western Culture is brimming with depictions of love. From the day we are born we are bombarded with these subjective views of love. Whether it seeped into our young brain through our parent’s television shows, the commercials in between or the innocent Disney movies — it slowly began to imprint illusions of love upon us as we developed. However, love is much more different, complicated & deeper than the Hollywood portrayal we’ve come to know as the truth. Without a firm understanding of what love is and it’s origin, the chances of it’s success in any context are slim when it operates within a culture where “me” is emphasized over “we”.
Contrary to the representation of love given by our culture’s media, it’s less about “magic” and “soul mates” and more about science. The “magic” which produces the sensation we’ve come to perceive as being “in love” is actually science, and in order for any love to be reliable or stable this must be understood. The brain is a complex organ and still not fully understood by the science community. It’s abilities and functions are incomprehensible the more one comes to examine and study it. However, in the past century scientists have been able to discover truth from closely observing it’s remarkable capabilities. The brain is the powerhouse of our body which allows for communication with organs, and with this communication comes the production of chemicals and neurotransmitters.
In order to understand how this results in the feeling we’ve come to know as being “in love”, I will break it down into the 3 stages proposed by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University. The first stage is called “lust”, and the basis for this name comes from the sex hormones of testosterone and oestrogen which are the driving force behind attraction. This leads into the second stage which is called “attraction”, and this is the stage ironically romanticized and emphasized by our culture. The reason for attraction or the “in love” feeling is a group of neurotransmitters known as Dopamine, Serotonin and Norepinephrine. Altogether these neurotransmitters are known as monoamines, and have significant roles in the sensation we’ve come to know as being “in love”. Dopamine is responsible for multiple aspects including controlling the flow of information from other areas of the brain to the frontal lobe and controlling our movements while being a crucial part of the basal ganglia motor loop (PsychologistWorld). At this point I’ve probably lost you with all of these medical terms so let me provide you with an explanation. Dopamine, in essence, is a key chemical in the frontal lobe (the part of the brain sitting directly behind your forehead) as it is directing the intake and outtake of information from other lobes or areas of the brain. It also aids in the basal ganglia motor loop which is how it connects to our movements. However, due to it’s complexity and it’s minimal priority in the context of this blog’s topic, I will not be explaining any further the science behind the link of dopamine and the basal ganglia motor loop. Nevertheless, it is still important to understand dopamine’s other roles in the brain in order to understand it’s impact on the sensation we’ve come to know as being “in love”.
In continuation, specifically within it’s connection to the “Attention” stage, dopamine provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing, certain activities. Thus, it can be understood why this chemical is a part of the “in love” sensation we experience as it creates feelings of bliss. Like Dopamine, Serotonin is also responsible for multiple aspects of the body and brain function. This monoamine is known for “constricting smooth muscles, transmitting impulses between nerve cells, regulating cyclic body processes and contributing to well being and happiness (MedicalNewsToday).” I know I’ve once again probably lost you, but the key part of that sentence is serotonin’s contribution to well being and happiness. Thus, this specifically correlates to the “attraction” stage as it’s decrease in levels are substantial to the love process. It may seem contradicting to state the decrease of this chemical is substantial for the “in love” feeling since it contributes to well-being and happiness. However, the lack of serotonin results in obsessive behavior which materializes itself while you’re in love through excessive thoughts of the person you’re in love with. The last monoamine is norepinephrine and it’s responsible for “increasing the force of skeletal muscle contraction and the rate and force of contraction of the heart (Brittanica).” Again don’t fret! The important part of this last sentence is it’s responsibility to increase the rate and force of heart contractions. Thus, this also materializes itself like serotonin, but through the sensation we’ve come to know as “butterflies in the stomach”. When we come in contact with the individual we have feelings for, a reduction of blood occurs in the stomach creating the sensation of fluttering while at the same time causing the adrenal glands to release norepinephrine resulting in a higher heart rate and increased perspiration. Overall, the “in love” sensation can be scientifically explained through our brain’s connection to the body which ultimately allows for the response of monoamines.
The third stage of love is known as “attachment”, and this is another stage Hollywood attempts to portray, but has difficulty because social bonds are not maintained by the “in love” feelings. Nevertheless, it’s during this stage two key hormones known as Oxytocin and Vasopressin are released by the nervous system. Oxytocin is involved in social recognition and attachments as well as trust formation. However, Vasopressin has also been connected to social attachment as it has recently been researched in the prairie vole. According to BBC Science when scientists introduced Vasopressin receptors to male prairie voles they reformed their ways by fixating on one female and choosing to mate with only her — even when other females showed interest. This link found between prairie voles and Vasopressin has crossed over into humans as both Vasopressin and Oxytocin have been discovered to increase remarkably in the brain during orgasm. Overall, these hormones are both vital in developing social attachments which can affect the durability of a relationship. Thus, it is not the “in love” sensation which gives love it’s stability, but the social bond formed during the “attachment” stage.
The science behind the sensation of being in love is both complex and challenging to explain in a concise manner. Nonetheless, having even a simple understanding of the content which forms and develops into love as a whole is significant. The unfortunate part is in our culture not only do we use Hollywood to incorrectly define and educate us on what love is, but this is the same place from which the ideology of “me” over “we” is emphasized. One would think after witnessing the extensive amounts of divorces and affairs which occur in Hollywood our culture would put two and two together and realize their idea of love isn’t working. The truth is Hollywood is wrong about love in more than one way, and one of these ways relates to the high divorce rates and broken marriages. Love has nothing to do with emphasis on the self, but rather emphasis on the other. This is something science can prove as every stage in the process of love provided by Fisher cannot be completed without another individual. The truth is the sensation of “falling in love” or stage 2 of the love process can fade and will fade if our culture continues to follow Hollywood’s example rather than the example it should.
While science explains how the sensation of being “in love” occurs and how this develops into love itself, it does not explain the origin of love. The origin of love not only provides an answer on what love should look like, but it also provides the prime example. God is the essence of love and in Genesis it explains He created us, humankind, in His image, and because we fell into sin we were separated from Him eternally. However, in John 3:16 it states “For God So loved the world He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” This scripture passage not only displays the origin of love and how He loves, but the ultimate example of love which was Jesus Christ. It is through the sacrificial death and then resurrection of Christ that our sins were covered and we were reunited with God. Yet, in all of this He’s shown us love is nowhere near about “me” but about “we”. Even after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension He sent the Holy Spirit to speak through Paul about romantic love in Ephesians 5:25 & 28. In this scripture passage it states, “ Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her(v.25)… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (v.28).” For those who might not know or understand, verse 25 in essence is stating for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved His children. Which is the same love He displayed when sacrificing Himself for our salvation and ability to choose eternity with Him. Furthermore in verse 28, God makes it clear when a husband is loving His wife He is loving Himself. To comprehend the depth of meaning in this verse, it’s important to address the Biblical perspective on marriage. God instilled that when we are united in Holy Matrimony under Him we become one body. Thus, we are able to see just how deep the love in marriage is intended to be according to Ephesians 5:25 & 28, and these concept hold true not only for husbands but wives as well.
In the end, Western Culture as well as other cultures no longer or never have looked at marriage with this Biblical lens, and I think the world would be astonishingly pleased of the results if we all learned to love as Christ loved us. So yes, Love does have an origin, a complex design and is nowhere near what Hollywood has come to depict it. Unlike Hollywood may depict, love is selfless and involves sacrifice of ourselves for others as Christ exemplifies, and explains in scripture. Even in I Corinthians 13, He provides us a verbal explanation as to what love is and is not both in relation to marriage and outside of marriage. Unfortunately, our culture still decides to follow Hollywood’s ideologies and reject the original intention of love. How long will we continue to ignore God, Science and allow ourselves to be hypnotized on a daily basis by the illusion we call love?
“About Oxytocin.” Psych Central. N.p., 17 July 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
“BBC Science | Human Body & Mind | Science of Love.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
“The Brain’s Dopamine Neurotransmitter.” Psychologist World. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
McIntosh, James. “Serotonin: Facts, What Does Serotonin Do?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Rogers, Kara. “Norepinephrine.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 05 Aug. 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2017