Or: What happens to our bodies when we fall in love?
Your look into his/her eyes…
The rhythm of your breath seems to vanish along with all the other sights and sounds around you…
Only THEY exist with you. You only want, and need, THEM…
You remember the first time you touched and your fingers intertwined, and how a warmth spread through your whole body. You never want that feeling to go away.
You’re in love.
Dr. Helen Fisher, a behavioral scientist at Rutgers, has performed many studies over the years related to the biological origins of what we call “love”. One of her findings is that our feelings of romantic love are founded on the same kind of dopamine-powered reward systems that drive us to crave all of the things that give us joy and pleasure — extremely satisfying sensual experiences like jumping out of an airplane, eating dishes prepared by Michelin-starred chefs, or completing a work of art that you dedicated a lot of yourself to.
Dr. Fisher has also found through her research a number of symptoms that manifest physically and chemically in us when we’re in love. If you’ve ever been in love, you’ll probably recognize these. And if you’re in love now but are in denial about it, seeing these stages might help you realize the gut-wrenching truth.
You’re my one and only…
You feel that this person who you’ve been spending so much time with and expending such a large percentage of your thoughts on is super-special, unique and the only person you should be with.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you — You’re perfect!
Here is where you begin to place complete focus on your partner’s positive traits while totally ignoring any flaws they might have. You also associate seemingly random things in your everyday life with them…Their traits manifesting in the smallest things because THEY’RE ALL YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT.
Based on Dr. Fisher’s findings, both of these stages are concomitant with elevated levels of central dopamine as well as central norepinephrine, which boosts memory formation.
Essentially, by this point, you are almost “merging” your partner into your mind…Or, at least, your IDEA of your partner. I call this the BrundleFly stage, for those of you familiar with David Cronenberg’s mesmerizing body horror version of “The Fly” from the 1980's.
I’m a wreck!
At this point, you’re probably experiencing some emotional instability. As your relationship grows, your feelings become stronger across the entire emotional spectrum. Everything affects you with more intensity. When something goes right, it feels really right, and when there’s even the slightest hint of trouble in paradise it feels awful. This stage is creates brain chemistry comparable to that seen in drug addicts. ‘Addicted to love” isn’t just some cute saying…it’s actually what’s happening.
Still rather early in the relationship, your attraction to your partner continually intensifies. You may have been talking to and seeing one another daily for a few weeks and then suddenly one of you has to go away for a few days for some reason and you’re kept apart for longer than you’ve ever been…
You feel your desire grow to epic levels, and when you’re finally reunited it’s like a supernova explosion of passion.
According to Dr. Fisher’s research, you might think about your “special someone” up to 85% of your waking hours. For some reason, this goes along with a reduction in serotonin in the brain, a chemical change that is seen in patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I neeed you…
In other words, you are becoming emotionally, and in some ways physically, dependent on your partner. Again, this stems from chemical effects on the brain similar to those found in drug addiction. Per this study by Dr. Fisher and her team in which they studied a group of men and women using functional MRI —
The results show activation of reward systems, previously identified by monetary stimuli, in a natural, endogenous, negative emotion state. Activation of areas involved in cocaine addiction may help explain the obsessive behaviors associated with rejection in love.
These first 6 symptoms make up something that psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined “limerence” in 1979: The beginning phase of falling in love.
They all seem to come from a few common biochemical changes detailed in Dr. Theresa Crenshaw’s book The Alchemy of Love and Lust:
- Phenyleteylamine — “the molecule of love.” This is a natural amphetamine that is responsible for turning us on.
- Pheromones, produced from DHEA, influence sensuality rather than sexuality, creating an inexplicable sense of well-being and comfort.
- Ocytocin — “the cuddle hormone.” This makes us desire closeness, and is secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. Ocytocin, in turn, stimulates the production of dopamine, estrogen, LHRH, and vasopressin.
The next set of symptoms come into play in a phase that is all about forming a bond and building trust.
We’ll be together, forever!
The dependency soon evolves into nesting behavior and planning for a future together as you and your partner’s lives become ever more entwined.
Neuroscientist Dr. Lucy Brown from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York also conducted some FMRI studies, and she found that the most primitive parts of our brains are activated by feelings of romance and love, in much the same way our brain responds to basic survival needs such as hunger and thirst.
I feel for you.
Along with the intensifying bonds comes empathy — your ability to understand the emotions of your partner, enjoying their happiness with them and feeling sad when they’re down. By now, the two of you might be considered psychically linked, but that’s not really a scientific thing.
You make me a better man/woman/person…
As both partners bond with one another, they’ll tend to make small concessions along the way to better align with the lifestyle and values of their significant other.
One of Dr. Fisher’s studies from 2013 seemed to confirm that we are indeed attracted to people we could consider “opposites”: Those with highly outgoing personalities finding themselves head-over-heels for someone who is more of an introvert and vice versa, for example. What usually ends up happening over time is that each partner learns to like, or at least tolerate, the priorities and favorite activities of the other.
Coupled with strong positive emotions are often some negative side effects. This is where possessiveness and jealousy rear their ugly heads. Driven by very base instincts, these feelings have their roots in ancient biological imperatives. For our ancestors, particularly the male ones, it was very important that mating was exclusive in order to guarantee the passing on of their genes.
Crazy in love
You find yourself doing things for, and with, your partner that you may not have ever considered before. You’re almost out of control, being driven by the emotional joyride of your new relationship. Half of your decisions seem to be just to toss rationality out the window! This makes for an exciting and memorable chapter in your life. It also leads to a lot of elopements and unplanned pregnancies.
If you and your partner manage to get through all of these stages rather unscathed, you’re ready for the final phase of love that entails long-term commitment.
After this, a lot of the spark of intense physical attraction may be gone, but if you are truly compatible and have grown closer in other ways your relationship has a chance to stand the test of time.
Thank you for reading and sharing.