Love is by no means purely a matter of the heart, but rather a complex interaction of senses, nerves, transmitters and hormones. It seems to come from nowhere and our ability to reason nearly loses all control.
Many factors that decide when and if we fall in love are pure biology and subconsciously influence our choice of partner. Take for example, smell. A person’s scent is as individual as his genetic code and is among other things influenced by bacteria on the skin. Just the smallest detection of a scent can release electrical impulses in the nose’s nerve cells which go directly to the olfactory center of the brain. This is among the oldest parts of our brain and is closely connected to the limbic fibers where emotions are produced. Depending on whether we find a smell pleasant or irritating, certain transmitters and hormones are produced. Within a few seconds then our biology has decided our first impressions. It’s so simple, but we have literally no influence on it.
This very powerful and distinct sense of smell has provided us with some important services throughout evolution. You should find a partner with whom you are genetically predisposed to creating healthy offspring. So, for example, people with similar immune systems can’t smell each other very well, because evolution seeks diversity. Preferably diverse genes should find each other to further the genetic pool.
After smell, of course optics, expressions and gestures, voice and touch play an important role in selecting a partner. But even these parameters are more influenced by evolution than personal choice than we want to admit. Because our nature wants only one thing – healthy offspring.
Being in love can be divided between two stages – the first is falling in love, the second is love and trust.
In the first stage dopamine plays a huge role – it’s a transmitter of a heady euphoria comparable to a shopping spree, speed or cocaine. Some doctors even suggest that being in love is a psychotic state, altering our perception of the world. We all know it – everything in the world is suddenly coming up roses, many problems disappear, we want to hug everyone. And you think about him or her all day. We are really addicted to this state.
At first serotonin is at low levels, it’s almost like an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those in love can only think about their lover. Adrenalin gives a boost, makes you edgy and restless. Noradrenaline is euphoric and diminishes hunger and fatigue. In women, testosterone boosts their desire for sex. In men the testosterone levels drop a little, so they tend to be a bit softer and less controlled when love hits them over the head.
Being in love and a mother’s love display similar brain activities.
Part of the parietal and temporal lobes are less active. This results in being less critical to your partner or child. You just find everything your loved ones do great.
Also the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are less active. The first is active during depression, the second during fears and sadness. The brain is just programmed for happiness. The first phase of being in love can last for weeks to months. In this period, usually all logical precautions concerning procreation are ignored.
Often couples get pregnant during in this period.
During the relationship the euphoric hormones diminish, hormones which promote a closer connection like oxytocin and vasopressin take over. The relationship is now marked by trust, closeness and well-being. In terms of evolution, this creates the perfect basis for stable relationship to raise offspring together. And then a good, long-term partnership can develop. Sexual attraction and trust have to be present for a relationship, two factors which unfortunately work against each other. Only those couples who manage to find a good balance have a real chance of a fulfilling relationship.
Plus – the greater the passion at the start, the more the relationship hormone oxytocin is released in the second phase. So you can see how important a natural desire for sex is for a long-lasting partnership.
I am full on LOVE, …
… because sexuality is beautiful, fulfilling, healthy and relaxing when we truly enjoy it and banish shame.
Dr. Verena Breitenbach