[Caution: Reader Discretion Advised]
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, everyone is thinking of love. Whether young or old, we all seek love at one point or another, some investing large amounts of time and money to try and find their soul-mate. If or when we find love, we give away our hearts. But what really happens when we fall in love? It’s not just a meeting of minds, souls, hearts, or whatever you like to call it — people were not just “made for each other.”
There is an intricate process that goes on inside our bodies when we first lay eyes on someone that determines whether or not they are a love interest. Let’s take a look at the science that influences such an important part of our lives.
How long does it take to fall in love? Scientists and psychologists have come up with a vague answer that is, shall we say, in the right ball park — about four minutes. What takes place in these minutes is of the utmost importance.
Estrogen and testosterone, our sex hormones, are what first influence us. Testosterone is the male hormone, and estrogen the female, though both are present in both sexes. These hormones control the growth of sexual organs, and are what influence the first physical attraction, sometimes referred to as “lust.” (Don’t be put off by the negative connotation of the word; it merely refers to a physical reaction that is beyond our control and is not in fact immoral by any means. The immorality most religions associate with this is when we pursue those desires purposefully, objectifying the person to whom we are attracted. Vocabulary word of the day: objectify means to view a person as an object for your use, not as a human being deserving of respect.)
Phase two of attraction is aptly called “attraction” or “infatuation.” The side effect of this phase is the love-struck obsession that consumes our thoughts so that our life seems to revolve around one person whom we hardly know. This early love is influenced by three major chemicals in our bodies: serotonin, adrenaline, and dopamine.
Adrenaline, which I’m sure we’ve all experienced at one point or another, is the rush of energy that makes our heart pound, and our bodies sweat excessively.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, triggers a reward based desire, much like what drug users experience when seeking a high. The surge of attraction chemicals that our bodies bring when we are around the other person inclines us to seek out their company, motivated by wanting to experience the high again.
Serotonin, most of which is located in our gut, regulates many things, among them learning, sleep, and our mood. People in love tend to have lower levels of serotonin, in keeping with the levels of people found to have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It is often thought that this would account for the obsession of many people with their love interest.
The third stage of attraction is known as “attachment.” This stage is largely affected by two main hormones: oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin, released in both men and women, is present during and after childbirth, stimulating maternal bonding, and is released after we experience orgasm. The deep bonding the chemical promotes is speculated to be what draws and keeps couples close together, since they feel a deepened understanding and affection for each other.
Vasopressin, released after sex, controls long-term commitment and affects pair bonding. It stimulates a reward circuitry, encouraging return to the same mate, and bonding with that mate.
There you have it, love in a nutshell. What seems so simple is actually a highly complex process that affects who we choose as our partner in life. Here’s a handy hint to tell if someone you like is interested in you: look at their eyes. It is often said that eyes are windows to the soul — to the soul or not, they at least offer a look inside. Studies have shown that a person’s pupils will dilate when they are attracted to someone. So don’t be afraid to look them in the eyes.
Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories.” Madeline’s book, The Box of Secrets, is a love story that calls on the real world for its inspiration. Download the Kindle edition at Amazon.com.