By Mandi Pimental
Romantic songs, sappy love stories and cinematic fairytale endings. All of these items are the juiciest ingredients of what forms our ideas of love as children. And while swooning over the leading man in the most recent Nicholas Spark’s movie may inspire you to find your own “true love”, there is much more that goes into lasting romance than the intention of happily ever after, or a well-written script.
If you break down the nitty-gritty, not so sexy, science-driven side of love, you can see that our brain is the one responsible for those butterflies, more so than our heart. Before you write me off as a cynical anti-romantic, look at the facts. I myself love, love. Who doesn’t adore the fluttering of the butterflies or an exhilarating first kiss? And although so much mystery lies in the beginning of a relationship, what is most interesting is how our bodies get past the feeling of ‘like’ to ‘infatuation’, and eventually, to love.
I Love You With My Whole… Brain.
There are primarily three sections of our brain that help us to interpret affection, to recognize reward and feel accepted. These include the hippocampus, the medial insula and the anterior cingulate. Other parts of our brain that contribute to how we feel within a relationship include the pituitary gland, which regulates our hormones, the amygdala which moderates our fear and stress levels, and the hypothalamus that produces the happy chemicals that make it possible to “fall in love”.
The Drug That Is Love.
If we break down the chemicals released into the body, we can see how the process works. The hypothalamus releases dopamine, and as dopamine increases, serotonin decreases. Which is why being “lovesick” causes loss of appetite, improved mood or feelings of obsessive infatuation. The body also produces a substance known as NGF, or Nerve Growth Factor. The higher the amount of NGF, the more intense your feelings will be at the onset, and throughout, your relationship. As couples move from the stages of puppy love into a deeper connection, the oxytocin and vasopressin take over. Stored in the pituitary gland, these hormones, when present together in high amounts, have been proven to contribute to the success of long-term relationships.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
The intense feelings of falling in love is usually short-lived. Rarely lasting longer than a year, most people’s brains cannot sustain this euphoric feeling because one’s brain can become overloaded in this blissful state. As silly as that sounds, it is quite easy to explain. When we are falling in love, activity in our frontal cortex decreases, making us not as sharp to make wise decisions. The amygdala also shuts down when you’re head over heels, masking your fear. This explains why couples are more adventurous when trying to impress their new partner, doing things they normally wouldn’t do, or making decisions they normally wouldn’t make. Las Vegas impulse weddings are the first thing that comes to mind, followed by first dates that include daredevil activities such as skydiving or tattooing your significant others name to various body parts. It is in the brain’s best interest not to remain in this state for too long, if only for self-preservation.
Love At First Sight… Fact or Fiction?
In a study conducted by Dr. Helen Fisher, PhD, only 11% of couples polled said they had found love at first sight. With the rush of chemicals, and high levels of brain activity, it is possible to see why couples would feel as if it was instantaneous, soul-mate level love. Especially if their relationship started out during an exciting event or time in their lives, as an adrenaline rush can create a bond between people. And although I am not ruling out that magical, cosmic possibility, it’s best advised that couples take the time to really get to know one another, to bond over similarities in life goals, their character traits and their priorities, more so than basing their relationship future solely on fleeting chemical reactions.