My mind, my thoughts, my words

(your brain) in love

What is love?

It makes sense to think that ‘love’ means something similar yet different to each of us. The best possible way to explain to someone else what you mean with your love to a certain person might be by telling them how you and that special someone are connected and what keeps you together. And yet, there is this ‘feeling’ to it that you can’t put into words. Does it feel the same every time you’re in love? Does it feel the same over time? I doubt it, and yet you can identify it as ‘love’.

I’ve had crushes before – butterflies in my stomach and love goggles right before my eyes that made everything seem great about that person.

And then, for the first time in my life, I found myself in love. The butterflies and love goggles never happened with him (he might have thought so though because I seemed rather euphoric – which was due to it being my first relationship and me being quite excited about it). It was a gradual development and then I started feeling ‘it’ at which point I figured, you don’t know what love is until you feel it.

What is love?

brainheartMost of us are probably aware that ‘falling in love’ is actually more of a ‘head’ than ‘heart’ thing. Dr. Helen Fisher (who’s studied love for more than 30 years) reports that there are several brain regions (notably those associated with dopamine and norepinephrine – chemicals associated with pleasure and excitement) that light up when a person thinks about their loved one. Furthermore, the hormones vasopressin  and oxytocin (involved in bonding, trust-building and empathy – yet also affecting jealousy, envy and suspicion (which isn’t necessarily bad though!)) play an important role in making people stick together.

Dr. Helen Fisher proposes that there are 3 brain systems for mating and reproduction – and love can start off with any of those feelings.

  • lust (sex drive, libido, temporary passionate craving for sexual gratification) (evolved to initiate mating for reproduction)
  • attraction (early stages of romantic love) (evolved to focus one’s mating energy on one person at a time)
  • attachment (deep feelings of union) (‘love‘ – the evolutionary perspective views it as survival tool because it promotes  long-term relationships, mutual defense and parental support)

That’s all there is to it?

I hate to think that what I feel has such a rudimental foundation (i.e. brain chemicals and hormones). It sounds like, if my brain decides tomorrow not to produce any more dopamine and norephinephrine and when my oxytocin levels decline and the hormone stops being produced by my body, I will see my boyfriend again and simply no longer be in love with him? Well, fortunately there are other perspectives on love, too. Unfortunately, these seem to rather just outline how we experience and see love, and not so much where love originates and how it works… Knowing how love ‘functions scientifically’ can at least suggest ways to ‘trick’ our biology if we’re determined to stick with someone – for example because we’ve got a close bond that we don’t just want to give up on, but that ‘excitement’ we desire seems to fade (which might cause us to look for a new partner that can (at first) provide it again).

Brain scans of couples who still act somewhat ‘childish’ in our eyes (or as if they’d just fallen in love while they’ve been together for years) suggest that activation of the brain regions associated with motivation, craving and reward are important. How can you achieve that, how can you make your brain chemicals not get ‘used’ to the ‘stimulus’ (your partner) and keep the spark alive? Relationship experts have suggested for couples to have regular dates to keep a relationship fresh and rewarding – more generally speaking, novelty (new experiences) is the key to keep things interesting! Furthermore, Ted Huston found that idealising one’s partner can lead to happier relationships, and  it’s also good when partners feel like they influence each others’ lives and have a healthy sex life (who’d have guessed that one!).

Conclusion

Enjoy falling in love and being in love. I like to think that if it’s ‘the right one’ and ‘meant to be’ you’ll effortlessly keep those chemical and hormone levels up – or be simply keen and willing to work on doing so!

 

References:

Recommended TED-video (Helen Fisher on ‘the brain in love’)

What is love? Five theories on the greatest emotion of all

What exactly is love?

Your brain in love

National Geographic Article

a nice video about this topic:

One comment on “(your brain) in love

  1. Pingback: Many or Few Fish in the Sea | My mind, my thoughts, my words

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This entry was posted on 02/05/2013 by in Academia, Body and Health (or not), Miscellaneous, Psychological Issues and tagged , , , , , .
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