Love, as a concept is something we all think about a lot. Racing heart, shortness of breath, lack of sleep and appetite plus that giddy feeling you get – exciting, addictive stuff, right? Not to burst your romantic bubble, but all of that is basically neurotransmitters and chemicals having a big ol’ party in your brain. Yep, that crazy little thing called love is all in your head. But, that doesn’t make it any less awesome. On the contrary, in fact.
Let’s start at the beginning. Here’s the ideal scenario cliché – You’re at a party, and suddenly you see this person in your line of vision. They look interesting, maybe you’ll take a closer look? So you walk over and introduce yourself (or give them come hither looks till they come to you, whatever floats your boat). You end up talking for hours and, don’t tell us, but you’ve got a really good feeling about this, right? Ours is a slightly different version though.
Here’s what may have actually happened - Your Vomeronasal organ or VMO, which is situated in your nose, detected this unique set of pheromones wafting from that beautiful creature’s body. Mmm.Clinique Happy? Not quite – pheromones are odorless and can only be detected by your VMO. Your brain naturally seeks out those who have a complementary immune system to yours – the body’s way of finding the proper mate to err, procreate with. That person you’re talking to - your VMO has probably identified them as a suitable match. Love at first sight? Probably love at first smell. Aww.
Now this is where things start getting really crazy. That brain party we were talking about? It’s started, and it’s in full swing. Cupid is playing bartender and your brain is now a potent cocktail of the following chemicals:
- Dopamine – a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers
- Norepinephrine – it’s what increases your heart rate
- Serotonin – causes loss of sleep and appetite
- Adrenalin – simply put, it’s what gives you that ‘whee’ feeling
- Cortisol – stressed that they didn’t call? It’s probably ‘cos of your cortisol levels
It’s not entirely inaccurate to say you’re high on love - According To Helen Fisher, a prominent expert in the field of love, the brain region that gets activated when you’re madly in love is the same one that feels the rush of cocaine.
It doesn’t end there. Once the excitement has died down (meaning the levels of dopamine and the other chemicals have gone back to normal), and attachment develops, chemicals like oxytocin – known as the ‘love hormone’ - levels spike when you’re being intimate with a loved one, and vasopressin or the ‘monogamy chemical’, rise to higher levels leading to feelings of well-being and contentment. Of course, not all relationships reach this stage.
But just because it’s all chemicals and not some enigmatic, inexplicable process doesn’t mean it’s not magical. We may not have been built to be happy, but we were built to want to be happy, and that could be the greatest driving force behind love. Then again, as anyone who’s been in love will tell you, it never is that simple, is it?
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