Biology of love

Consider the last time you met someone you found appealing. You may have stammered, sweated, mumbled something inane, and fallen miserably while attempting to walk away (or is that just me?). And your heart was probably thudding in your chest. It’s no wonder that for millennia, people believed love (and, for that matter, most other feelings) came from the heart. Love, it turns out, is all about the brain, which causes the rest of your body to go crazy.

Romantic love can be divided into three types, according to a team of experts led by Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each group is distinguished by a distinct collection of hormones produced by the brain.

Do we have a chemistry with love? 

Lust is fueled by a desire for sexual pleasure. Our urge to reproduce, which is shared by all living creatures, provides the evolutionary basis for this. Organisms pass on their genes through reproduction and hence contribute to the survival of their species.

The hypothalamus of the brain is involved in this, as it stimulates the testes and ovaries to produce the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. Even though these hormones are commonly stereotyped as “male” and “female,” they both play a function in both men and women. Testosterone, it turns out, boosts desire in almost everyone. Although the effects of estrogen are less evident, some women report being more sexually motivated around the time of ovulation, when estrogen levels are at their maximum.

Loving makes you feel tingled with love hormones:

Meanwhile, attraction appears to be a separate yet a connected phenomena. Attraction involves brain regions that drive “reward” behavior, which helps to explain why the initial few weeks or months of a relationship may be so thrilling and all-consuming. 

Dopamine, which is produced by the hypothalamus, is a well-known actor in the brain’s reward circuit, as it is released when we do activities that make us happy. Spending time with loved ones and having sex are examples of these activities in this scenario. During attraction, high quantities of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released. These hormones make us feel exuberant, active, and euphoric, and they can even cause a loss of appetite and insomnia – meaning you can be so “in love” that you can’t eat or sleep.

Finally, it appears that attraction causes a decrease in serotonin, a hormone linked to appetite and mood. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder have low levels of serotonin, which has led experts to believe that this is what causes the overwhelming infatuation that defines the early phases of love. 

The ‘I am so attached to you’ phrase: 

Finally, in long-term partnerships, attachment is the most important aspect. While love and attraction are almost exclusively associated with romantic relationships, attachment is also involved in friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and a variety of other intimate relationships. Oxytocin and vasopressin appear to be the two most important hormones in this situation.

Because of this, oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone.” The hypothalamus produces oxytocin, which is released in significant amounts during intercourse, lactation, and childbirth, like dopamine. This may appear to be an odd collection of activities – not all of them are necessarily delightful – but the common thread running through them all is that they are all precursors to bonding. It also explains why having separate places for attachment, lust, and attraction is important: we are tied to our immediate family, but those other feelings have no place there (and those who have jumbled this up don’t have a good track record).

In other words, there is a “chemical formula” for love.

It is, nevertheless, a work in progress, and many questions remain unsolved. And, as we’ve seen, the hormone side of the equation isn’t the only one that’s tricky. Love can be both the finest and worst thing for you — it can be the thing that motivates us to get out of bed in the morning or the thing that makes us never want to get out of bed again. If I kept you here for another ten thousand pages, I’m not sure I could describe “love” for you.

Finally, everyone can define love for themselves. And, for better or worse, if it’s just hormones, we might be able to have “chemistry” with almost anyone.

Written by Faiq Saeed