The Science Behind Falling in Love
Seven signs that you’re falling in love, backed by science!
Some of us have been in love, some of us haven’t, and some of us think we have but can’t be sure. How do we really know if we’re in love? We see it in the movies and read about it in books all the time, but a feeling so deep and complex can be difficult to understand when it’s happening to you.
The majority of us would have experienced a love of some kind. A love for family, friends, pets, a song, a hobby. We all have things in our lives that we love, but a romantic love triggers a different kind of chemical reaction in the brain. According to a team of scientists led by Dr. Helen Fisher, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is characterized by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain.
That’s right, the brain! Not the heart as many of us would think. So when someone says they love you with all their heart it is completely and utterly incorrect according to science. But for fear of killing the moment, maybe it’s best not to correct them. After all, saying I love you with all the chemicals in my brain doesn’t sound quite as charming.
The following diagram shows the different hormones that are created when each emotion is felt.
We can experience lust and attraction without being in love with someone and we probably all experience attachment towards our family and friends. But the formula for romantic love requires all 7 hormones.
As in tune as some of us may be with our bodies, it can still be difficult to work out what we are feeling - plus, it’s easy to confuse lust for love and love for like. So, here are some signs to look out for that might suggest some of these hormones are coursing through your veins and you’re on your way for falling in love!
You only have eyes for them
Dopamine is a hormone produced in the brain when we are in love, forming part of the attraction category. Dopamine is also the chemical that aids our ability to focus and pay attention. Hence why we find it a lot easier to focus on things we enjoy. When we are in love this hormone is causing a great level of attention for this one person. Almost like you have a one track mind. Your brain is telling you they are special and thus they receive your undivided attention, causing a lack of romantic feeling towards anyone but them.
Being in love can cause a rollercoaster of emotions, especially in the early days before you really have a grasp on it and are being hit with the chemicals for the first time. You are euphoric and belated, anxious and restless, your heart races and your breath quickens. You may also feel intense levels of stress at the smallest setback. These mood swings parallel the behaviors of drug addicts. A study found that the brain of a person falling in love looks the same as the brain of a person who has taken cocaine. The same hormones fire up in your brain which explains the intense almost high like feeling you get when you first fall in love. Science has proven that love is addictive, which is why it can be so dangerous if a love becomes toxic.
Intense Sexual Feelings
The Lust category in our trisector is essential to being in love and is heightened even more so in the early days. You brain is responsible for producing the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries. Contrary to popular belief, both hormones are produced in men and women, testosterone being responsible for a heightened libido. This is why men are often known for having a higher sex drive than women as they naturally produce more testosterone than we do.
High levels of energy and euphoria
As we know dopamine is the hormone that creates that ‘feel good’ feeling often experienced when we are deeply attracted to someone. Dopamine is part of the brain's reward path and is released when we do things that feel good for us. Norepinephrine is also released during attraction. This chemical makes us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia – which means you actually can be so “in love” that you can’t eat and can’t sleep.
You become a little obsessed
Studies done on the brain have shown that once someone falls in love they experience low levels of serotonin. People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder produce less of this hormone and are often given serotonin hormones to control their symptoms. Therefore science suggests that when we are falling in love our body shows lower levels of serotonin, which causes a lack of control over our obsessive thinking.
Studies have shown that when people are falling in love they spend 85% of their day thinking about their new love. This is known as intrusive thinking and is a form of obsession. It sounds like this is something we should be avoiding but it’s not a bad thing unless your behavior becomes obsessive as well. It's very normal to feel slightly obsessed during the beginning stages of a relationship - the same level of obsession you might experience for a new hobby or TV show. It’s healthy if you don’t let your serotonin levels drop too low!
You feel comforted when you’re around them
Oxytocin and vasopressin are the hormones produced when we feel a strong sense of attachment to someone. Oxytocin is often nicknamed the “cuddle hormone” for this reason and is released in large quantities during sex, brestfeeding and childbirth. Although this may seem like a strange mix of activities, all these events are predecessors of bonding. When we fall in love we feel a strong bond with our partner, thanks to these hormones. The same hormones were released when your mother held you or fed you. It may seem like a strange comparison but the same area of our brain is fired up because we feel safe, comforted and deeply connected to this person. That is what love feels like.
You aren’t always rational
Have you heard people say they are love struck or dumb in love? This is no lie. Love really does make us dumb. Or rather lust does. Studies have shown that when the brain releases hormones responsible for sexual arousal it shuts down or rather weakens the areas of the brain responsible for critical thinking, self awareness and rational behavior. When we feel intense feelings of lust and arousal towards someone our rational brain switches off. Not always a bad thing but this can also explain why people sometimes sleep with people they shouldn’t - such as exes or people we know are bad for us!
Science can explain most things, even falling in love it would seem, but our bodies work in unique and mysterious ways and there is no magical formula to explain love. Everyone feels love differently and defines it differently too so, although our biology may be the same, the way we love is not. So it doesn’t mean you aren’t truly in love if you are still sleeping like a baby and eating like a champ. Hormones affect everyone differently and we all produce different amounts.
Love will stand the test of time. Sometimes it can be easy to confuse lust and attraction for love, but these hormones often ease off after time whereas the attachment hormones stick around forever. Remember that it’s very normal to feel a little crazy and obsessed in the beginning of a relationship. Love is a drug! It’s going to take your body time to process it and adapt to this new feeling. When the initial hit of the hormones start to wear off you’ll soon know if you’re really in love. That deep emotional bond will never waver, even if the obsession does (probably best that it does!)