Of all of the sensations we humans can experience, love is one of the most powerful. Nothing in this life can be as inspiring, scary, or simply amazing as being in love with someone. What you might not know is that there is an actual scientific reason as to why we feel the way that we do. Now, for the record, I am not trying to reduce something as beautiful as being in love down to some scientific discussion, I just think it is interesting that our bodies actually change when we are in love. There is an actual, measurable
There is an actual, measurable chemical response to love, and it is fascinating. Personally, I don’t care if it is some twist of evolution to ensure the propagation of the species, love is wonderful no matter what.
So, how does love affect our chemistry?
Dopamine is the chemical in the brain associated with pleasure. Interestingly enough, it is also the chemical most commonly associated with addiction for that exact reason. You know that “high” you experience when you are with someone you love? It is a real thing. Essentially, love is a drug. According to Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist, “[when] someone takes on special meaning to you, you focus on this individual because the dopamine system has been activated. It is what triggers very goal oriented behavior, where no one else matters but your new partner.”
You know those butterflies in your stomach you experience when you are around someone you love? There is a reason for them. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone that is produced that naturally increases your heart rate, and scientist believe that it is the explanation for that pitter-pattering of our hearts when we are with someone we adore. According to Fisher, “It can cause that awkward feeling. Sweaty palms, dry mouth, fumbling words.“
Oxytocin is a chemical that is released when we physically bond with someone, especially in an intimate situation. Oxytocin lowers stress and promotes relation. It not only promotes relaxation, but bonding as well – to the extent that new mothers produce oxytocin during lactation to promote bonding. “It is what hugging, kissing and touching are made of,” says Fisher.
Although testosterone is associated with men, women produce it as well. In women, as testosterone levels increase, more estrogen is produced to maintain the correct balance of the two hormones. Intimacy naturally increases testosterone in men. Interestingly enough, there are trace amounts of testosterone in saliva that women can actually pick up on – therefore increasing their estrogen levels. “It is just one of the many pieces for romantic love,” says Fisher. “Sex can drive up your testosterone levels.”
Histocompatibility Complex (MHC)
HMC is a set of genes which the body uses to tell itself from foreign invaders at the molecular level in our cells. The old cliche that “opposites attract” may ring true. According to current research, because our bodies can detect MHC levels in others, the more two people differ in MHC – the stronger the attraction can be between them.
Pheromones are our body’s natural chemical messengers. It is theorized that they play a very strong role in human sexual attraction. There are even colognes and perfumes that contain pheromones, based on the idea that they can promote changes in attraction. Scientists are on the fence about the actual role of pheromones, but they do agree that smell has a huge part to play when it comes to love. Fisher says, “once you fall for someone, their smell can be a powerful thing. Women will wear their boyfriends T-shirts and throughout tales in history men have held on to their lover’s handkerchief.”