On Valentine’s Day we are all supposed to be in love. We seem to be expected to fall in love just because a pope in 496 AD pronounced a day in the calendar to honor martyrs, including one St. Valentine. And what if we are not in love? Can we make ourselves be in love, or even better, can we make others fall in love with us? These are the questions that people whose relationships are falling apart desperately want to know. Any kind of magic would do the trick. Unfortunately there is no shortcut.
Falling in love seems to be a purely chemical process that has nothing to do with our intentions, will or plans. Falling in love is a genetically programmed process with the purpose of procreation, of making babies. Our genetic intelligence urges us to procreate so that genes can keep living, and uses our bodies to that end, it seems. And it does so by excreting hormones into our bloodstream by making us want to behave certain way.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, makes you focused on the one you are in love with. You want to spend more time with her/him. When you do something that gives you pleasure, dopamine is the one that urges you to do it again. Dopamine is released when you eat chocolate, do novel things, hit a hole in one etc. Dopamine gets released when you use drugs, which explains the feeling of being “addicted” to your loved one. In other words, dopamine helps you get attached to each other. So, falling in love is a kind of addiction. It certainly feels like it.
Norepinephrine is a stimulant closely related to dopamine and gives you the energy to keep being together: it keeps you awake, you lose your appetite, and it gives you butterflies in your stomach.
The presence of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that keeps you calm, is curiously lowered when you are in love, so that you can be kept in a state of excitement and obsessive thinking about your partner. Being in love is closely related to anxiety and fear. When you are newly smitten by love the level of the stress hormone cortisol shoots up. Also, men who are in love show lowered levels of testosterone, while women’s testosterone levels go up. This may explain why men in love are more timid, while women are a little freer and wilder.
Oxytocin is what cements the trust and bond between people. This neurochemical is released in both men and women when they have sex. It is a bonding chemical that women also get a dose of when they give birth and breast-feed.
There is also an automatic reaction that regulates the production of these chemicals. It involves our senses and how we perceive the person we fall in love with. Besides the many conditioning aspects of what we find attractive in another person, there are some universal signs common to all men and women that may regulate the production of the neurochemicals.
It is no surprise that there are whole multibillion dollar industries that support men and women in showing their “goods” in order to make the opposite sex “fall in love” with them. Every sense is addressed: hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.
Visually men are generally attracted by looks, i.e., signs of fertility and health in a woman. Besides age, these may include breasts, waist, hips, hair, etc. Women, on the other hand, would be attracted to signs of healthy genetic make-up (muscles, demeanor, height, strength, intelligence, etc.) and signs of ability to be supported (money, position in society, etc.). Think fashion and what’s “in”.
Smell may play a decisive role in which chemicals our body is going to produce. The whole fragrance industry is working very hard to make smells attractive. Consider the myriad of lotions, soaps, oils, candles, etc., on the market. Just imagine how you can be put off by a bad smell no matter how attractive a person may be in any other respect.
Hearing is just as important. Consider the music industry and the amount of love songs, and soothing, romantic music that is produced. All for one reason: to stimulate the production of “love chemicals” and to suppress the ones that may keep you disinterested. Consider the words “I love you.” By the same talken consider how attractive it is to quarrel, make your “loved one” wrong, not listen, call each other names, put down your partner, etc.
Touch is just as important as any other sense. Women are especially sensitive to being touched. Man love to touch women, as we all know, and skin products abound.
The question begs to be asked: If falling in love is purely chemical, what happens when the body stops producing them? Do we fall out of love? The bad news is: yes.
But, wait! There is good news. We still have our senses that trigger the production of our personal chemical factory. Also remember that our memories are very real to us. Remembering good times can also activate our personal chemistry production. So, all is not lost. Studies also show that people can stay in love for a very long time. And even better news is that the level of cortisol in couples who have been together for a long time is much lower than in newly enamored couples. Which means that they may be in love without the customary fear and anxiety.
And you think your choice and will power count for something? Think again. In most cases we function like any other mammals, when it comes to mating games, on automatic. Sorry.
And yes! Isn’t it great when you are in love?! No other feeling comes close.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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