It’s all around
Falling in love is the most wonderful feeling in the world. So can we hang onto that special magic?
Love flickers, fades and falls into routine, even for the most in-love couples. Science explains why. Brain chemicals sparking romance are different to the long-term blend. Espresso turns to Nescafé. It’s hard to maintain romance as lingerie changes to grey underwear. Add in the pressures of infertility, and sex becomes a reproachful monthly tick on the calendar.
How does love work?
Brain scans show what happens in brains. Loved up couples, seeing pictures of each other, react in similar ways. Love actually lights up the Caudate Nucleus part of the brain – home to a compact network of Dopamine receptors. Dopamine – the reward hormone – causes vivid feelings of exhilaration, intense energy, focused attention and motivation.
When you’re in love you can stay up all night, share a sunrise and head to work on cloud nine. A chemically altered state, a sort of drug induced euphoria, it’s kept poets, painters and chocolatiers in business for centuries. Now psychiatrists are mapping Hallmark’s territory. Donatella Marazziti, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Pisa, explores the connection between love … & OCD.
Is love actually a mental illness?
She measures serotonin levels in the brains of people in love. Serotonin affects mood, social behaviour, appetite, sexual desire, memory, sleep, appetite, digestion and your heart. Lovers – and OCD sufferers – show 40% lower serotonin levels than control groups. So love and mental illness are scarily similar.
Why do we fall in love?
Freud’s dark assumptions have given way to gentler theories of love. Evolutionary psychology doesn’t beat about the bush. Healthy people look attractive. Waist to hip ratio in women and broad shoulders in blokes signify high fertility. Members of the opposite sex smell good (naturally) – when the genotype is different enough … to ensure lusty lovers have healthy kids.
Does romantic love hail from infancy – a need to recapture security felt at our mother’s breast? Maybe it’s is a thing of the past, feelings of connection and familiarity echo through memory. One thing is sure – it’s universal, hard-wired into our brains from pre-history.
Why can’t passion last?
Why does the thrill go, leaving the object of your desire plainly vanilla? They’ve not changed the color of their eyes or anything else. Perception shifts, leaving us wonder what we ever saw in them. Are we primed for fickleness? Novelty triggers dopamine in the brain. Think holiday romance – the thrill of getting to know a stranger. Love fades because of the way the brain responds to surges of dopamine. When the brain adapts neurons are desensitized, requiring ever higher doses for the same effect. Our brains can’t maintain the intense neurochemistry of infatuation. Passion is exhausting – all that sunrise watching, insomnia, waxing and mutual admiration! Once you’re hooked in the mating game, Nature gets bored. Cynics note a typical four-year cycle from start to break-up, roughly the time it takes to raise a child through infancy.
If passion is so fleeting, why do we still trust it to choose our life-partners? In India many still see marriage as too important to leave to chance, and believe arranged marriages work better.
Can we learn to navigate love?
Enjoy your various stages of love, from dopamine-drenched satin sheets to the oxytocin-glazed cotton of marital bliss. Oxytocin is the ‘cuddle’ hormone of coupledom and lazy sex!
Exciting first dates boost dopamine – and are more likely to lead to another hot date. Long-term couples really need novelty – a shared thrill or a break from routine ramps up dopamine. When you’re trying to conceive sex becomes a chore.