Love has always been a mysterious force in the world. We know what it feels like, and if we were to explain to somebody, it would be hard to find just the right words to convey it. Artists like painters, musicians, and actors portray it well, but it can never be explained - only felt.
So what is love? Is it our affection towards someone else? Is it a feeling of deep attachment?
It is all those things, and probably more. In fact, we may "love" somebody, but not want to be around them because they have done something to break your trust or connection to them.
But the topic of today's article is more about romantic love... how it forms, grows, and strengthens over time.
Until now, there has been very little examination into how "love" works - but as we learn more about the human mind and body, there are explainable things that can show how love forms from the beginning stages to full blown romantic relationships.
Some even claim that "pheromones" hold the key to true love. And while that is a topic for another day, it may actually be one of the most influential factors in determinding our attraction towards someone.
Overall, there are about 5 stages involved in how love, or romantic attrachment begins and grows.
Stage 1: Initial interest, curiosity, attraction.
As it turns out, there are several factors that can spark our initial attraction towards someone. Whether it is their appearance, smell, personality. However, one of the most interesting is that people often tend to seek out partners who are as "different" to them as possible, atleast in terms of how they choose partners by smell. In the major histocompatibility index, people are attracted to those who smell rather different, as it indicates that their biology owould produce stronger offspring.
Scientists believe that this is the reason why siblings are not attracted to eachother, as they would have similar major histocompatibility indexes.
Whatever the reasons, they are far and wide - however, once we have set our sights on somebody, even more interesting things begin to happen in the brain.
Stage 2: Initial attachment and courtship, excited feelings, and release of "feel good" chemical dopamine.
You've probably heard the word "dopamine" bandied around, but what does it actually mean? It is simply a chemical that is released when we feel good. Dopamine is released when we eat food, exercise, laugh. It is that happy feeling you get when you accomplish a goal.
It is also the same feeling we get when we get excited about being around a certain person. Scientists believe this is a "motivator" to keep seeking out the same person, and has a biological basis. This would also help people to avoid spending energy on oursuing multiple partners, and direct it towards a single person which would increase their chances of securing a partner.
Stage 3: A slow but sure delve into "obsessive complulsive" thinking, and a desire to be around this person all thet time.
If you've ever been truly in love, this is the part where you begin to develop deeply romantic thoughts about your potential partner. You think about them all day, and miss them when they're not around. It turns out, this is also a similar behavior to people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.
A chemical called "serotonin" is introduced into the brain in the beginning (which is also a feel good chemical, but is less "exciting" than dopamine). However, during this particular stage, there is a suppression of this chemical, which may make a person feel like they are losing self control and becoming overly obsessed with someone. This is also why serotonin enhancing drugs can alleviate the symptoms people feel from real obsessive compulsive disorder and other serious mental illnesses.
Serotonin is also a more "calm" chemical when released in the brain, and makes people feel grounded and secure. However, because there is so much excitement during this early stage of a developing romantic relationship, it is a hindrance. It is most likely another way to "prompt" the person in this stage to continue seeking out the partner and developing more of a relationship with them.
Stage 4: We idealize and become infatuated with our partners.
Have you ever noticed that whenever you leave a relationship, the flaws of your ex-partner seem to become so much more obvious? Its because when you are in a relationship (atleast in the beginning), we tend to put our partners on pedestals, giving them a highly exaggerated status in our minds.
So why does this happen? A part of the brain called the amygdala, plays a key role in processing emotions, moderating fear/stress becomes deactivated in this phase.
It's often why we, as "outsiders" from a persons relationship can see flaws, or potential problems which the person you're talking to seem to be complete ignorant of.
Stage 5: The relationship deepends and solidifies - oxytocin is released.
Oxytocin is known as a "bonding" chemical, and is usually used to describe an infants relationship with their mother. This bond is also deepened in romantic relationships through the sense of touch and physical affection. It eventually becomes a very powerful emotional bond, and promotes feelings of contentment and satisfaction in the relationship.
The initial feelings of excitement are also very harsh on the body, and even though it feels good, can be difficult to maintain mentally and physically for the body. Eventually, this starts to fade and is replaced with a more stable chemical which produces something of an equilibrium in the relationship.
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