Science behind Falling in Love

Falling in Love has been happening longer than teenagers were invented, longer than any love song, longer than civilization itself — yet we still know very little about how it happens. This post shares what we do know and what we can do to invite Cupid to visit with us.

We’ll start by describing the different aspects of attraction, go through what happens in the body to explain these feelings of attraction, and talk about how we might be able to play Cupid. But be warned — as explained in this linked TED Talk — although science can tell us something about cupid’s arrows, it’s still not too good at controlling where those arrows might land if we try shooting them.

Before we start, let’s be clear that we are at our best when we play, and when we’re playful, we open ourselves to the world of new possibilities — we are in tune with the energy of life itself. And there’s some science behind that too.

Types of Attraction

Helen Fisher is an anthropologist who studies love. She breaks down love into three different types:

  • Lust – sexual desire which may or may not be directed toward a specific person.
  • Romantic Love – the “I can’t stop thinking about this person” sort of love.
  • Long-term affection and commitment – the basis for long-term satisfaction in a relationship.

It turns out there are three different pathways in the brain to explain each of these attractions, but together they have evolved to a) motivate our search to find a mate, b) focus our mating energy on a single person, and c) keep us working together as a team long enough to raise the kids.

Sexual Attraction

If there were no need to mate, then of course our species would die out. The evolutionary need is there regardless of whether or not the kids need care for several years before they are self-sufficient.

The sex drive is affected by many factors, but the biological factors involve the sex hormones. These are the hormones that start flowing through the body at puberty.

Although this powerful force motivates us to do many things for love, it’s only one part of the love equation.

Clue Ride happens in public, so it’s perhaps best that we leave this particular attraction up to you ;-).

Romantic Love

This is what poets write about. It’s the all-consuming focus on a single person that is both tantalizingly remote and near, brings us high when things are going well, and drives us to despair when going poorly. Infatuation is another word.

The brain centers that light up when we’re in love are the some of the same centers that respond to cocaine: the dopamine pathways.

Dopamine is boosted by novel experiences. Clue Ride is totally down with this.

When experiencing new things, with new people, in safe and comfortable circumstances, and we’re playful, dopamine is released into the bloodstream, and we feel energized. We may be open to falling in love as well.

Committed Love

Our feelings of bonding with others non-romantically — parent-child relationships, friendships, feelings of belonging to a group — follow the same pathways as committed love to a monogamous partner. Oxytocin is the primary neurotransmitter (although vasopressin also plays a role).

Oxytocin is boosted by working side-by-side to accomplish goals. Clue Ride is totally down with this.

 

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