Have you ever been madly in love? If you felt you were going crazy, you weren’t far from the truth. At least that’s what some studies have shown based on brain MRI’s and interviews of the love-struck.
The Pathology of Passionate Love
According to Dr. Shock, in his article, “The Neurobiology of Falling in Love,” researchers consider falling in love as a primary emotion, similar to anxiety or fear. Research among those passionately in love show:
- Behavior changes similar to those of psychosis
- Biochemically, the same cravings as those associated with substance abuse
A study among teens in love, reported by Dr. Shock, showed loss of sleep, greater compulsiveness, an explosion of creative energy and ideas, and a greater likelihood of engaging in risky behavior (e.g., driving recklessly). In short, the teens reported behavior similar to that of patients who are in a hypomanic (i.e., manic) phase. Researchers concluded that “intense romantic love in teenagers is a psychopathologically prominent stage.”
Stages of Falling in Love
From love, at first sight, all the way through to long-term commitment, brain changes are involved. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University has defined three stages of falling in love, with each step involving a different set of chemicals. From the brain down, falling in love is a tidal wave starting with the maddening, passionate phases of lust and attraction and ending with commitment.
Lust and Physical Gratification
Lust is driven by testosterone and estrogen in both men and women. In women, testosterone tends to increase, and among men, to decrease. As described in “The Neurobiology of Falling in Love,” the surge of hormones induce “an indiscriminate scramble for physical gratification.”
Attraction-Anxiety and Euphoria
Falling in love evokes the same activities of the brain that are associated with anxiety. When you are in love, you’re likely to have sweaty palms, a dry mouth, and a racing heart in the presence of the one you love, all part of the fear of losing what you find so attractive.
An increase of dopamine gives you a “rush” similar to cocaine. And serotonin lowered to about the same level as those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, results in minute observations and exultations of the loved one, along with justifications of his or her flaws. This is where the expression “love is blind” comes from.
Commitment and Bonding
This is the long-term “hook,” thanks to oxytocin, which is released for men and women during orgasm and is thought to strengthen attachment over time. And Vasopressin, which is removed after sex and related to commitment. (Vasopressin is the same hormone associated with bonding between mother and child).
Fall in Love While Keeping Your Wits About You
Falling in love doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw caution to the winds. Even when stirred by biological imperatives, it’s possible to use judgment to minimize the risks associated with falling in love. Here are some ways to do that:
- Reject the impulse to move too quickly. There’s no rush, and if this is the real thing, it should be able to bear some scrutiny.
- Ask yourself if the feeling is reciprocal. If you don’t know, ask or wait for some signal first so that you don’t invest emotionally in something that’s not there.
- If you are smitten but the other person is not, move on. You can’t coerce these things. Focus instead on someone else, someone who’s also attracted to you.
- Get to know the other person, including interests, hobbies, family background, favorite foods. Do things together to see how you interact with each other. In short, find out about the actual person to see whether that person is the same as the one you’re in love with.
- Don’t compare him or her to prior people you’ve been in love with. Everyone is different and needs to be treated as who they are instead of who they remind you of.
- If you get hurt, take time to heal, and move on. Feeling depressed after a break-up is normal. But once you’re feeling stronger, don’t swear off the opposite sex. Falling in love is the door to building a long-term commitment. The alternative is to deny yourself of attachment and intimacy, which are aspects of being fully yourself.
Falling in love is thrilling and maddening. Driven by lust, attraction, anxiety, and euphoria, the love-struck are susceptible to turning a blind eye to key signs in a new and exciting relationship. But it’s possible to enjoy the experience while keeping your wits about you. And that can make the difference between a meaningful relationship and just a “flash in a pan.”
Thank you for reading!