Friday, June 18, 2010

The Science of Love

 For all of those people who believe that love comes from the heart and is completely separate from the rest of their emotions and feelings, they all are wrong. Love doesn't come from the heart, it comes from the brain. In fact, most everything that we can recognize as emotions come from it. There are almost always chemicals involved. Sadly enough, love, or rather the beginning of it is fraught with them. In the early stage of romantic love, for example, at the beginning of a relationship, there is a period of time of several weeks to several months in which your partner is a god or a goddess, surrounded by choirs of angels and with a halo on his or her head. He's everything you imagined, he's beautiful, he's perfect. You want to be with him all of the time, hold his hand, and engage in ludicrous PDA with him. This is called NRE, or new relationship energy. The people around you may call it an obsession. And so, it can be. Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa concluded that there is a reduced concentration of serotonin in the blood for early stage romantics, the same amount that obsessive-compulsive people have, which may explain why the love can turn into an obsession. There are hormones that also come into play at the beginning. For example, cortisol, follicle stimulating hormone, and testosterone (which was found to increase in women and to reduce in men at that period of time [FUN FACT]). However, Pavia researcher Enzo Emanuele found that after one or two years, all of the hormones were gone, even if the relationship survived. So the question is, if all the chemicals of intense romantic feelings disappear within the first two years, how do couples sustain their relationships after that period of time has passed? The answer is, other chemicals! In the time that it takes for the hormones to disappear, the relationship develops and the people in it get to know each other better and form a sense of attachment. And this sense of attachment is due to the hormone oxytocin, a chemical most known for inducing labour and lactation. However, in a study conducted by Michael Kosfeld and co-workers, it was shown that oxytocin applied by a nasal spray during a trust game made the participants more trustful towards each other. Also, the intense romantic love is different from both the sex drive and attachment in the later phase of the relationship because it activates different areas of the brain.

All this science seems to take away from the mysteriousness and the beauty of love. However, in the heat of the moment, it's quite easy to get caught up in all the feelings and forget that in several months, the way you feel right now probably won't last. In the heat of the moment, it's hard to remember that in several months, you will develop a new kind of affection for this person and get to learn a new side of him. It's hard to think clearly with all those hormones increasing and decreasing in your brain. Over time, a new kind of relationship grows and in my opinion, it feels much better than the giddy obsession of new-found love. Who you're dating is not an angel and he's definitely not perfect. Accepting him for all his virtues and his imperfections is what makes love so precious. That is what makes love more than just chemicals, more than just lust, and more than just a Romeo-and-Juliet tragedy. A connection that grows and develops over time, that allows someone to learn about himself and other people as well is much more beloved than a glance and an obsession.


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