The Psychology of Love
What is it exactly that causes that intense desire to be as close to someone as possible, to pursue them, to delve into the depths of who they are? What gives us that giddy feeling, the desire to make some else happy? What causes love at first sight?
Psychologists have been studying romantic attraction and love at first sight to gain insights into what drives human beings to be together - and for good reason. Humans are compulsively and intensely attracted to some but not others, and at times these strong hormones have no regard for partnerships already cemented in place. This can cause quite a ruckus if jealousy comes into play, as it often does.
Many of us willingly spend a large portion of our paycheck on Valentine’s Day gifts to impress and woo our mates. It’s only natural to want to understand what it is that leads to ongoing flirtations, interests that fizzle out after the honeymoon phase, or lifelong, dedicated partnerships. Psychologists, too, experience love at first sight - no wonder they’re so curious!
How does love affect the brain? Or, perhaps, how does the brain affect love?
A recent study published in Psychoneuroendrocrinology found that oxytocin, a chemical whose presence is associated with pair bonding, is elevated during the initial stages of romantic attachment and stays elevated in couples who stay happily together for the long haul. In couples who’d been together for six months, high levels of oxytocin were “correlated with the couples' interactive reciprocity, including social focus, positive affect, affectionate touch, and synchronized dyadic states, and with anxieties and worries regarding the partner and the relationship.”
Also, consider dopamine, a chemical responsible for the ‘desire and reward’ drive. Dopamine is, in large part, responsible for that flood of pleasure we feel when successfully pursuing a new mate. Serotonin, the relaxation hormone, is responsible for keeping that special person on your mind; Deborah Khoshaba of Psychology Today reports that it decreases when first falling in love and leads to those anxious, obsessive mental repeats of your dates and encounters. To further add to this, adrenaline comes into play, making your heart gallop and your palms sweat.
Filling in the Blanks with Fantasy
So if you feel crazy, it’s alright - blame your hormones for making you loopy in love. However, realize many of the qualities we originally associate with our mates stem from our own imaginations as we fill in the blanks while getting to know them. Khoshaba advises, “You want to build an authentic relationship attachment rather than one based on fantasy alone.”