The Language of Love
Songs celebrate it, books analyze it and everyone’s looking for it. Love definitely gets under your skin—and there’s good reason for that.
-Temme Ehrenfeld, YouBeauty.com
Love is a many-splendored thing. So, it’s not so unusual that the ancient Greeks had over 10 words to describe the different types of love, including eros (a combination of lust and romance) and ludus (uncommitted and playful), explains anthropologist Helen Fisher, the author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.
What is romance? If romantic love feels almost like drug, that’s cause it kind of is. The infatuation, the butterflies, the passion—all spurred on by a little neurotransmitter in our brains known as dopamine. And, yes, dopamine is the chemical behind many of life’s highs, including drug addictions (as the joke goes, “That’s why they call it dope”).
That euphoria can last 17 months or more, according to Fisher’s research.
Dopamine also stimulates the release of testosterone, the “liquor of lust,” along with the same bonding chemicals that make us naturally protective of one another.
But it’s the quantities, timing and interactions of these big three—dopamine, testosterone and attachment chemicals—with other hormones that can trigger them to work synergistically or in opposition.
So, love surprises us. You might be in love and have no desire for sex. You might have detached satisfying hookups, only to discover you’re in love. Maybe you’re just friends and fall in love. Or, as the summer romance story goes, you fall in love and part with only fond memories. You can also feel lust for one person, attachment to another and romance with a third—all at the same time.
Then, to complicate matters, your brain’s chemical journey isn’t necessarily the same as your partner’s. “Don’t stress out about meeting ‘the one,’” says Stony Brook psychologist Arthur Aron. “There’s no scientific case for soul mates.”
Romantic love is risky: a “blissful dependency when one’s love is returned, a painful, sorrowful and often destructive craving when one’s love is spurned,” Fisher explains.
Up next: Chemistry, romance, and more!