Romance is a chemical reaction

Is it magic, like lightning – an arrow shot by a small, chubby angel that hits you in the heart from across a crowded room? Or is it just a bunch of brain chemicals setting off a chain reaction? A bit of everything, it seems.

How we fall in love

Do we fall in love, or do we catch it? Neither. It turns out that love catches us.  It how Nature leads us into the reproductive cycle – if it didn’t feel fantastic, we might never go there on our own!

Researchers think that there are three basic stages of human romance, and they go like this: lust, attraction and attachment.

Lust

This is where the mood is set for passion to take hold. Driven by oestrogen in women and testosterone in men, this opens us up to what happens next.

Attraction

This is the love-struck stage! Researchers believe the three neuro-transmittors at work here are:

  • adrenaline that makes your heart leap and chases butterflies around your tummy
  • dopamine that triggers intense rushes of crush-pleasure
  • serotonin to keep you thinking of your new love over and over through the day

This rose-coloured cocktail of love chemicals seems to be exactly what humans need to take them to the next level: attachment.

Attachment, Or Happily Ever After

Attachment seems to be the bond that keeps two people together long enough to make and raise children. Isn’t Nature sneaky? It’s thought that the two major hormones keep that keep us attached are oxytocin and vasopressin.

Oxytocin, called the cuddle hormone, is released by men and women during orgasm.  Thought to deepen feelings of attachment, the theory is that the more sex a couple has, the closer they’ll be. Released during childbirth, oxytocin is part of the strong bond between mother and baby – even triggering breast-milk release when she sees baby!

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Vasopressin has many jobs – firstly to control thirst – but the male brain uses also vasopressin as a reward for forming lasting bonds with a mate.  More evidence suggests it plays an important role in social behaviour, sexual motivation, pair-bonding, and maternal responses to stress.

Has This Ruined Romance?

No. Even though we know all of this, it doesn’t change the way it makes us feel, or where it takes us. Just knowing that Sheakespeare was in the grip of a serotonin-storm when he wrote the sonnets doesn’t make them any less powerful. Here’s to love.