The beginning of a relationship is a rush of intense emotions where you can’t seem to find a single issue with the person you’re in love with. We show obsessive-compulsive behaviors associated with infatuation. Anthropologist and love expert, Helen Fisher, even named romantic love to be one of the most addictive substances on Earth. Everything from the way they loudly chew their food, to the way they seem to ignore the speed limit, even to their tendencies to keep everything in its place attracts you. You see them and the world through these rose colored glasses. In your eyes, this person is absolutely perfect, but you see this person you love without a sense of reality. When we are engaged in this romantic love, the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, which includes assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down.
“That’s the neural basis for the ancient wisdom ‘love is blind,” said Richard Schwartz, Harvard Medical Professor. This phrase has been around for many years with the first record of it being written in 1405 however it wasn’t commonly used until Shakespeare. We say love is blind because you are just unaware of our love interest’s flaws, and put them on a pedestal. The reason we fall in love with such an intense infatuation is seen as a magical experience and some may even go as far to say that falling in love is fate, but, in reality, it’s hugely attributed to a biological and evolutionary basis.
When you fall in love, it almost feels like a transformation is taking place in your body. Feelings of lust, driven by androgens and oestrogens, and euphoria cloud our judgement. The biological aspect of first love hugely pertains to the brain. When you first fall in love, the brain truly changes form. These changes in your brain and body create all that passion and desire. Hormones instantly rush to the brain. Both oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and dopamine, the pleasure hormone, rush to the brain when you first fall in love. There are also high levels of adrenaline which explains the racing heart, color that comes to your cheeks, and sweaty palms. Especially in the beginning stages, love becomes an addiction. These hormones that bring us such intense emotions are something our bodies crave. Neuroscience research has shown that love quite literally is like a drug: Falling in love activates the same parts in the brain as a cocaine addiction. A common misconception is that love is solely linked to the heart, but together, the brain and heart play a part. Professor Stephanie Ortigue said when asked which one is more linked to love, either the brain or heart, that “[she] would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa. For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain”. Overall, the feelings of love aren’t just something people exaggerate, fake, or feelings that come out of nowhere. When we fall in love, our bodies react in many ways such as Ortigue explained, but why? This is where evolution comes into play. Romantic love is a drive, and “it’s a drive as powerful as hunger”, explains Dr. Helen Fisher. Our bodies fall in love because it’s evolutionary in our best interest. You’re conscious of the other person’s flaws, but your brain is telling you it’s OK to ignore them. Love helps us find a mate to facilitate reproduction. In order for our species to continue on for many generations, it’s ingrained in us to become blindly enamored by an unprecedented love so that we enter the attachment stage long enough to reproduce and raise children.
After you’ve been with a partner for a while, these first feelings tend to fade and are replaced with attachment. This is the final phase. This tends to happen when you begin to feel closely bonded and start making long-term plans together. Oxytocin is present, but also vasopressin is detected and associated with the sense of calm, tranquility, and stability one feels in lasting love. If a romantic love lasts, the ocean of emotions, and at times angst, calms within one or two years as Schwartz describes. “The passion is still there, but the stress of it is gone.” The key concept is that you now feel comfortable around your significant other. What began as passionate love shifts into what is regularly called compassionate love—profound but not as euphoric as that experienced during the early stages of romance. Love, which started off as a stressor (to our brains and bodies), becomes a buffer against stress. Brain areas associated with reward and pleasure are still active as loving relationships continue, but the never-ending craving and desire that are inherent in romantic love often lessen.