Love: Is It All in Your Head?

You see that familiar person across the room, and they see you. Your mind gets cloudy, butterflies flutter in your stomach, and your heart races. Then there’s that ear-to-ear smile that you cannot conceal. You see them smile back, and you know that they’re feeling the same exact way. You love them, and they love you.

Love, specifically romantic love, has been an ongoing mystery throughout time. What is love, and why does it make us feel and act the way we do? While love is a tricky subject, to some people’s dismay, experts claim that love consists mainly of chemistry.

Studies have shown that lust, or physical attraction, is the first stage of love. When you become attracted to another person, phenylethylamine (PEA) levels rise in your brain. The increase of this chemical causes that “dizzying” feeling you experience when meeting someone to whom you are immediately attracted. If this feeling is pursued and you go past lust, most likely into a relationship, stage two begins.

In the second stage of love, PEA releases mainly dopamine. In his book Science of Love, author Anthony Walsh describes this dopamine increase as feeling “hopped up on coke.” Dopamine is the chemical that creates the connection that you and the other person share. It fuels your desire to always be with that person, pretty much creating an addiction to him or her. Your brain starts to crave dopamine like a drug, and the only way to get this drug is by being with that person.
“The ventral segmental area [of the brain] is a clump of cells that makes dopamine and sends it out to many brain regions [when a person is in love],” said Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and author of Why We Love, in a recent talk about why love changes the way our brains think. “Romantic love is deeply embedded in the architecture and chemistry of the human brain.”

Stage two, or the dopamine stage, is also when your mind becomes very clouded, often causing bad memory, sleepless nights, hyperactivity and loss of focus on aspects of your life outside of your relationship.
“Chemistry is definitely what causes love,” says Eda Erol, a senior business major. “I think it’s all predetermined in the brain. If the chemistry works toward your favor, you fall in love. It’s all about that soul mate shit.”

Then stage three occurs. After repeated releases of dopamine, meaning repeated encounters with the person to whom you are attracted, oxytocin comes into play. When two people have sex or are very intimate with one other, the chemical oxytocin is released in the brain. The release of this chemical causes two people to create a strong emotional bond; the more oxytocin released over time, the stronger the bond becomes.

Along with oxytocin come endorphins, which are released with any sort of physical contact. They are the body’s natural painkillers and create feelings of comfort and security, two feelings that are key to a romantic relationship.

Eventually the dopamine starts to fade and that dizzying, mind-clouding feeling of new love starts to weaken. You start seeing your love as not as perfect as it used to be and may wonder why your lover is changing. In reality, it’s not your love or your lover but the chemical release in your brain that is changing.

Not to worry, though; endorphins and oxytocin are still continuously released throughout your relationship, maintaining that strong emotional bond that keeps you and your significant other in love and very much attached.
“Love is the ultimate drug. It makes people do crazy things [for no] apparent reason,” says Chris Nashawaty, a senior business major. “I absolutely agree these feelings of love — including attraction, infatuation and sexual desire — are definitely grounded in the feel-good chemicals in your brain. There’s really no doubt about it.”