What does it feel like to be in love? Here’s what neuroscience says
In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about what it feels like to be in love.
We’ll talk about what love is, what chemicals in the brain it activates and how you’ll feel during love’s different stages…
What is love?
According to ancient Greeks, love is “the madness of the gods.”
Western psychologists define it as an “emotional union” with another person.
But to be honest, ask anyone and they’ll probably give you a different definition of what love means.
So what actually is love?
Well, for this we can turn to Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher. She says there are 3 basic brain systems that evolved for relationships and reproduction:
1) Sex drive: Sexual desire evolved to seek mating partners. Sexual attraction doesn’t necessarily have to be focused on one individual. It can be focused on many individuals at the same time.
2) Romantic attraction: This is romantic attraction focused on one person. You could say it’s “deeper” than sex drive. This type of thinking has evolved to enable you to focus on one individual to build a relationship with them.
3) Attachment, or creating a deep connection with one partner: This feeling of deep union evolved so that you can be with someone long enough to raise a single child through infancy together.
According to Fisher, these 3 brain systems work together to create the many different forms of love.
Interestingly, Fisher’s studies suggest that “attraction love” tends to last from 6 months to 2 years before it turns into “attachment love”.
But if you’re looking for a more simple definition of love, you can’t go past Google’s definition:
“An intense feeling of deep affection.”
Simple, but sounds about right.
But you’re not here to define what love is, you want to know what it actually feels like.
Before we go into the brain chemicals love activates and what they feel like, there are a few things we need to understand first.
1) Love feels unique to everyone
As said above, love means different things to different people. Therefore, we also experience it and feel it in different ways.
Some people say love is about the feeling of excitement and passion when you’re with your partner.
Someone else will say it’s about the unquestioned trust, honesty and comfort that comes with having a long-term relationship.
2) When we talk about actual feelings, it could be several
There isn’t a singular emotion of love.
For example, some people will describe love as intense and passionate, yet others describe it as peaceful and comfortable.
In other words, love can feel like several different emotions, even at once.
3) It usually begins as an intense feeling of joy
When you initially fall in love, most people are very happy and passionate.
“Love stimulates all of your happy chemicals at once. That’s why it feels so good.”
Yep, in the brain, love is basically a cocktail of feel-good chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphin.
At least that occurs initially.
“But our brain evolved to motivate reproduction, not to make you feel good all the time. That’s why the good feeling doesn’t last.”
So in order to understand how love feels, let’s go through each chemical in the brain it stimulates and how it will actually make you feel:
Dopamine is a brain chemical that it released to alert us that our needs are about to be met.
you finally kiss that girl or guy you’ve been chasing, dopamine is activated.
Dopamine is basically responsible for the head-over-heels, elated part of love.
According to University Health News, dopamine is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and concentration.
So if you’ve found your love, you might feel extremely happy and blessed to be with them. You’ll also be motivated to keep the bond alive.
Also, it’s important to note that phenylethylamine or PEA is a chemical in the brain that causes the release of dopamine.
This chemical is also released when you begin falling in love in the early stages. It is a stimulant and can give you a pounding heart and sweaty palms.
Also, these chemicals (dopamine and PEA) can make you feel great in the early stages of love, but according to Thought Co, they can also make you feel anxious and obsessive.
This is a brain chemical that is stimulated by touch and trust, according to Psychology Today. This chemical can erupt from holding hands, hugging and being comforted to orgasm.
When you’re in a loving relationship, oxytocin builds up a circuit so it’s easily triggered.
For example, an elderly couple will experience a flood of oxytocin when they hold hands.
For a lot of people, love is about trust and comfort, so oxytocin is certainly a big factor in producing those feel good feelings.
Funny enough, oxytocin is also called “the cuddle hormone”. This chemical is also released in droves when a Mother is in labor and breastfeeding.
What does oxytocin feel like?
Perhaps the best feeling to describe this brain chemical, according to Science Daily, is feeling warm and fuzzy.
Feeling warm, fuzzy and comforted is also a common way people describe being in love.
In a relationship, serotonin is supposedly released by the pride of associating with a person of a certain stature.
It may seem a little “fake” but all throughout the animal kingdom higher status social groups have more reproductive success.
Your brain rewards you with the feel good chemical serotonin when you seek status.
However, keep in mind that human beings are complex animals and status can be seen in many different ways.
It could be money, success, kindness, authenticity, social skill, physical fitness, or a whole host of reasons.
And while you may not want to believe it, the fact of the matter is this:
When you receive affection from an individual that is considered “desirable” serotonin will be triggered in the brain.
And when your partner receives admiration from others, that will trigger serotonin, too.
Relying on serotonin release can also trigger dependence on another person, as well.
How does serotonin feel? Great!
In fact, a lot of antidepressants these days work on increasing serotonin in the brain.
Having high levels of serotonin is associated with feeling positive, happy, confident and flexible.
Low levels of serotonin can have you feeling negative, worried or irritable.
Obviously being involved in a happy and stable relationship where you desire being with your partner will contribute to your serotonin level all throughout your relationship.
However, keep in mind that serotonin levels are influenced by many different things that do not include your relationship.
We all know endorphins give you a high. But did you also know that it is stimulated from physical pain?
Endorphins play a key role in long-term relationships. They are released during physical contact and sex.
Interestingly, according to Bustle, endorphins become more prominent around 18 months to 4 years into a relationship.
Because this is the stage where the brain stops relying on love stimulants like dopamine, and instead rely on chemicals oxytocin and endorphins for relationship pleasure.
According to Mind Health, the brain chemical oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins are crucial to help two people stay connected.
Because endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin are associated with feelings of attachment and comfort.
How do endorphins make you feel?
They calm anxiety, relieve pain and reduce stress. This is why you may feel calmed and comforted by the presence of your partner.
Love is a complex emotion that triggers different chemicals in the brain at different stages in the relationship.
Dopamine is associated with the beginning of the relationship, where the relationship is passionate, fun and in its early stages.
From there, the brain chemical oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins are crucial to help two people stay connected as they are associated with feelings of attachment and comfort.