Let me count the ways.” ( Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
Well, if you were to count the stages of falling in love, the answer is 3. Evolutionary anthropologist and love researcher, Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, has suggested 3 stages of falling in love.
Stage 1: Lust
Stage 2: Attraction
Stage 3: Attachment
The First Stage of Love: Lust
Remember the time when you locked eyes with a stranger across the room and felt nervous and exhilarated at the same time? You were possibly having a lust attack.
Estrogen and Testosterone are responsible for this powerful surge of lust that you feel for a person of the opposite sex. Fisher is reported to have described it as, “Lust evolved to get you out looking for anything.” This stage is all about craving for sex. A sexual encounter between two people who are in this stage creates a heady concoction of powerful chemicals in the body; dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and endorphin levels increase and generate a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. You begin craving more of this feeling which you know you can recreate with the person that you had initially experienced it with.
The Second Stage of Love: Attraction
After the initial stage of physical attraction, couples enter the stage of attraction. At this stage, it seems almost impossible for you to think about anyone or anything but the object of your affection. Dopamine is the culprit behind your addiction to your beloved. Increased dopamine levels cause feelings of euphoria and craving.
The behavioral pattern of those in the second stage of love is also akin to those who are in the manic phase of manic depression, or those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. This is why there is an overwhelming urge to be with the mate at all times, obsessively look at his or her pictures, relive your time together when you are apart and even dream of the lover. Drugs used to treat OCD do so by inhibiting reabsorption of serotonin; so anti-depressants may interfere with your ability to fall in love. Romantic love is one of the most powerful forces of Nature. Dr. Fisher says that this feeling is more powerful than even hunger.
The Third Stage of Love: Attachment
As good as attraction feels, it is just not enough to keep people together long enough for the primary reason Nature brings them together in the first place – procreation and child rearing. For a long term monogamous relationship, vasopressin and oxytocin are essential.
The intense bonding that a mother feels towards a child is a result of the vast amounts of oxytocin that is released during child birth. It is the same oxytocin, along with vasopressin, that is released during an orgasm. These chemicals build a long-lasting bond between the mates. Funnily enough, vasopressin and oxytocin are also known to interfere with the dopamine pathways in the brain, which could explain why the initial surge of obsessive lust and love fades gradually when people are together for a long time.
Love – Give Me Some More of It
A person in love exhibits almost the same behavior and has the same mental state as that of a cocaine addict, especially in the initial stages of love. However, the chemicals responsible for the euphoric feeling – dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine – decrease as years go by. By then you have hopefully learnt to live happily with the bonding chemicals – vasopressin and oxytocin.
What we call love is just part of the grand plan of Nature to propagate genetic material and continue the species. So much for true love!
By: Nisha S.
- Neuroscience and Sex (drdeblaino.com)
- The Body Reaction When Fall in Love (socyberty.com)
- The Love Hormone: The Key to Canine Evolution? | Psychology Today (psychologytoday.com)