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What Exactly is The Chemistry of Love?

Serotonin, Adrenaline, Oxytocin and just a dash of dopamine; all a part of the complex reaction called love.

Love: Everyone speaks of it, many claim to have felt it and know what it is, and others claim to know the signs and symptoms of love. And, of course, there’s the infamous notion of “love at first sight”, but what does all of this even mean and does love at first sight actually exist? More importantly, can a person truly die of a broken heart?

First off “love at first sight” might take a little longer than we thought; it’s more like 4 minutes and 90 seconds. When we see someone for the first time, we might take interest but everything after that becomes much more complicated, despite our belief of having an instant connection with the other.

Studies reveal that our initial interest in another has to do more with the way they act and look, instead of what they say. Our brains are looking for a type of message to decode from the actions and body language of the other and this is the way that our brains choose to decipher these messages.

According to the percentages, impressions rely very little on what we say:

55% is through body language
38% is the tone and speed of the voice
7% is through what they say

To further explain, the reason why body language is the most important is because it can often be what causes someone to give off or receive mixed messages. If your body is not fully facing another person or if you’re slightly turned away, it gives the impression that you’re not 100% focused on the conversation.

Also, frequent eye contact (that doesn’t mean to stare at them through the entire conversation; that would be a little weird) will help to let the other know that you are really paying attention or that you’re interested in hearing more. Be mindful of the way your stance is when talking to another; if you’re sitting are you too lazily, slouched over, and if you’re standing, check your posture. Facial expressions are also key because they’re another way to show that you are in fact listening and looking to offer a response.

Tone and speed of one’s voice is very influential because our brains are capable of interpreting many types and forms of sound (such as someone’s voice) differently depending on the type of sound it is as well at its pitch, tone, etc. When talking to someone, the other person’s voice remains low with no changes in tone or pitch, or practically monotone, the one listening begins to pick up or believe that the other is disinterested or doesn’t want to contribute to the conversation. If the person happens to have a voice that is constantly changing in its pitch, or if they’re talking really fast or stuttering, it shows that they’re nervous around the other person and in the conversation, which could lead to a number of interpretations. All of this sounds weird when trying to connect it to a simple conversation between peers of someone you’ve just met. But when you think about it, when people are being publicly interviewed, or a applying for a job, the person that is questioning them and holding a conversation with them is also focusing on their voice and body language because it’s the two crucial parts of conveying a certain message.

Photo by Emily Alequin

Photo by Emily Alequin

Once these messages are processed (aka: once you’ve spent the next ten to twenty minutes replaying the entire scene in your mind) you might start to enter into the following stages of “love.”

1.) Lust – (yes, lust is first.) Simple enough; it’s driven by arousal which has to do with the testosterone levels in men and the estrogen levels in women. We see someone we think is attractive or our type and we automatically decide if we like the way they look or not and that’s that. Next comes the question of if we’re genuinely interested or not.

2.) Attraction – When you begin to think of this person too many times in one day to count; where are they at the moment? What are they doing? What are they thinking about? Even if you’re not purposely thinking of, or mentioning them you might find yourself having random thoughts of them without even trying. Scientists link this to neurotransmitters of the brain which control thought processes; mostly unconscious ones and our emotions towards another. Dopamine elicits a pleasure response because this chemical is responsible for desire we feel towards another. Another would be Serotonin, which is closely related to the happy emotions triggered by whatever (pleasing) thing passing your way, it is responsible for filling your mind with thoughts of your significant other. A final aspect of being attracted to another is adrenaline; that wonderful thing that causes our hearts to race, our stomach to go into knots, makes our palms sweat and our mouths go dry, all while we deal with the inner turmoil of what to say, how to say it, and what will even happen once we’ve said it! This all has to do with the stress we begin to feel and it affects our blood levels and of course our heart rate.

3.) Attachment – The last stage, which can strengthen or even weaken over time depending on the relationship and individual. It’s a bond that can keep a couple together through the years or maybe the rest of their lives. This stage is strengthened through prolonged time spent with the other and the amount of intimate details shared between each other. Two hormones that play a role in attachment are oxytocin, which is responsible for feelings of romantic attachment (also empathy) or increased arousal felt about the significant other, and Vasopressin, which is connected to the stages of commitment within attachment (mainly long-term). Both hormones tend to be released after intercourse between the couple.

So all of these help to explain arousal, peaked interest, attraction, and eventually attachment to another, but what happens when one deals with heart break? Can someone truly die of a broken heart? According to studies, the answer is yes and it comes in the form of Takutsubo
cardiomyopathy, also known as “heartbreak syndrome” and it is an actual heart attack brought on by a ‘broken heart.’

This syndrome is greatly connected to stress which will make a person want/need more oxygen; which is normal. But pile that up with mixed feelings and emotions, not wanting to do anything anymore, exhaustion, mental pain and anguish, and your body will want double what you need and lead to issues such as heightened blood pressure.

Stress can cause the body to hyperventilate which leads to too much oxygen being pumped through your body too fast that your blood which is being transported through the body has a hard time keeping up. As the heart tries to do its best pumping as much blood that is needed in the body to keep all processes stabilized it is initially exhausting itself and could actually burst; it’s like squeezing a fully inflated balloon and essentially crushing it to the point that it finally pops. “Heartbreak” syndrome is mostly believed to be experienced by older individuals who have known the loved one for many years or most of their life; for example, older married couples because of the attachment that has built up through the years, even decades.

Even with all of this information, it’s still unclear when exactly someone will come to the revelation that they are in fact in love with another person. Timing, personal experience and desires for ones future are all part of many more aspects to consider. When is the right time to reveal those intimate details, to spend more time or to decide if one’s ready to really take the next step? It all comes down not just to the science, but to the individual.


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