Love is probably one of the most well documented of all human emotions, and yet it is still, to date, the least understood.
We’re here to investigate what happens to the brain when one falls in love and how this can make or break a relationship.
From the first time you laid your eyes on them, you knew they were the one.
This information consequently sent you reeling along a path of complicated chemistry; running around between feelings of extreme longing, intense passion and even heightened anxiety. Your heart keeps beating, your palms become sweaty around this person, and your mind will not let you have any peace about it.
Why is this happening to you?
As you have probably gathered, your body becomes overwhelmed with chemicals when you fall in love, resulting in all sorts of pleasure, intensity, and chaos.
First, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, initiating anxiety and the release of adrenaline. This is what gets your heart pumping like mad and can make you feel as though the other person takes your breath away when in their presence. Your blood flow also gets rerouted away from the stomach and gut, occasionally making you feel like you have butterflies.
As adrenaline rises, so too do levels of cortisol to counteract it, which in turn starts to deplete Serotonin. Those of you who don’t eat when in love or who lie awake for hours on end dreaming of him/her – this is when Serotonin starts to run low.
These low Serotonin levels will also begin to ignite seemingly obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as constantly thinking about your crush or having the urge to know what they’re doing and when! Such are the throws (and terrors) of new love and utter infatuation.
In spite of the fact that love produces anxiety which can make us act out in weird and wonderful ways, it still feels amazing!
You feel like you never want to leave their side, because something about them feels magnetizing, drawing you in over and over.
This something is none other than the neurotransmitter Dopamine. When that “Do-do-dopamine starts pumping” it causes a simultaneous roller coaster to anxiety, but one of the intense feel-good emotions.
The reward centers of the brain light up upon seeing this person in the beginning. Studies even show that Dopamine is released with the anticipation of reward – meaning that even if you never dare to ask the apple of your eye on a date, you will still feel good just thinking of them!
With this in mind, what happens to the anticipation of reward when we get rejected?
Did you know that even fruit flies experience rejection and are also indulging in Dopamine inside their tiny little brains? When a male fruit fly gets rejected by female fruit flies, he goes to seek reward elsewhere – usually in the form of excessive fruit alcohol. It has been documented that rejected male fruit flies ingest up to four times the amount of fruit alcohols than the others that didn’t get rejected!  Harvard Medical School Department of Neurobiology – ‘Love and the Brain’
Humans are very much the same. If we cannot get rewarded in the way we seek, we turn to other means to fulfill the same pleasure.
Drugs like heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and even common sugars release these feel-good chemicals too, which is why people sometimes like to say ‘love is a drug.’ No doubt you have heard of ‘serial daters’ who enjoy running around in the thrills of new found love, but then leave when the feelings die down.
Dopamine keeps the dating game interesting in the beginning, but it dials down in the brain after a year or two in the case of new love. For some people, it can be as brief as a few months, and for others, it can last up to a few years.
Now whenever this person is around, the rest of the world seems to vanish. This person could never be seen in a bad light and neither can anybody else when you are in their vicinity!
Neurologically speaking, there is a gem of truth in the age-old saying ‘love is blind.’
The areas of the brain that correspond with the reward centers of pleasure are the Hippocampus, the ventral tegmental area, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala. The ventral tegmental area, in particular, is associated with socializing, reward, focused attention and the motivation to pursue reward.
In other words, this is the part of your brain that tells you ‘nothing can go wrong, go out and win over that person’s heart!’
The ventral tegmental area works with the nucleus accumbens, which deactivates the amygdala temporarily in favor of positive emotions. The amygdala usually causes interference with the prefrontal cortex when we are stressed, but in the case of love, the opposite begins to occur.
If you wonder why you do “really, really, really stupid things” in front of that special someone, then this is also why. All it takes is a little bit less activity in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, with a little pinch of anxiety, and suddenly your usual mode of thinking is impaired in multiple weird and wonderful ways!
This is why ‘love is blind’ as your judgments are affected in a majorly positive way – the whole world has never looked or felt so good!
Is there such a thing as a love that lasts ‘forever’?
So now you have been with that somebody for at least a good solid year or two. The Dopamine is dialing down, and it feels like perhaps some of the excitement is lost. However, you still love this person deeply. How can this be?
Oxytocin truly is the “potion of devotion.” This devotion potion chemical allows you to feel calm, secure and content with one another.
Another chemical that gets released when we make physical contact with those we love is oxytocin. It is also the compound that strengthens social bonds or bonding between a mother and child. This does not dial down when the excitement is over but instead begins to develop an even deeper appreciation of the other being.
When Dopamine dials down, Serotonin comes back into balance, keeping one calm as well. That is not to say Dopamine can never return. Many couples that have been together for more than 20 years still have Dopamine release in their brains concerning their partners.
The trick lies in being spontaneous and (as explained in the song) doing new things together!
Couples who fall into a stale routine when Dopamine dies down tend not to last as long as those who continue to engage in active courtship with one another.
Responsibilities, such as a sick parent or raising children begin to detract from being able to spend time on romance, as they naturally should. This should not get in the way of a good bond, however, and the time to pick up those “sparks of Dopamine” can return at any stage.
To answer the question: yes, love can technically last ‘forever’ if you and your partner are willing to work at it.
If you want a long-lasting relationship, it is up to you and your partner to keep the relationship alive with activities that strengthen oxytocin, and occasionally those that bring back some excitement into the picture.
The truth is that these chemicals we feel are so potent that understanding them never actually helped anyone to get a better grip on love! Love is blind; love is like a drug and love does not understand what the term ‘rational’ means.
The key to long-lasting success is to relax and build a strong bond of trust with that special someone to stand the test of time.