Love hurts. No, really: Your heart beats faster, you can’t catch your breath and you feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s an appealing type of agony as endorphins rush throughout your body. You find yourself thinking about the subject of your love all of the time. It’s….intoxicating.
At least, that’s how it always felt to me whenever I thought I was in love. Research now proves what we’ve always suspected: Love is indeed a drug…of sorts.
How does love work in the brain? Researchers C. Sue Carter and Stephen W. Porges explain: “The brain of a human ‘in love’ is flooded with sensations, often transmitted by the vagus nerve, creating much of what we experience as emotion.”
The chemicals released when we have that emotional connection to someone, whether it’s romantic or familial, are vasopressin and the more commonly known oxytocin, the “bonding chemical.” Dopamine, another chemical associated with the reward center in the brain, also increases when you love someone.
According to the researchers, the brain’s cortex has trouble making sense of all these messages it’s receiving, so the mind creates a narrative that may not be entirely based in the reality of the situation (ahem, the obsessive crushes on movie stars we had as pre-teens).
Carter and Porges describe love as “a biological process that is both dynamic and bidirectional in several dimensions” in their 2013 report for the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).
Love, they say, is “deeply biological” and much more than an emotion. The dynamic aspect of love involves the hormonal changes within our bodies as well as our mental associations with the one we love. The bidirectional aspect refers to whether our love is reciprocated; in short, if we are also loved, then our love is strengthened.
Research also proves that lovesickness isn’t just for the young. Love can grow over time between couples and friends.
In 2011, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York set out to determine if you can still have those loving feelings after decades of marriage. Participants in the study, couples who’d been married an average 21 years, underwent MRI scans, and the researchers noticed that their dopamine levels when thinking about their partners were as high as those who’ve just met and experience that first rush of love.
“A state-of-the-art investigation of love has confirmed for the very first time that people are not lying when they say that after 10 to 30 years of marriage they are still madly in love with their partners,” Richard Schwartz said about his team’s findings in the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Newsletter.
Love is a complex process within our bodies that often plays in complicated emotions in our lives. Carter, Porges and other researchers have stated that we need love in order to be healthy. Like food, oxygen and exercise, our biology demands that we have love in our lives, whether it’s romantic or just between friends and family.
Share the love on Instagram with #FreeAsAFeather and tell us how you know you’re in love.
(image source: public domain/pixabay.com)