How Your Brain Falls in Love

They don’t call love a drug for nothing. When we fall for someone, our brains release a cocktail of chemicals, creating feelings of euphoria and pleasure and (if all goes well) closeness and comfort.

That complex organ inside our head is hardwired to want love and keep love at all costs—a response that has been crucial to the survival of our species.

Curious what that hardwiring looks like? Here’s what happens in your brain at six stages of romantic love.

1. First attraction: Call me maybe*

Say you develop a crush on your neighbor. Every time you think about this person, you feel giddy—you feel really good. What’s happening? The neurons in your brain are releasing dopamine, a feel-good hormone and neurotransmitter associated with euphoria (as well as gambling and drug addiction). And because your brain wants you to keep pursuing this feeling, like a little love-carrot, it fires off more dopamine every time you think about the crush.

2. Early courtship: You really got me

Notice how whenever you really like someone you get nervous before a date? Your palms sweat, your heart races, and you can practically feel the adrenaline surging through your body? Well, that’s because it is. In the early throes of a romantic relationship, your brain sends a signal to the adrenal gland (located on top of the kidneys) to pump out the chemicals adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, giving you a rush of excitement.

Norepinephrine is especially key. Like dopamine, it makes us feel good—but it also makes us feel infatuated and obsessed. It’s our brain’s way of saying: keep going.

3. The fall: Addicted to love

Now you’re hooked. Suddenly you want to be around this person every minute of every day. Why? Studies (particularly the work of anthropologist Helen Fisher) have shown that the same part of your brain that activates when you’re addicted to cocaine activates when you’re in love. It’s called the limbic reward system.

Basically, your brain has decided that love is essential and wants more. From an evolutionary standpoint, this response developed to help us procreate, then raise offspring together. Did you know the love drive is stronger than the sex drive?

During this phase, the limbic system continues to release dopamine, which acts as a feel-good electrical current and keeps you craving the person you love. When the object of your desire is not around, you may feel like you’re in withdrawal, motivating you to see him or her again. As with any drug, however, the high has diminishing returns—which is why, after a few months, the rush can weaken and people fall out of love. Unless, of course, they’ve become attached.

4. The rose-colored glasses: You are so beautiful

What flaws? While falling in love, we often ignore red flags that our friends see loud and clear. That’s because—while other parts of the limbic reward system are lighting up like a Christmas tree—the amygdala decides to shut down, according to brain scans, taking our good judgment with it.

The amygdala, a set of neurons located in the temporal lobe, plays a big role in how we react to stimuli. It’s key to making judgment calls, recognizing fearful situations, and can even decipher when someone is lying to us. When people are in love, however, the amygdala takes a little nap—which clouds judgment and causes the enamored to see his or her beloved through rose-colored glasses.

5. Attachment: Only wanna be with you

You’ve bonded. As we spend time with the object of our affection, our brains start to release oxytocin, nicknamed “the love hormone.” This neuropeptide is produced in the hypothalamus and released into our brains during times of intimacy—when mothers breastfeed their babies, for example, or when we orgasm. Studies have shown that oxytocin is key to fostering trust and commitment. Unlike the quick high of dopamine, oxytocin is subtler and sticks around longer, leading to a deeper attachment.

6. Deep attachment: Never gonna give you up

Over time love can, of course, develop into deep companionship. When two people have been committed to each other for years, their brains show increased activity in the ventral pallidum.

This region of the brain is rich with oxytocin and vasopressin receptors—two chemicals associated with monogamy and deep attachment—which, according to work by Helen Fisher, explains why it lights up when people experience long-term attachment. It’s the same region of the brain that activates in monogamous prairie voles, who mate for life.

Brain scans show that the limbic reward system remains active during deep attachment as well—meaning couples in this stage experience the rush of early courtship along with deep attachment. Love is great.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

How to Navigate the Grace Period

Whether you’re hazy about commitment, new to a relationship, or playing the field it’s best to approach this grace period with honesty and mutual respect.

Dating is like buying a house. It may not be a particularly romantic metaphor, but they weren’t lying when they said, “Home is where your heart is.” Real relationships require work and commitment just like purchasing a new home. Before you move into a new house there is an escrow period. Why should your relationship be any different? There is a grace period after you met someone you really like and before you’ve decided to purchase a one-way ferry ticket to Monogamy Island? But how do you navigate this period? How do you talk about the rather tense subject of potentially sleeping with other people? And how do you ultimately know when you’re ready to commit?

Courtship has changed over the past 50 years. There was a simpler time when people got married as virgins, chaperones accompanied people on dates, and doctors endorsed cigarettes. But our sexually liberated times have given rise to people taking control over their sexual wants and needs. That’s great, but that can leave a lot of people with a murky understanding of what’s “normal” in dating. You probably don’t tell someone you’ve just met you’ve been casually seeing a few guys. You probably don’t want to spend your fourth date talking about Julia, your friend with benefits. You may not even want to mention them until you’ve dissolved your benefits agreement. But it’s important to find a balance between honesty and consideration for your and your partner’s feelings.

I personally have been on the receiving end of many an awkward conversation with guys I’ve really liked. “Sorry, I’ve been dating a couple of people and it’s really working out with someone else.” It’s like a gunshot wound to the chest. Here you are picking out china patterns and not only are you no longer in the running for America’s Next Top Partner your “relationship” was a figment of your imagination. That’s a tough, dry pill to swallow but it is a harsh reality for the new arena of dating in a post-Tinder, post-Sex and the City, pre-Apocalypse dating world. People will be dating, sleeping with, and talking to other people and you will need to find a way to navigate that space.

Whether you’re hazy about commitment, new to a relationship, or playing the field it’s best to approach this grace period with honesty and mutual respect. Let’s say you’ve met someone you really like and things are going really well. After a few dates you will want to check in on how you both are feeling. It doesn’t need to be a grandiose conversation about commitment. You will want to clear up if you are casually dating or seriously seeing each other. You may want to ask if they are seeing other people and disclose if you are. It’s also a good time to calmly tease your feelings on monogamy. It will be unclear until you mention it. Finding out your shiny new dance partner is dating a few other people can be a huge shock. So why not temper the surprise by being as honest as you can as early as you can? I have found it’s best to be honest because then you and your partner can approach your relationship as it is rather than how you both want it to be.

As your relationship progresses you’ll want to have periodic check-ins to be clear about how you are both seeing your future together. Do you want to be in a committed relationship, would you prefer a throuple, are you interested in open relationships? These are important conversations you will want to organically come to. You don’t need to push them, force them, or turn them into a huge confrontation. But it’s good to clear the air. Your best bet is a calm, casual four sentence conversation. You ask a question, they answer, you accept what they say, and you move on. This will avoid any needless escalation or discomfort. In my experience it’s good to ask and be as open and diplomatic as possible. If you feel the situation starting to escalate try to just reiterate your commitment and excitement about the relationship. That way you don’t let fear or insecurity needlessly escalate the situation.

Handling these conversations can be tough. It’s easy for these honest moments to unearth a lot of baggage. The key is to be honest, open-minded and respectful. If your partner tells you they have opposing political views you wouldn’t immediately break up so why should you do that if you have different views on sex, relationships and boundaries. Sometimes the biggest hurdle to establishing healthy and happy relationships is our own personal idealized version of a relationship. That great person you are spending time with is a full-fledged human being so entertain their individual beliefs, opinions and experiences. If you have a calm conversation you can understand how the other person sees your relationship and how they see you. Now this doesn’t guarantee a marriage proposal or that you will not break up. But it does guarantee that you’re on an even playing field and having a healthy conversation. It also ensures you are entering into a relationship with the healthiest perspective you can.

There is no right or wrong way to date. There are billions of people on the planet and there’s someone out there for everyone. But you can never go wrong with establishing honest conversations with people you sleep with and date. If you are honest and open during this grace period it will help you establish healthy patterns and develop organic intimacy as your authentic self. That’s better than implying monogamy if you’re not ready or dating a few people. It also allows you to see how well you can communicate, empathize, and handle tense conversations. Even if it doesn’t go well you’ve worked on the key skills to a healthy long-term relationship for next time. Once you’ve done that you’re in a better position to make it work or attract your right match.