With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is in the air. Maybe you’ve already found your perfect mate or maybe you’re still on the hunt for Mr. or Mrs. Right. Whatever your relationship status may be, everyone can agree that there’s nothing like the feeling of falling in love. Cupid’s arrow strikes and you become filled with an overwhelming sensation of happiness, butterflies in your stomach, anxious anticipation and you have the insatiable appetite for spending time with that special someone. What you may not realize is that those feelings are the result of chemical reactions that occur inside your body when you become attracted to another person and fall in love.
Here’s what’s happening behind-the-scenes while you’re forming a bond with that special someone.
Dopamine: This is the brain’s pleasure chemical. It’s a neurotransmitter that helps control the brains pleasure and rewards centers. It helps us regulate movement and emotional responses and allows us to see rewards and to take action to move towards them. It plays a role in gambling, drug use and love. That’s what makes couples feel euphoric and energetic towards one another. You can hold dopamine responsible for the constant longing sensation of not being able to get enough of someone.
Oxytocin: This chemical bonds couples together by promoting intimacy. When you hug or kiss someone it increases your oxytocin levels, according to Psychologytoday.com. This hormone is also stimulated during sex, birth, breast feeding and other intimate activities. The increase in oxytocin levels that occurs when you’re forging a relationship with someone may be why you have the urge to ditch your bar-hopping buddies and stay at home with your man or woman for an intimate movie night. Just blame it on the oxytocin when your single friends start calling you “anti-social.”
Testosterone: While testosterone is typically thought of as the hormone that makes men macho, it’s a hormone that helps ignite the fire in both sexes. Men have higher testosterone levels than women and trace amounts in their saliva. One theory states that this hormone could increase sexual desire in the other partner. Falling in love actually decreases a man’s testosterone levels and increases it in women, according to NewsMedical. Studies suggest that this may account for the temporary reduction in behavior differences between the sexes during the early stages of a relationship, hence the “honeymoon” phase. It’s thought that when this phase ends, sometimes one to three years into a relationship, that change in testosterone levels is no longer apparent.
Norepinephrine: You know how your heart starts to pitter patter when you fall in love? Well norepinephrine may be the culprit. Norepinephrine is a stress hormone that increases the heart rate and can also be the reason why you feel hot and flustered when you see that special someone. It’s similar to adrenaline and may be behind your racing heart and excitement. Norepinephrine may also be responsible for the restlessness and overall preoccupations that occur when falling in love, according to the article, “Cupid’s Arrow May Cause More than just sparks to fly this Valentine’s Day,” published on the Loyola Medicine website. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and well-known love researcher from Rutgers University Helen Fisher, suggests that nonepinephrine combined with dopamine produces elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite and focused attention.
Histocompatibility complex (MHC): This is a set of genes that controls cell-surface molecules that the body uses to tell itself from foreign invaders. MHC levels are emitted through our sweat, body odor and saliva. Studies suggest that we can pick up on MHC levels in other people. It’s believed that the more you and your partner differ in MHC the stronger the attraction. MHC could be behind the saying “opposites attract.”
Pheromones: “Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it,” sings Rihanna in her song “S&M.” It’s a catchy beat, but there may actually some truth to those lyrics. Many people believe pheromones, the body’s chemical messengers, play a part in human sexual attraction. Research is still being done to verify exactly what role pheromones play, but many creatures from mice to moths send out pheromones to entice mates. Whether or not that’s true for humans isn’t so clear. Rather than emitting a single pheromone, researchers think that a suite of chemicals emitted from our bodies subliminally may help sway potential partners, according to ScientificAmerica.com.
While it feels like just your heart is at stake, your entire body and the the chemicals it produces plays a big role in what you experience once you spot that certain someone. It’s a multifaceted blend, but there’s no denying the intoxicating feeling of falling in love.