Science of Amour: love, lust, attraction and attachment
By Jennifer Luna
Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is here.
If you’re planning for the occasion, remember not to get carried away with all the teddy bears, balloons, flowers and chocolates. Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but let’s remember the meaning of Valentine’s Day.
It comes but once a year — a holiday to celebrate a man named Valentine who secretly married couples back in A.D. 270. At the time, Emperor Claudius thought single men made for better soldiers, as opposed to men who had wives. Valentine was a priest who married young lovers despite the rule. Of course, when Claudius found out about this, Valentine was killed.
A bit tragic, but nothing short of a beautiful love story of someone who loved … love.
Now, back to the brighter side of things.
How does cupid shoot his arrow? How did these young couples fall in love so deeply they were willing to sacrifice their lives to be married?
Hence, the entirety of Valentine’s Day, creating a moment with someone you love rather than being swindled by a business to load your love with chocolate, flowers and gifts.
Like it or not, love is rather important in life. Songs, books and movies are about it. Lives are changed by it. Four little letters mystify therapists, psychologists, and men and women alike: LOVE.
However, there are different kinds of love. There’s companion love, also referred to as friendship love, and then there’s maternal love. This month we’re focused on defining romantic love, but experts argue whether different kinds of romantic love even exist.
Some researchers say there are many forms of romantic love: passionate love, obsessive love (which may make a partner feel “if I can’t have you no one else can” ordeal), and ludos, where a partner feels they can keep playing the field.
Although defining love is controversial, research shows a neurological process of falling in love. Something those young couples felt in A.D. 270, but couldn’t explain. Just like us, until now.
Amy Dicke-Bohmann, psychology professor at Texas A&M-San Antonio, researches love birds and the development of love itself.
Dicke-Bohmann published and presented works about romantic love, including in the “Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.”
During an interview with Dicke-Bohman, she said falling in love happens in three stages.
“There’s research done, and it pretty much concures with what happens with which neurotransmitters are activated,” She said.
Each stage is backed by the work of anthropologist Helen Fisher who studies ‘amour’ for a living.
Fisher writes in her article “Lust, Attraction and Attachment in Mammalian Reproduction,” how the warm fuzzy feeling inside comes in a three stage process.
First, our barbarian side comes out. Lust is motivated by nothing other than our sex hormones. This is where we need to remember we’re not animals, we’re humans (although Robin Thicke thinks otherwise).
Next, lust progresses to attachment.
Neurotransmitters, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine are activated.
Let’s say you are on a third date, your palms may get sweaty, your mouth gets dry, and heart starts pounding. All while this is happening, serotonin levels decrease as dopamine levels increase.
“The interesting thing about serotonin, is when the levels are high, it creates happiness. When the serotonin level is low, it contributes to obsessiveness,” she said.
We can all agree Beyonce’s serotonin levels must have been pretty low when she sang all about being “Crazy in Love.” But don’t worry about going crazy, it’s just a normal part of the process.
As serotonin lowers, dopamine levels rise, which Dicke-Bohmann said increases pleasure.
Dopamine can also be activated by drugs, like crack or cocaine, which proves love isn’t such a passive emotion after all.
However, Dicke-Bohmann said those using antidepressants which increase serotonin levels, won’t let dopamine levels increase. The rise of dopamine levels are vital when falling head over heels for someone.
In her blog “The Nature of Love,” Fisher posted a letter a man sent to the New York Times:
“My romantic feelings for my wife declined drastically. With the approval of my therapist, I gradually discontinued my medication. My enthusiasm returned and our romance is now as strong as ever. I am prepared to deal with another bout of depression if need be, but in my case the long-term side effects of antidepressants render them off limits.”
Dicke-Bohmann finally explained the last stage, attachment. Two hormones lead this stage: oxytocin, the king hormone of trust and attachment, and vasopressin which decreases anxiety and increases sexual drive are the leading hormones.
She said often times couples who have been in a relationship for a long period of time, experience comfort and attachment, and confuse the first two stages as being in love, and perceive the last stage as falling out of love.
But Dicke-Bohmann ensures us (those who have been in long term relationships) we are not falling out of love by any means.
“It’s a mature part of love,” she said.
Dicke-Bohmann tells me if we stay in the obsession of love, it may lead to neglect of friends, family and work.
“We wouldn’t get any work done, otherwise,” she said.
So, just because we don’t get the butterflies in our stomachs like we used to with our mate, that’s quite alright.
“It’s OK. That’s what supposed to happen,” Dicke-Bohmann said.
Now that we fully understand what happens in love, let’s go back to Valentine’s Day. Think thoughtfully when you hand over the heart shaped box of chocolates. Don’t just give gifts, rejoice with every stage!