Valentine’s Day again. Flowers, candy, thoughtful little gifts and all those mushy Hallmark cards: “No matter what happens in life, things are always better with you by my side,” Life may change, but our love will always be the same. “I choose you. Now and forever” Really? Is that true? According to the US Census Bureau nearly 50% of adults in America are single and divorce takes place in the US every 13 seconds. (Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, 2020). So, what does one do with those odds and the consequences of today’s modern cultural shifts? I know. …I’m ruining it for all those hopeless romantics out there. And it’s not to say I don’t tip my hat to those who stay together for better or worse. But as the world is changing faster than a toupee in a wind storm, the search for “true” love forever can be elusive at best.
Although people experience love differently, the chemistry behind the initial rush of attraction shows us that there are biological explanations to the feeling. Dopamine, just one of several neurotransmitters is an initial part of our reward system in the central nervous system, which enhances the release of testosterone creates a sense of arousal. Dopamine affects, mood and emotions leading to feelings of excitement and happiness. Interestingly, anticipation alone can cause a biological response and stimulate the reward system. This is why the pursuit of the elusive lovebug is so powerful. We literally lust after those feelings.
After the first dopamine step, a feedback loop begins to form, and the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine) leads to focused attention. Zeroing-in on the person, even to the point of obsession, which often gives a feeling of euphoria. Norepinephrine is a stimulant responsible for the feelings of giddiness when we’re in love and may even cause a loss of appetite or sleep. If the relationship doesn’t last, PEA levels fall and are partly responsible for the feelings of depression.
So why doesn’t it last forever for everyone?
Professor Sue Carter, a biologist in the field of social bonding and love is quoted as saying:
“Oxytocin receptors in the brain region which mediates reward and motivation (the nucleus accumbens) are key to explaining many individual differences in behavior. In fact, scientists have found that…