What is the intense emotion that overcomes us when we look at or think about that special someone? How do you know you're in love? Why does it feel so good? Does it last for a lifetime? We take a look at the age-old mystery and wonder of that crazy little thing called love.
Love is defined as a deep affection that makes us want to get close to someone...with varying intensity. Depending on who it's for, love can be weak, strong, obsessive and difficult to control. Blossoming love shows itself through such infallible tell-tale signs as palpitations, lumps in the throat, sweaty palms and feelings of intense happiness when you see or think of that certain special someone. This is how you tell the difference between love and friendship.
The mechanisms of love
Psychiatrists and psychoanalysts go much further in their analysis of love. They say it doesn't just happen by chance, randomly: our subconscious makes us fall in love with a person with whom our minds will blossom and develop. A facial expression, voice or gesture can awaken affective triggers in us. It's well known that when you're in love, you experience stronger emotions and euphoria, and you see the world through rose-tinted glasses. When we're looking for love, our eyes and ears look and listen for people who match up to our expectations. We tend to play down their faults and project our desires and wishes onto the person we love (they say love is blind...). Love can also change our behaviour: we become much more tolerant and patient of the one we love. Freud said some women with low self-esteem can change their personalities and interests completely when they're with a new partner.
Researchers also have a lot to say about love. Aside from a deep desire for loving security and physical pleasure, love causes a real hormonal shake-up in the body. Endorphins, luliberine, oxytocin and especially testosterone, the sex hormone, are all released en masse when we fall in love. They make you lose your inhibitions as well as seek affection from the one you love. All this produces dopamine, which is a real motivator.
Differences between men and women
The emotions and hormones released by love are pretty much the same in men and women, but the changes they cause are perceived differently:
- Men experience more of a sexual aspect. In other words, testosterone tends to dominate their objectivity, capacity for thought and system of values.
- Women function differently. Even though they experience the same emotions (especially concerning sexual desire), love has more of a 'drug' effect. When a woman is with her partner, her affective system is awakened, and when her loved one isn't there she feels loss.
How long does love last?
Love is initially generated by passion (reciprocal or otherwise!), but obviously it isn't just a passing thing. Scientists and psychiatrists agree that the state of being in love only lasts for 3 years on average. This doesn't mean it stops after three years, though: it just takes on another form (more of a tender love, with mutual respect, desire to make a home and have children with the one you love). After passion comes reason and desire for stability, but sexual fulfilment persists!
One question that persists is: once you've stopped loving someone, can you ever love them again? How can you go back to being blissfully in love with someone who has hurt you or cheated on you? This depends on the individuals and the reasons behind relationship problems or a split.
Love is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. Even if you believe you can meet The One more than once in a lifetime, the hardest thing is keeping the flame of love alive every day. Taking care of the one you love, keeping desire flowing between you and sharing interests are just a few of the secrets of lasting love.