Everyday Romance: Our Chemical Romance

Last week in the comments the
discussion sort of evolved to include the topic of chemistry in
relationships – and specifically whether chemistry between two
people is always reciprocated, or if it’s sometimes one-sided. I
couldn’t find any specific scientific info one way or the other on
that, but I did draw some conclusions from other tidbits on “love
chemicals” I found. Links to the articles I gleaned this
information from are at the bottom of the post, but as always online,
take the information with a grain of salt.

That said, here’s what I found. There
are three basic stages of chemical attraction: lust, infatuation and
long-term bonding. Each of these stages is marked by different
chemical processes going on in the brain, and while it’s
controversial, I’d add pheromones to the list somewhere in there (I’m
not sure why it’s controversial, because the effects on animals are
well-documented, but apparently it’s more difficult to pin down in
humans). Personally, I’ve used pheromones to “enhance” my own
with pretty definitive results, so I happen to think they make a big
difference, but it’s just personal opinion there.

In any case – romantic chemicals are
triggered both psychologically and physically when you’re attracted
to someone either visually, through pheromones or both. The first
chemicals to kick in are hormones, of course – estrogen and
testosterone. I’d posit that pheromones play a big role here as well.
Hormones are what triggers that first pull of attraction, that
feeling of lust toward another person.

Then the big guns come out – dopamine,
norepinephrine and serotonin, all controlled by another chemical
called phenylethylamine (PEA), a cousin of amphetamine. These are
responsible for that twisting stomach/racing heartbeat/can’t
eat/can’t sleep/floating-on-air feeling that we experience when we’re
“falling in love”. Sadly, we build up a tolerance to these
chemicals over time, and the rush fades over a period of six months
to three years. Some people crave the chemically induced euphoria
experienced in this stage, and jump from one relationship to another
searching for that next “high”.

When couples stick together past the
infatuation period, yet another set of chemicals take over to form a
tight bond over time. Oxytocin is “the cuddling chemical”, and is
triggered by both emotional and physical cues. It signals arousal and
is released during orgasm, so it’s thought that the more sex a
couples have, the tighter the bond between them. Morphine-like
opiates called endorphins complete the bond, and are steadier and
more addictive than PEA. Needless to say, the longer two people are
together, the more likely they are to stay together – they get
addicted to each other, literally. When people miss a spouse in their
absence or grieve the loss of a spouse, it’s the loss of those shared
endorphins that causes those emotions. Basically, the spouse left
behind is going through withdrawal from an addiction (and that’s
pretty much what it feels like when my husband goes out of town for
longer than a few days at a time).

I couldn’t find anything to explain how
romantic chemistry could be one-sided…but most sites agree that it
can and does happen all the time. Personally, I’d guess that it’s
probably due to a couple of things – one being that one person’s
pheromones are more “attractive” to a wider range of people than
the other (people flock to my husband like flies – me, not so
much), and two being that the chemical release isn’t just physical,
but has a psychological component as well that, for whatever reason
doesn’t get triggered for that second person. Could be visual, could
be something in that person’s past…or any number of things, really.
That’s my personal theory, anyways.

Links:

Science of Love: Cupid’s Chemistry

Love Chemistry

What are your thoughts on all of this?
Have you ever been “addicted to love”? Are you an infatuation
junkie? How do you feel about all of these chemicals and hormones
driving our emotions?

8 comments on “Everyday Romance: Our Chemical Romance

  1. Meg

    I’ve been addicted to love.

    And I’ve had ex-boyfriends addicted to me, not so great. I’m a firm believer that the chemistry can be one-sided.

    That first spark of attraction really can be addicting, can’t it? Like how you always remember your first kiss.

    Weird knowing it’s all chemicals driving that!

  2. Carol

    I wonder what effect serotonin blockers (found in anti-anxiety and depression medications) have on the chemical mix?

    Great post Jamie!

  3. SidniM

    So interesting Jamie. Mr. M and I have been together for 15 years. I am totally addicted. He works out of town and by the end of the work week I’m in serious withdrawal mode; cranky, fidgety, the works. 🙂

  4. Heidi Sutherlin

    What a fascinating post Jamie. Two thumbs up! This is so interesting, I had no idea that there was so much riding on our body chemistry. I’m a total believer in the effects of pheromones, having grown up on a farm, I can easily see the many parallels between us and our animal cousins, but wow, so interesting. I’m so excited, apparently my sentence structuring abilities have just imploded. Haha. Thanks for a great and thoughtful post.

  5. Medeia Sharif

    I forgot all about the chemistry of love. This brings me back to my psych major back in college.

    Great post, Jamie.

  6. Cynthia Reese

    This is very interesting! I remember watching a discovery or TLC special on the physical cues that make one person more attractive than others — and it’s amazing.

    Why, yes, I AM a science junkie. How did you guess?

  7. Cynthia Schuerr

    This is a great post, Jaimey! I love this chemical aspect of it all, but I am a firm believer of love and romance coming from the heart, an emotion, rather than a scientific occurrence. I’m sure there are believers in both aspects.
    Awesome research here. Great job!

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    I remember watching a discovery or TLC special on the physical cues that make one person more attractive than others