The term romantic chemistry isn’t just a flowery metaphor, it is state of being that is scientifically well understood and objectively measurable.
While I’m aware of how crass this may superficially sound, tapping into the titanic leaps of understanding that science has made with regards to the nature of love is something that can be enlightening when it comes to personal growth.
Love can be loosely categorized into three distinct stages, the first of which should come as no great surprise.
Stage One: Lust
Lust is a state as far from our collective humanistic concept of selfless love as we can imagine, and yet it is a beginning — of sorts.
Lust is primarily the selfish and superficial objectification of a person with no real depth of empathy. First and foremost, lust means that you want something from them (and let’s all take a guess what).
This stage is hormonally catalysed: Increased secretion of testosterone and oestrogen lead to an up-tick in our sexual drive (libido). Hey look, it’s puberty all over again.
So, the question you might rightly ask at this point is who or what makes us tick, and why is lust necessary?.
The sexual kitchen-sink that lust provokes is a direct response and necessary first-step to finding someone with the cultural, genetic and psychological traits that we are looking for. From a reproductive point of view, this ensures that we pass on genes that we deem superficially favorable (more on this in stage two).
Lust, however, is defined by its lack of altruism and empathy. Once we begin to feel the tell-tale signs of obsessiveness, our bout of lust can career head-first into full-blown attraction, where Darwinism and social anthropology are having a figurative field day.
Stage Two: AttractionThe Flirtation – Eugen de Blaas
Attraction is the stage where you know you’re in trouble, but apparently there’s not a darned thing you can do about it.
During this phase, an entirely different set of hormones come into play:
- Dopamine: A neurotransmitter that plays an active role in motivation, arousal and sexual gratification.
- Serotonin: Another neurotransmitter that is responsible for the irrational “obsessive compulsive” aspect of falling in love. Being crazy for someone usually means precisely that.
- Adrenaline: For those heart-thumping moments.
Interestingly, the reason why symptoms such as weight loss, lack of appetite and stress can plague us and drive us insane during the attraction phase is linked to the potential side-effects of these hormonal releases. Yes, you’re lovesick.
The attraction phase is distinguishable from the other phases by its irrationality, and the feeling of our emotions spiralling out of control. The reason why it is important as a stepping stone to long-term attachment is that this chemical bonding transcends the physical and allows us to close the emotional gap with the object of our desire. Let’s call it nature’s way of spurring us into action.
Stage three: Attachment
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Ironically, attachment is usually both our subconscious mind’s desired end-goal and the make-or-break moment in most relationships. Once the heady infatuation has passed, the objective reality of attachment sets in, it’s crunch time.
As far as our genes are concerned, being head-over-heels is all good and well, but there must come a time when the underlying purpose of love comes to fruition. That’s right, passing on our genes.
Rather than the usual slew of energy-laden hormones, attachment is host to a far more functional set of chemicals.
- Oxytocin: Is believed to promote bonding (produced during the orgasm by both sexes) and aids breast milk production during child-birth.
- Vasopressin: Promotes monogamy and lasting commitment.
- Endorphins: Naturally occurring painkillers, no long-term relationship would be complete without them (permit me a little burst of bitter cynicism here).
The end-goal of attachment is to promote a stable, safe and emotionally tight-knit environment where the chances of successfully reproducing and parenting can occur. Because of this shift in priority and purpose, many relationships tend to bite the dust at this point (usually around 18 months in).
The Definition Of Love
Scientifically speaking, love is not a single over-arching entity. It is a procession of chemical and psychological changes aimed at securing the passage of genes. From lust, where we begin to hand-pick the genes that we deem beneficial to our offspring. To attachment, where we finally get the job done. It all makes a surprising — if admittedly underwhelming — amount of sense.
But that’s just me being bitter again.