The Chemistry of Falling in Love...
We all talk about chemistry. If we feel it, if we have it. What it does to us. When someone lights us up, they really do set off a series of chemical reactions in the brain. In the brain, and, well, some other parts of us, really love those reactions.
But they aren’t all just sexual reactions. When we fall in love with someone, we are hit like someone walking across a street that is blindsided from three directions...we really don’t stand a chance.
When we fall in love, there is a whole lot of chemistry going on...
First, the lust hormones of estrogen and testosterone flood, and all the organs associated with those hormones are similarly lit up like a pinball machine. We are physically and sexually attracted to this person and this plays a crucial role in the beginning of any loving relationship. This overpowering physical drive causes us to spend more time with the person, thinking about the person and desiring the person. Pretty soon, all others, and thoughts about all others, is eclipsed. We just want them...all the time.
Then the dopamine begins to flow. We feel good when we are with that person, we are attracted to that person. And so the love blossoms. Because we feel so good in that person’s presence, we tend to spend more time with that person so the dopamine rush continues.
Which leads to the release of oxytocin and vasopressin which are the chemical reactions that underlie feeling safe and attached. And so it would seem, once that happens, we are hooked.
We lust for the person, we feel good when we are around them and when we are with them we feel safe and attached. It is heady stuff. We often don’t know it but we are swimming in hormone infested waters, all occurring within our bodies and mind.
For me, it is helpful to understand the chemical bombs that are going off within me, so that I can bring some clarity to the situation. Just because all these chemical reactions are going off, doesn’t mean that this person is actually the right person for me. It seems to me that we all have to survive the glut of chemistry that happens when we meet someone who lights us up in this way to find out if there is really a sustainable relationship on the other side of all this chemistry.
Since we are swimming in that sea of chemistry, it is easy to miss that the person we are swooning over doesn’t have a job, or a place to live, has broken relationships with others, is selfish and self centered. I think this explains the recent proliferation of people in relationship with narcissists...they are being overwhelmed by chemistry before they really know who and what hit them.
So for me, all these chemical reactions going off in the beginning (they are most overwhelming when novel and fecund) informs me that perhaps slowing down, doing my best to let the chemistry do what it is going to do but slow down my emotional commitments that tend to get blindsided and smashed to bits in this heady chemical storm of initial romance.
It helps me to know what is going on inside me, so that I can begin to make sense to what is happening outside me. All these reactions going off internally, driving so much external behavior, have caused me to leap before I look and suffer the consequences...for what has felt like ages.
For years, I thought all of this was just happening to me. I thought it was special and singular to me and whatever guy was lighting me up at that moment. A little research and understanding has showed me that this happens for all of us, all the time when we are in proximity to those who set the spark that causes this whole chemical chain reaction to go off without warning...
And that is love’s great gamble...you never know whether allowing this whole chemical parade is going to payoff and land you in the best love affair of your life, or is going to break you into a million pieces that will never, ever be set back to what it was before. Love is like that. It is alchemical. It changes you. Regardless of whether you are better or worse for the experience, you are always different than you were before you started.
Feelings of lust, attraction, safety are hard to resist. I mean who doesn’t want to feel wanted, adored and safe? No one. Except maybe those so just got spit out the other side of this chemical love slide without a lasting relationship to show for all their efforts.
So while love gets kicked off with a bang, all of its addictive properties often leave people with the idea that if it doesn’t feel like this whole chemical explosion, then perhaps it isn’t love. But I don’t think that is true, it is just an initial stage that is powerful and overwhelming. Everything familiar feels less powerful and overwhelming, familiarity brings with it stability and with stability goes that whole sense perception of falling.
It is great fun to fall in love, but I am finding it is helpful to be looking towards what and who you are in love with when all the chemical bombs have detonated and see what is likely going to be leftover. Who is this person that you just went a little nuts over? Do you like them? Do they show up for you? Do you trust them? And allow yourself enough time and space to answer those questions honestly, brutally honestly.
I saw someone’s post last night that we should stop calling them red flags, and instead perhaps, refer to them as red lights. Because we all know what to do when we see emergency lights going off around us, we pull over and wait. And perhaps that is what we can see when all this chemistry is going off inside us as, red lights. Excitement and good vibes prevail but lets just give it a little time and space and see what happens.
The love stories that are epic and life lasting seem to be able to hold that which got it all kicked off in the beginning and stretch desire, attraction and feeling safe over time. Both parties working to keep the chemistry alive and kicking. And who doesn’t want that? Can you imagine a lifetime of sex, friendship and partnership that is fueled and supported by science?
To that I say fuck yeah! I mean if we can generate all these feel good hormones in the beginning, seems like we also have the power to keep them going but it takes work and effort by both parties for that to happen. And in my experience we have to really see who we are falling for and why. Sometimes traumatic experiences are really the puppet master for the chemical show and we are often the absolute last one to know.
So, yes, fall in love hard and fast and forever. But check yourself, see the red lights and be able and willing to pull over and off the love super highway long enough to ensure that all of this effort is not only worth it but reciprocated. Because being caught in the above chemical equation, without reciprocity, makes all of this heady, feel good stuff, feel horrible. And life seems to have enough horrible moments without us adding to it. Good things happen with chemistry...but always remember that just because a particular love experiment comes up on your radar, doesn't always mean that you should fund it.