“There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible-magic to make the sanest man go mad,” Homer spoke the truth when he penned these lines in The Iliad centuries ago. If you have ever been infatuated with someone before you have experienced this phenomenon. We literally can go crazy with love! Why does this happen? I have wondered this as well, so I did research into my own question, “What happens to the brain when you fall in love?”
A Happy Concoction of Chemicals
In 1996 Helen Fisher, Ph.D. began a study with colleagues on what physically happens in the brain when we fall romantically in love with someone.
I must admit that reading her study has fascinated me and explained a lot about my own behavior in the past.
She and her colleagues put out a call for couples who had fallen in love recently, within the past few weeks or months. The couples who agreed to do the test were then scanned via MRI and shown both neutral pictures and images of those who they fell for.
I am not going into the depths of all aspects of the study here, but in a nutshell, they discovered that when we fall in love, our brain gives us a dump of happy chemicals. And these chemicals, in turn, give us the feelings of romantic desire and attraction.
Motivate me Dopamine
When I met my husband, JJ, several years ago, I will never forget how intensely focused he became on me. In fact, I was overwhelmed with his focused attention because I did not recall ever having had someone pursue me the way he did. I laugh about it now, but he was a goal-driven man while I was in a stage in my life where I didn’t even want a relationship.
I wasn’t playing hard to get I was tired of dating after my divorce and was focusing on myself when JJ and I met. He will tell you I was just nonchalant about his advances and everything at first.
Not JJ! He was determined I was going to be his lady! My husband wanted to know everything about me, what I liked, he wanted to join in on my projects, be with me all the time, etc.
I’m sure some of you ladies out there have had your lover be this way with you in the beginning too. I’m an introvert and had finally accepted that I could be alone and happy without anyone. It was difficult for me to let him in and relax at first, but his persistence paid off.
So, what happened in JJ’s mind when he was pursuing me?
Since he was attracted to me, his brain gave him pulses of dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that regulates focus, learning, exhilaration, and gives us drive for our goals.
Dopamine is part of our rewards system and is also directly linked to addictions.
So, can you be addicted to someone? In my opinion, and those of some researchers, the answer is YES!
This motivating chemical drives us to become dependent on things. Therefore, lovers can become reliant on one another. It feels good to be with someone you love!
Norepinephrine’s Energy High
When I finally let myself begin to fall in love with my husband after we had been dating for a little while I gained a boost in my energy levels.
I could wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to take on the day! Even though I hated my job at the time and was bored with it. Yet, I went into work singing a tune and with a bounce in my step.
What I was experiencing at the time was the high that we get from norepinephrine. This chemical in our brains is derived from dopamine and is responsible for the “lover’s high.”
Norepinephrine affects different parts of the brain, depending on where it lands. However, it is the culprit that will stimulate you into excessive energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc.
Haven’t we all lain in bed at night staring at the ceiling daydreaming about our love? Well, you can blame norepinephrine for that.
I Can’t Stop Thinking Serotonin
When you fall hopelessly in love, your poor mind becomes obsessed with your beloved. Every action you take during the day or decision you make revolves around your lover.
JJ would find any reason he could think of to call or text me when we first started dating. I lost count of how many texts would say things such as, “I’m thinking of you,” or, “I love you!” In truth, he still does that today. It’s ok you can say awwwww.
We both found ourselves continually thinking about the other to the point of obsession.
Serotonin is the chemical in our body that regulates mood, digestion, and acts as an overall stabilizer for us.
As the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine climb, serotonin levels drop. They kind of have a negative relationship. Basically, dopamine and norepinephrine tell serotonin to get out of there way!
“Seriously Serotonin! Me and Norepinephrine have found something we like, we have work to do!”
When the levels of serotonin drop, we find ourselves with racing thoughts, we cannot control. Therefore, we daydream, fantasize, ponder, muse the day away until we can see our lover again.
Floating on Cloud 9
It is no wonder we lose our minds to love, just as Homer suggested in The Iliad.
As a wedding photographer, I see the effects of these chemicals in the brain shine through when a couple looks into the eyes of their beloved. You can see in their eyes that they are floating on cloud nine in their own world. These moments are some of my favorites to capture!
Emily Dickinson said in her collection of poems Part One, “THE BRAIN is wider than the sky.” It certainly is, and it amazes me as to how this grey blob in our heads can drive us to such intensity of love, passion, and obsession, but it does. The delightful chemical mix of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin push us towards a richer and fuller life. Even if what happens to our brains when we hopelessly fall, love starts out by driving us crazy.
Are you enjoying these posts! If so, keep coming back because there are many more to come! If you missed last week’s post on What is Love? you can find it here. Send me your love stories too by contacting me here!