Love. It is the one emotion that the entire universe thrives on. Whether it’s the love of your partner, your family, of money or success, we all yearn for love in some respect. As a youngster it simply baffled me; I was sick to death of hearing every Mary J blige or Faith Evans in RnB crying and moaning about love. It just annoyed me that that was all every slow jam was about: “He left me, he hurt me, I miss him, I need him”. SHUT UP OK! GET OVER IT!
Little did I know that love is such an intoxicating experience, once it has seeped into your life, you will spend forever searching for it. Even against your will or logic, you will always end up searching for that companion to complete you. My approach to love was to fall blindly, recklessly, to give into to every single impulse and to not think about the future. It was incredible, being consumed by this overwhelming desire to just be in that persons arms, to learn every detail about them, to study every inch of their skin and lose yourself in them completely. The funny thing is, while this is happening, you feel like the first person to ever fall, you feel like you’ve just discovered the secret to true happiness that other people are without.
But what if we all looked upon the experience from a scientific point of view? What if we studied love in the biological sense in order to sift through the whirlwind of emotions that often cloud rationality? I was supposed to be conducting Dissertation research when I stumbled upon Robin Dunbar’s The Science of Love and Betrayal. The blurb was a little mysterious with a handful of statements on the back; ‘Symmetrical men and women are more fertile, when you kiss, you are testing the health of a prospective lover, the most dangerous point in a relationship is three years in…’
This scientific analysis doesn’t make love less magical, but even more so! Here are just are few of the things I found most interesting:
The driving force behind a lot of our attraction is the love hormone, such as oxytocin. Oxytocin has a sedative like effect that includes lowering blood pressure and soothing anxiety. The hormone is present in increased forms of intimacy such as breast feeding, cuddles and kissing. Tested on mice, oxytocin-deficient female mice were more nervous and had higher physiological stress levels. Another important set of neuroendocrines is the endorphins. ‘A study showed that women in long-term relationships exhibited higher pain thresholds’. Kissing is a form of social bonding for women and facilitates sexual arousal in men; you pass hormones in your saliva that brings both sexes to the same point before intercourse. The male saliva activates the senses and serves as an appetizer to the main course…
So it would seem that being in love can bring an overwhelmingly positive addition to wellbeing. Feeling valued and appreciated has a profound impact on confidence in other areas of life.
‘Getting up close and personal opens up new ways in which your rational judgement can be undermined by yet more cheap chemical tricks’. Scent plays an increasingly important role in our relationships. Detecting the sense of smell is the reason the Eskimos rub their faces together, the reason you naturally smell a new born when you pick it up. ‘Newborn babies and their mothers can identify each other by smell alone within hours of the birth’ . We naturally draw a connection between the people we love and their natural scent. Smell also plays a very important role in sexual arousal, a man is more visual, while a woman is more personal, inclined to use all her senses.
One of the first things that I remember being drawn to about my current partner was his smell, I found his natural scent really comforting and safe. Although deep in my subconscious, I liked the way his home smelled too, and felt misplaced when he moved house. As bizarre as it seems I adore my boyfriend because of his heart, his body and his delicious smell. Your smell is your personal chemical signature, and I find his alarmingly inviting. In a test conducted by the authors students, it was found that men find women’s scent most pleasant when they’re ovulating and are not taking hormonal contraceptives. Therefore scent plays also plays a role in detecting fertility and initial sexual attraction.
Apparently men are much more attracted to an ovulating woman, as her body displays all the signs that she is fertile. Even our cosmetics are directly influenced by our biology, exaggerating natures indicators to the opposite sex. ‘Eye shadows appear to mimic the natural darkening of the eyelids around the time of ovulation and signals heightened fertility, similarly blusher and lipstick mimics the way the cheeks and lips become flushed during arousal. Women are also more likely to wear less clothes when they’re ovulating. This could in part explain why so many unplanned pregnancies occur; against our will, our bodies are magnetically attracted to each other when he have the highest chance of conceiving.
Both pyschological and physical pain are processed in the same part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). My partner and I broke up briefly and I felt like I’d spent tens rounds in the ring. I ached all over, my back cramped up and I couldn’t stop shaking. It would seem that the more intense the psychological pain is, the more our bodies react in a similar way. My body collapsing intensified the emotional pain of the separation; I was in agony, inside and out. When we go through break ups we suffer OCD like symptoms, torturing ourselves about the other person. Similar patterns occur in the brain that brings out an obsessive way of thinking.
These are the real reasons that love can be the most thrilling and terrifying thing you ever do. The next time I make irrational decisions or thoughtless mistakes, I can blame nature for cruelly masterminding my love life! Please take a look at this book if you get a chance. It really will change the way you think about falling in love!
*The Science of Love and Betrayal By Robin Dunbar*