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Chemistry: what’s love got to do with it?

Cynics often claim that they don’t believe in love, because it’s “just” a chemical reaction. That always seemed like a bit of a cop-out to me, don’t you think? We are physical creatures, and everything about our bodies has something to do with chemistry, even the most transcendent and unexplained experiences. Love in particular is a complicated process that can at least in part be understood through knowledge of our own physical chemistry. And the first step to taking advantage of these sexy chemicals is to understand how they work!

Lust

I am confident that we are both familiar with these kinds of feelings. The most temporary of the three types of chemical love, lust is based on the presence of the sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone, present in varying levels in both men and women. These are the hormones that drive us to seek out mates, that make women wet at certain times in the month or under certain conditions, that make a man’s head turn at the sight of a pretty woman walking down the street, that get us out and dancing like fools to a bump-and-grind rhythm. Lust rarely lasts more than a few months, and usually only a few weeks, as the driving force which leads us to begin forming pair bonds [5].

Attraction

When the initial sex-hormone drive of lust begins to dissipate, a relationship will only continue of an attraction has started to form. Attraction is based in an entirely different set of chemicals, namely pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. This stage of love is characterized by something known as New Relationship Energy (NRE), the excitement of new love that comes about due to the amphetamine-like effects that these chemicals have on the brain. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, and can’t sit still? Just like all the rest, that kind of love is thanks to chemicals [5].

Chemical NRE can’t last forever, not without a little help, though it does last longer than lust. In fact NRE can last up to three years [5] and is often the driving force behind marriage and long- term commitment. So what happens to a couple when they get married before these chemicals wear off? What do you do when that love-will-keep-us-together feeling starts to fade?

    

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