Anyone can answer the question, “What is love?” They’ve lived it, married it, dated it, divorced it, and lusted after it. We all have real-world experience. Even my 15-year old has young knowledge. But yet, as we age, the question does not die out! We continue wandering and looking for the answer. What is love?
Love is the pinnacle of desire, attraction, and attachment that we feel when we fall in love and it’s the release of chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin that help bind us together in that love.
I sometimes wonder if doubting love is a result of focusing on our part in it, rather than love itself.
Does a fireman understand fire? Or course, but it doesn’t matter when a mother and child are stuck on the 4th floor hanging out the window. With love, we have a good idea of it, but nothing matters when we’re in the middle of it.
Do you want to learn more? Keep on reading I’ve listed eight things that help us understand love from a behavior point of view to the science of what happens in the brain. And I’ve added a few dating topics that show why we think we don’t understand love.
DATING GAMES – THEY RUIN US
When I began coaching I had no plans of being a relationship coach, and in fact, avoided it. It was during college and training, which included lab partners and practice clients, that I looked back on my life to realize, people had always dumped their relationships in my lap, and I enjoyed helping. It always boiled down to someone seeking love, wanting out of love, or just feeling void of understanding love.
I’ve heard it all; there are no good ones left, it’s the wrong time for me, or, I wasn’t destined for love. But if you put the jokes aside, you’ll find everyone has suffered in a world of “dating rules.” It’s not about “love” out there, it’s about “games.” Who’s on top!
How easy it is to see the complicated and convoluted relationships we suffer under with all the rules, walls, and guidelines to protect, you, the dater. But these tricks to ensure success only cause you to lose sight of the target.
Dating games tell you when you can accept a date, and when you can ask for a date. The details are scary. You know, games like: good girls aren’t easy, so no sex or you won’t hook him. And what about the “bait and switch” games men use like toothpaste: the bait is showing interest first, then switching with (fake) disinterest. It boils down to games from both ends of who’s in control. If your the one chasing you’re the loser, you must remain on the side of being pursued. It’s ridiculous. Wheres the challenge or the confidence of vulnerability?
And there are truths to dating games if winning a prize by force counts. But is love something to force, trick, or hunt like prey? No.
Ultimately, what “dating rules” do, is prolong the inevitable. Relationships that are won by pretending to be anything other than your true self, can work, but they don’t produce that love you deserve. Even the smallest tricks and techniques we all have heard about, used, and stressed over, are dead-end streets. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes 20 years, two kids, and divorce to see it.
I’m sure most will agree that we confuse love with our games. If we separate the tricks for a little honesty, love might just suddenly become very clear.
The one solid piece of advice I give everyone: if you make a list of all your problems, worries and fears, baggage and difficulties, you’ll find there is only one solution to them all:
Having any kind of real relationship is essentially you learning to be honest about everything.
Love will suddenly make sense when anyone becomes honest. Doesn’t matter who you are. An ex-con to a multimillionaire.
This kind of self-development called “learning to be honest” empowers your self-confidence, you become sufficiently adroit, able to move on from dating anxiety, let downs, heartbreaks, to ultimately – the pinnacle! – not just understanding love but living it.
LOVE HATES PRETEND
So, if you want to understand love, then it starts with the realization that even the smallest participation in dating games clouds the very simple truth. You know what love it, it’s a matter of making love a real habit. I have a new course coming out in a month, please check it out, it gives details on dating and relationships. So, what is love? It is something real that doesn’t need to pretend.
8 THINGS THAT HELP EXPLAIN LOVE
THE SCIENCE OF LUST-ATTRACTION -AND ATTACHMENT
Everyone who dates has a plan. They want love, sex, or both. Both can lead to commitment, but usually, they are not equally desired. And according to scientists in the fields of anthropology to neuroscience, romantic love is broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is governed by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain. (Chart above.)
When we fall in love, chemicals associated with rewards circuit flood our brain, and we feel a variety of physical and emotional responses—a happy euphoria, racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion, and of course anxiety. But what if you aren’t in love and have no plans for it. Awe, you only want sex. Can you control love and run the game with the steamy sex? Yes, and no.
People looking for hookups don’t chase those they want to fall in love with, so yes, they are controlling it to some degree. If a guy is prowling for one-night stands, let him go. There’s plenty looking for more, and the love hormones he’s dangling most likely will not be in your favor.
Lust is under the influence of testosterone and estrogen. And it’s particularly interesting to understand. It’s the nasty one that hurts you most often. Emotional vampire! Almost everyone has encountered the short- or long-term relationship ruled by it. It’s that relationship that started out with a bang. The excitement and spontaneous affair. The one that immediately felt superpower like. You were hooked they were hooked. Between the devotion, physical contact, and harmonious early in the relationship moments, you were running home with tales of “this is the one.” But, it ended and you knew it was only about sex.
Lust never asks, what is love, it pretends to be it. Love asks a lot of questions; you think, and feel, and examine every positive and negative feeling. That’s love, it’s real.
You met a player, a serial dater, a runner of dreams who was great in bed, and of course they were, they’ve practiced a few times x 10.
Lust is responsible for many affairs. The kind that really meant nothing! Driven by the desire for sexual gratification, lust rules. And if we go back to the roots of science, the evolutionary basis for this, of course, is rooted in our need to reproduce, a need shared among all living things. Whether you admit it or simply don’t know it, part of the excitement of sex in our early years is that gene to contribute to the perpetuation of our species.
It’s like this, you can cause lust, and a have a great time, but you can’t create the attachment and attraction so easily. Dating games influence all three, lust, attraction, and attachment. And you can trick someone into thinking they have different types of attachments and feelings, but the truth will surface. Wouldn’t you rather it happened naturally?
Attraction, ruled by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, is the more sought-after connection and can be as good as lust but with the perk of attraction, which can turn to love. Attraction involves the part of the brain that control reward behavior. With the reward factor in play, the first few months of a relationship are not only all-consuming, but we remember them forever.
Anyone out there married with children who haven’t heard this, “where did the fun go?” What is love? Family
Back to the science, its high levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, that are released during attraction stages, while serotonin levels drop. And this combination causes a euphoric state, happy as hell, and full of energy feeling. While at the same time one can lose their appetite and experience insomnia – which means you actually can be so “in love” that you can’t eat and can’t sleep.
As well, norepinephrine, also known as noradrenalin, which is familiar to many as it’s known for its role in the fight or flight response, keeps us alert under great states of stress.
Are you wondering: if love is all about chemicals in the body, how can we humans end up with the wrong ones? Well, it’s like artificial flavorings, they actually fool us, but they are not real. This is why dating games are dangerous. You can flirt and show off your muscles, your financial stability, your beautiful this, and that while pretending, and watch these actions stir up the hormones just like imitation flavoring. But which hormones? Usually lust.
The old saying, watch what you wish for, should be, watch what you fake when it comes to love. He meets her, they marry, she’s great and loves everything about him, he never says no to her life choices and calls her beautiful, his hormones and her’s are soaring, as lust is as easy to spark as a gas fire. But two years into the marriage she admits she wants no attachment to his this and that, and he never was that attracted to her choices. Lust is all they needed to pretend attraction and attachment were really there.
We all know one lie grows to a bigger one, but in the dating game, it’s a move, on a fantasy chessboard. Let her get used to me before I tell her of my dream to do cross country motorcycling each summer. And let him fall in love with me before he finds out I want to go back to med school. Expensive! Time-consuming! And more than a decade waiting to have kids?
Attachment is the pinnacle, the long-term love we desire is ruled by hormones oxytocin and vasopress that mediate friendship, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many more intimacies as well.
The old saying you want to marry your best friend really makes sense. That person you want to be close to for all the right reasons just might be your soul-mate. What is love? Your best friend! What is the right kind of attachment made of? Unconditional love.
Oxytocin is often nicknamed “cuddle hormone” for this reason. Like dopamine, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. I know who would have thought childbirth? As a mom, I get it, something happens in that painful encounter that bonds you to that little you. It’s so strong, and what makes us moms famous in protecting our children. The common factor is that all of these events are precursors to bonding.
Does it make sense, he’s with her, sex went well and the oxytocin is released. He’s wanting to cuddle the woman he thinks will love his motorcycle and she’s imaging ten years of support through med school. They are both now under the influence of Oxytocin! Nueroscience explains love, but humans are very capable of fooling the brain.
LOVE CAN LAST A LIFETIME ACCORDING TO SCIENCE
Theories suggest that there are mechanisms through which romantic love may be sustained over time in relationships. And my personal experience, a great relationship, it’s a business that you must attend, manage, balance, spend, give, and sacrifice for, but it would not be a relationship if there were some chemistry going on.
If you’ve never believed that love could last a lifetime, you should now. According to neuroscience, lifetime love doesn’t happen for everyone, but it’s as real as science!
Oxytocin, which you learned is the cuddle hormone, is released after sex with strong feelings of security and contentment. However, vasopressin is the chemical associated with long-term and monogamous relationships.
The differences in behavior associated with the two hormones may explain why love fades as attachment grows.
A study conducted at Stony Brook University in New York state performed MRI scans on couples married on an average of 21 years compared with couples in the early stages of love. What they found, was surprising results that indicate love was equal with both. The same intensity of activity in dopamine-rich areas of the brain was equal. And that says that in some couples the strong love that starts a relationship remained throughout the years.
The obvious description of love is affection, desire, protectiveness, warmth, and respect. Some go so far as to feel love is pain. Pain in the sense of difficult relationships, not masochism.
It was 18-years ago when a client of mine, a man from Asia asked me, “What is love to you, Efrona?” It sparked an interest and while I was traveling I decided to talk to waiters, clerks, business people, and anyone I could strike up a conversation with. First, I hit the streets of Tel-Aviv, then Greece, Rome, London, and New York.
I was in shock to find that when I asked “What is love?” the most popular answer was, “Love is a special connection.” and “Love is pain.” Now 18-years later I find a softer answer, and it does matter what part of the world you’re in, I’m in Israel right now, soon to be in London for a couple of days, but yet, many hold fast to love being painful simultaneously to the most sought after experience in our lives.
Psychology researcher Adoree Durayappah’s writes, “The key to understanding how to sustain long-term romantic love is to understand it a bit scientifically. Our brains view long-term passionate love as a goal-directed behavior to attain rewards.”
Tell me what in life isn’t tied to a goal-directed behavior to attain a reward?
EYE CONTACT SAYS IT’S MORE THAN LUST
Eye contact between lovers is not a joke. The old saying you can know a person through their eyes is a biological fact for lovers, according to researchers. Looking into your lover’s eyes forms an emotional connection.
You’re looking into that person’s eyes and you see it, you know it. What is love? It’s in their eyes.
So, when you’re hot and bothered, notice if your lover looks at you. Looks into your eyes. Touches your hair, smiles at your smile, or are they just hot and bothered telling you how great you are while avoiding your eyes.
Words are lust induced, eye contact is love increased.
People ask me all the time if it’s that simple; can a look say it all? What people don’t think about enough is that humans are capable of loving more than one person. If your lover looks you in the eyes with love, it can be real, and it usually is, but it can be real with the next one too or the one before. Love can be seen in the eyes, but how a person feels is only a part of what a relationship is about. And love doesn’t always mean your safe in that relationship. But it’s a good solid and crucial part that means the difference between unhappy and over the top happiness.
IT’S AN ADDICTION
Oh that feeling, you’re in love, and you can’t get enough.
There’s a reason for this feeling. Neuroscientists claim that we react to love similar to that of drugs. Love creates an addiction. Once it begins we must have more. Just thinking about that person actually triggers dopamine, (dopamine is the so-called “pleasure chemical”) oxytocin and serotonin into the brain.
The mix of affection, attraction, and arousal activates those feel-good chemicals and the brain doesn’t want to let go of them after tasting them. It also explains why breakups are tough!
Again, lust feels similar, but it’s the during looks, the after cuddling, and the texts between days, that say something meaningful.
MEN SEEK VISUAL CONFIRMATION OF LOVE
I was not surprised to learn that research shows men continually look for visual cues of love. The man’s visual cortex is more active when he falls in love. But the interesting thing is how he needs to confirm that it’s real with visuals.
Women, on the other hand, are the opposite, they need less to no visual cues to confirm their feelings. Just the inner feeling is enough.
Men are amazing creatures just like us women. They are visual, and we like it. When in love they do things that are not obvious to women sometimes. So, the more you learn the better on both sides.
Ever wonder why women remember every moment of their romantic endeavors? The vacations, the first date details, the events, and anniversaries are always front and center.
That’s because love can mess with your brain.
Women in love tend to experience an overactive hippocampus, which is the memory storing area of the brain. Men, on the other hand, do not have the same advantage.
The next time that special guy forgets a date or event until you remind him, well, have mercy for we women are more likely to remember special dates and occasions, and men are likely to forget to buy something for Valentine’s Day.
A crucial lesson for men who want great relationships: women remember almost everything!
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Another researched fact, love hormones are a big part of the intense sexual chemistry between new people. We covered lust but keep reading this is the other side.
The two, oxytocin and vasopressin are present when we feel love. Just like with pregnancy, nursing, and mother-infant attachment, these are the same hormones
Have you ever wondered why you feel that bonding compulsion after sex? Well, it’s the love you have for that person of course, but it’s science too. Our skin-to-skin contact feels extra good due to the Oxytocin released after sex. The climax is a drug! This connection helps couples develop a deeper social bond; deepening the feelings of attachment.
Oxytocin can also give feelings of contentment and security. However, vasopressin is the chemical associated with long-term and monogamous relationships.
The difference between the two chemicals may be the reason why passion fades as couples develop a stronger attachment to each other.
WHY LOVE IS BLIND
True as true can be, love is blind. it seems to never fail, love will deactivate negative emotions that normally keep us on alert. Lust does it too. Lust is a versatile bugger. Positive emotions of the love hormones are actually “science” in our minds.
Think about it, chemicals treat depression and our emotions are a function of the brain and its hormones. In the same sense that chemicals affect depression, romance stirs up chemicals that affect our bodies, and our brains then function differently; our critical views shut down, hence the old saying, love is blind, is real.
A good point to remember when you fall in love, trust a reliable person in your life, for you will be a bit blind.
A WRAP UP
Lust can easily be mistaken for love and it can go on for years if you’re not careful. In the early stages of love, when your sexual hormones are multiplying, lust is right there on top with an idealization – you see what you hope to see – rather than seeing the real person.
But love, it allows you a visual to the real person. It’s kind of cool
Something crucial to remember. We live in a world that leads us to believe in fairytales. This is dangerous as when our relationships take a different path than that of a coloring book, we think something is wrong.
Love is different for each of us, and for those whose romantic passions started off with fireworks, then the children came and the fire cooled down, the so-called romantic love moved to a more compassionate, routine type of love. Is that negative?
No, it’s beautiful and just a part of life. Compassionate, sensual excitement takes energy, and that you don’t always have later in the relationship. But Stirring it up is a part of the stages. Like eating breakfast. Some don’t feel it every day, and others do. Find where your balance works for you and your partner then celebrate your long life of happiness. Don’t compare yourself to others. What is love? It’s that happy place that metamorphosis as time moves forward.
So, my friends, what is love? Love is love! And a whole lot more!
- NCBI, Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love
- Harvard University, Katherine Wu, Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship
- BBC, The Science of Love
- Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, Love and the Brain