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What does it feel like to be in love? Here’s what neuroscience says

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what it feels like to be in love.

We’ll talk about what love is, what chemicals in the brain it activates and how you’ll feel during love’s different stages.

Let’s go…

What is love?

According to ancient Greeks, love is “the madness of the gods.”

Western psychologists define it as an “emotional union” with another person.

But to be honest, ask anyone and they’ll probably give you a different definition of what love means.

So what is love?

Well, for this we can turn to Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher. She says there are three basic brain systems that evolved for relationships and reproduction:

1) Sex drive: Sexual desire evolved to seek mating partners. Sexual attraction doesn’t necessarily have to be focused on one individual. It can be focused on many individuals at the same time.

2) Romantic attraction: This is a romantic attraction focused on one person. You could say it’s “deeper” than sex drive. This type of thinking has evolved to enable you to focus on one individual to build a relationship with them.

3) Attachment, or creating a deep connection with one partner: This feeling of deep union evolved so that you can be with someone long enough to raise a single child through infancy together.

According to Fisher, these three brain systems work together to create many different forms of love.

Interestingly, Fisher’s studies suggest that “attraction love” tends to last from 6 months to 2 years before it turns into “attachment love”.

But if you’re looking for a more simple definition of love, you can’t go past Google’s definition:

“An intense feeling of deep affection.”

Simple, but sounds about right.

But you’re not here to define what love is; you want to know what it feels like.

Before we go into the brain chemicals love activates and what they feel like, there are a few things we need to understand first.

1) Love feels unique to every one

As said above, love means different things to different people. Therefore, we also experience it and feel it in unique ways.

Some people say love is about the feeling of excitement and passion when you’re with your partner.

Someone else will say it’s about the unquestioned trust, honesty, and comfort that comes with having a long-term relationship.

2) When we talk about actual feelings, it could be several

There isn’t a singular emotion of love.

For example, some people will describe love as intense and passionate, yet others describe it as peaceful and comfortable.

In other words, love can feel like several different emotions, even at once.

3) It usually begins as an intense feeling of joy

When you initially fall in love, most people are very happy and passionate.

Why?

Because according to neuroscientist Loretta G. Breuning:

“Love stimulates all of your happy chemicals at once. That’s why it feels so good.”

Yep, in the brain, love is a cocktail of feel-good chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphin.

At least that occurs initially.

“But our brain evolved to motivate reproduction, not to make you feel good all the time. That’s why the good feeling doesn’t last.”

So to understand how love feels, let’s go through each chemical in the brain it stimulates and how it will make you feel:

Dopamine

Dopamine is a brain chemical that it released to alert us that our needs are about to be met.

When a baby hears his/her Mother’s footsteps, dopamine is released through the brain.

When you finally kiss that girl or guy you’ve been chasing, dopamine is activated.

When you believe you’ve finally found “the one” dopamine is activated in droves.

Dopamine is basically responsible for the head-over-heels, elated part of love.

According to University Health News, dopamine is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation, and concentration.

So if you’ve found your love, you might feel extremely happy and blessed to be with them. You’ll also be motivated to keep the bond alive.

Also, it’s important to note that phenylethylamine or PEA is a chemical in the brain that causes the release of dopamine.

This chemical is also released when you begin falling in love in the early stages. It is a stimulant and can give you a pounding heart and sweaty palms.

Also, these chemicals (dopamine and PEA) can make you feel great in the early stages of love, but according to Thought Co, they can also make you feel anxious and obsessive.

In Short:

Dopamine is responsible for the initial elated part of love and can make you feel euphoria and bliss when you’re with your lover, a pounding heart, sweaty palms, and even obsessiveness and anxiety.

Oxytocin

This is a brain chemical that is stimulated by touch and trust, according to Psychology Today. This chemical can erupt from holding hands, hugging and being comforted to orgasm.

When you’re in a loving relationship, oxytocin builds up a circuit, so it’s easily triggered.

For example, an elderly couple will experience a flood of oxytocin when they hold hands.

For a lot of people, love is about trust and comfort, so oxytocin is certainly a big factor in producing those feel-good feelings.

Funny enough, oxytocin is also called “the cuddle hormone”. This chemical is also released in droves when a Mother is in labor and breastfeeding.

What does oxytocin feel like?

Perhaps the best feeling to describe this brain chemical, according to Science Daily, is feeling warm and fuzzy.

Feeling warm, fuzzy and comforted is also a common way people describe being in love.

In Short:

Oxytocin is released mostly through touch and gives us the warm, fuzzy feeling of comfort and trust that likely exists throughout the whole duration of a relationship.

Serotonin

In a relationship, serotonin is supposedly released by the pride of associating with a person of a certain stature.

It may seem a little “fake,” but throughout the animal kingdom higher status social groups have more reproductive success.

Your brain rewards you with the feel-good chemical serotonin when you seek status.

However, keep in mind that human beings are complex animals and status can be seen in many different ways.

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It could be money, success, kindness, authenticity, social skill, physical fitness, or a whole host of reasons.

And while you may not want to believe it, the fact of the matter is this:

When you receive affection from an individual that is considered “desirable” serotonin will be triggered in the brain.

And when your partner receives admiration from others, that will trigger serotonin, too.

Relying on serotonin release can also trigger dependence on another person, as well.

How does serotonin feel? Great!

In fact, a lot of antidepressants these days work on increasing serotonin in the brain.

Having high levels of serotonin are associated with feeling positive, happy, confident and flexible.

Low levels of serotonin can have you feeling negative, worried or irritable.

Being involved in a happy and stable relationship where you desire being with your partner will contribute to your serotonin level throughout your relationship.

However, keep in mind that serotonin levels are influenced by many different things that do not include your relationship.

In Short: 

Serotonin is released when we’re happy, stable and positive about our relationship, and gives us that stable and solid-state. Serotonin may also be responsible for obsessiveness and anxiety in a relationship.

Endorphins

We all know endorphins give you a high. But did you also know that it is stimulated from physical pain?

Endorphins play a key role in long-term relationships. They are released during physical contact and sex.

Interestingly, according to Bustle, endorphins become more prominent around 18 months to 4 years into a relationship.

Why?

Because this is the stage where the brain stops relying on love stimulants like dopamine, and instead rely on chemicals oxytocin and endorphins for relationship pleasure.

According to Mind Health, the brain chemical oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are crucial to help two people stay connected.

Why?

Because endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin are associated with feelings of attachment and comfort.

In Short:

Endorphins calm anxiety, relieve pain and reduce stress. This is why you may feel calmed and comforted by the presence of your partner.

In Conclusion

Love is a complex emotion that triggers different chemicals in the brain at different stages in the relationship.

Dopamine is associated with the beginning of the relationship, where the relationship is passionate, fun and in its early stages.

From there, the brain chemical oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are crucial to helping two people stay connected as they are associated with feelings of attachment and comfort.

To find out if you’re in love, check out these signs that you may be experiencing:

Are you in love? Here are 9 signs

Your heart races every time they walk in the room. You get tongue-tied and can’t think straight. You find it hard to get things done because you are so distracted by thoughts of your new relationship.

Wondering if you are in love? It sounds like you might be, but here’s how to tell for sure. Love isn’t subtle. You’ll feel it from your head to your toes.

1) You can’t keep your eyes off them.

Whether there’s a handful of people or hundreds of people, it doesn’t matter, you can’t keep your eyes off of your love.

You have eyes only for them and you want to see more of them. You don’t just see the beauty on the outside, you see what makes them beautiful inside too.

According to Jack Schafer Ph.D. in Psychology Today, people look at people they like and avoid people they don’t like.

He says that elevated oxytocin levels increase mutual eye gaze and provide a sense of wellbeing and increased mutual attraction.

2) You feel like you are floating.

If you are in love, you’ll go through life feeling like your feet never touch the ground.

Some say you’ll feel like you are high or in a dream – whatever you call it, you’ll feel it as you move through your day. It will feel amazing.

A study from the Kindsey Institute discovered that the brain of a person falling in love looks the same as the brain of a person who has taken cocaine. This is thanks to dopamine.

3) It hurts when you fight.

If your partner hurts your feelings, it will cut like a knife.

Everything they say impacts you. If you’ve been hurt, you’ll feel like that disappointment will never end. That’s love. You just want everything to be good all the time.

According to Live Science, “people in love regularly exhibit signs of emotional dependency on their relationship, including possessiveness, jealousy, fear of rejection, and separation anxiety.

4) You can’t focus.

Love can make you feel off your game and it can be hard to focus on the things you need to do.

Whether you are at work or you are on the beach, if you are in love, you’ll have a hard time listening to others, getting things done, and following a regular schedule.

You’ll be counting the minutes until you are together again.

5) You’re always thinking about them.

Love not only blinds you to the rest of the world, it also fills your brain with lots of amazing thoughts and keeps you from getting to the thing that need to be done. You are always thinking about your love.

In the book “The Anatomy of Love,” by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, she says that “thoughts of the ‘love object’ begin to invade your mind. …You wonder what your beloved would think of the book you are reading, the movie you just saw, or the problem you are facing at the office.”

6) You want nothing but the best for them.

Love is a funny thing.

If you love someone, you want amazing things for them. If you need a surefire way to tell if you are in love, ask yourself if you’d be happy for them if they decided to be with someone else.

Sure, you’d be sad to lose them but when you love someone, you know you need to let them go if they aren’t happy with you.

In fact, research has suggested that “compassionate love” can be one of the biggest signs of a healthy relationship. Compassionate love refers to love that “centers on the good of the other”.

7) You are willing to try new things.

Love makes you do all kinds of crazy things, but it also makes you more open to the things you were keeping at bay before.

You might find yourself skydiving or trying new food. There’s no rhyme or reason to your decision-making when you are in love.

In fact, a study suggested that people who claimed that they were in love had varied interests and personality traits after those relationships. This is because they were open to trying new things with their partner.

8) You feel on edge.

When your brain is filled with a distraction from love you can feel on edge because you can’t concentrate.

This will not only be difficult to manage the day-to-day of your life, but you might find yourself getting really frustrated with your lack of focus. That’s what love does to you.

Yep, falling in love can cause you to get the jitters! While it’s certainly true that love can make you feel great in the early stages of love, but according to Thought Co, they can also make you feel anxious and obsessive.

9) You feel connected to them.

Love means you can sit in silence and not have to fill up every minute of the day with conversation or activity. When you are in love, you appreciate one another’s company and don’t need more than just to be together.

According to Live Science, when you’re in love, you begin to think your beloved is unique. This belief is also coupled with an inability to feel a romantic passion for anyone else.

 

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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