Love is a powerful emotion, and we often associate it with the heart. But while terms like “thinking with your heart” or “you’re in my heart” are somewhat poetic, the truth is that love begins and ends in the brain.
Psychologist and researchers disagree somewhat on whether or not love is actually an emotion at all, but most agree that when we love something—a person, a project, a sports team, our children—we are motivated to achieve it. It’s why we forgive our partner for their annoying habits, or put in extra hours on a creative project, or get devastated when our team loses. Love is also why we want to spend all our time with our loved ones, and research has shown that close relationships are among the factors contributing to longer lifespans (the so-called Blue Zones).
But when do you know if you’re truly in love? And how can you show your loved ones that you really care? In this article, we’ll take a look at what goes on inside your brain when you fall in love, as well as some telltale signs that can help you decide.
1. You feel a physical response when you think about them.
When you fall in love, your body experiences a range of physical symptoms—that’s why it’s called “love at first sight.” When you think about someone you love, the part of your brain associated with pleasure activates. This, along with a drop in serotonin levels, can cause the butterfly feeling in your stomach and the weak knees. In addition, your body releases adrenaline and norepinephrine, which can make you feel tense or anxious and may explain why you feel flushed when you meet the person for the first time. As the relationship progresses, these chemicals are replaced by oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone,” which can lead to feelings of attachment and intimacy.
2. You see them for who they are, flaws and all.
Another sign that you’re in love is accepting your partner for who they are, which means not trying to change them or turn them into a different person. It’s this kind of true unconditional love that can lead to crazy things, like proposing in front of a hundred people at your best friend’s birthday party or confessing to your crush on live television. However, this lack of judgment can also lead to more serious problems, like making it difficult to recognize red flags.
As for your mind, the region of the striatum that regulates reward and motivation becomes active when you think about someone you love, which makes it possible to become addicted to love. Combined with the amygdala’s temporary hiatus, this can lead to some pretty crazy decisions.