Love is one of the most important, complex, and emotional things we can experience. It’s the subject of countless philosophers, poets, and songwriters, and it’s also a topic that scientists study — and they’re learning a lot about what happens in your brain when you fall in love.
When you first meet someone who catches your eye, key parts of your brain light up and an avalanche of chemicals rushes through your system. Your heart races, your palms sweat, and you may stammer when you try to say hello. That’s because the brain releases a jumble of hormones — including dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. These chemicals give you that “addictive rush” feeling, which explains why it’s hard to resist the person who makes your heart race and your body tingle.
But that’s only the beginning of what it means to fall in love. In fact, the emotion itself can be broken down into three components: intimacy, passion, and decision/commitment.
Intimate love involves a close bond and feelings of affection, usually for a spouse or partner. It’s that sense of connection that can make you want to do nice things for your loved ones, like cooking them dinner or buying them gifts. And it’s the type of love that tends to endure despite hardship or disappointment.
The next step is passion — the desire to have physical, emotional, or sexual pleasure. This is why people often fall for someone who makes them feel good in the moment, but it’s not necessarily what sustains long-term relationships. Passion can fade and even turn into jealousy, resentment, or insecurity, so it’s important to focus on intimacy as well.
Finally, the third component of love is a commitment to a relationship. This can be a promise of forever or simply the choice to spend time with your loved one. It’s the kind of commitment that helps you weather the ups and downs of life, and it can help keep you from falling into the trap of toxic relationships. But the science behind these three components is still evolving, so don’t be surprised if your own understanding of love changes over time. Paige Ahern is a writer and actress who grew up watching movies and television shows about love, and she’s glad that her job now lets her write about it for a living. She believes that everyone deserves to find their own version of love, and she hopes that her writing will help them do just that. She currently writes for She Said, The Conversation AU, and Medium, and she looks forward to many future cups of coffee with her own perfect match. You can follow her on Twitter here. Paige also looks great in hats and is always up-to-date on Game of Thrones. Deakin University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.