When you love someone, it can be hard to put into words what you feel. It’s a complicated emotion that can make your heart pound, your palms sweat, and your mind race — a combination of emotions and behaviors that varies in intensity and duration from person to person. In the midst of it, you may feel like there’s nothing more important in life. But, of course, that feeling changes over time, and there will be days — or even weeks — when you’re not all mushy-gushy in love. And that’s totally normal. In fact, a relationship that’s truly alive will change and shift over time, from the thrill of passion to the mellowness of companionate love. And, as it does, your definition of “love” will evolve with it.
Love has many different meanings to individuals, and there are several theories of what it means to love someone. Some people believe that love is simply a biological drive similar to hunger or thirst, while others think it’s a complex human emotion that includes other feelings and behaviors. In the past, scientists have explored the nature of love with varying degrees of success.
Scientists have found that when you fall in love, key areas of your brain light up — the ventral tegmental area of the reward center. This triggers a jumble of chemicals including dopamine (pleasure), adrenaline (fight or flight), and norepinephrine (alertness). And, during the phase where you’re falling in love, these hormones are replaced by oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle hormone,’ which can cause your cheeks to blush and your palms to get sweaty.
Some scientists argue that love evolved as a way to keep parents and their offspring bonded and committed to one another, so they could help each other survive long enough for the children to reach sexual maturity. This theory is supported by studies that show offspring of mammals tend to stay close to their mothers and fathers longer than offspring of other species.
However, this model of love is not without its critics. In the 1970s, U.S. Senator William Proxmire railed against researchers who studied love and argued that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Today, researchers have begun to take a more holistic view of the concept of love. They’ve found that, in addition to the physiologic effects of love, it also involves social and cultural factors. They’ve also found that there are two distinct categories of love: passionate love and companionate love.
Companionate love involves trust, affection, and intimacy, while passionate love is a strong desire for closeness and commitment that may be accompanied by physiological arousal.
While it’s impossible to completely define love, researchers have found that there are three primary components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. This theory is supported by research that shows the benefits of loving partners for both health and happiness. For example, people who practice love in all aspects of their lives — such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey — have promoted well-being for themselves and others on a global scale.