From Lust to Losing Your Mind: Science Reveals the Secrets of Love – Part 1

I went totally insane last time I fell in love. I could talk about nothing else. I asked my friends over and over whether they thought that he was attracted to me too, or not. Did that look mean something special? Should I ring him or not? I couldn’t think about anything else. When he didn’t contact me, my mood plummeted. When I saw him, I was walking on clouds. Does this sound familiar to you?

Now – eight years later – David and I are a happy loving couple (with a few squabbles to spice things up).

I read some interesting research by Helen Fisher, one of the leading researchers of romantic love.

She describes what happens when you fall in love:

  • A person takes on a special meaning for you: “The world has a new centre”
  • You sweep under the carpet what you don’t like about the other person and focus on what we like.
  • You have intense energy (intense elation and great despair).
  • You become sexually possessive about them.
  • You feel an intense craving for the other person
  • You’re highly motivated: you want this person
  • You’re obsessed and think about this person all day.
  • It’s like an addiction: there is activity in a lot of brain areas, especially in the area in which one feels the rush of cocaine.
  • Falling in love is not an emotion; it is a drive. It’s even stronger than the sex drive.

According to studies, there are three phases of love, each of which is driven by a certain set of natural chemicals.

Stage 1: Lust

Lust is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen. These hormones as Helen Fisher says “get you out looking for anything”.

Stage 2: Attraction
This is the love-struck phase. People lose their appetite and need less sleep, preferring to spend hours at a time daydreaming about their new lover.

In the attraction stage, a group of neuro-transmitters play an important role:

  • Dopamine – Also activated by cocaine and nicotine
  • Adrenalin. Starts us sweating and gets the heart racing
  • Serotonin – One of love’s most important chemicals and one that may actually send us temporarily insane!

Stage 3: Attachment


This is what takes over after the attraction stage, if a relationship is going to last. It’s the bond that keeps couples together. One hormone in particular is important at this stage.

  • Oxytocin
    This is released by both sexes during orgasm (that’s why we feel bonded after having sex), and also at childbirth. The theory is that the more orgasms a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes.

You can see how nature has created the three phases to enable the continuation of the species. The first phase of lust sends us looking for a partner, the second phase of romantic love narrows our interest to just one person, and the third phase of attachment enables us to stay together, even when the first rush wears off.

Here are some facts about attraction. We are attracted by:

  • Symmetrical face

Asymmetry in faces can be a sign of underlying genetic problems. That’s why we are attracted instinctively to symmetrical faces. (This applies more to men than to women)

  • The hour-glass figure

Studies show that men prefer women with a waist to hip ratio of 0.7. (You can calculate your own using this formula:
waist measurement ÷ hip measurement = ratio.

  • Someone who looks similar

Have you noticed how many married couples look quite similar? Studies have shown that more than anything we prefer somebody who looks just like we do. See if you can spot who are the couples in this batch of individual photographs.

In a busy life it’s sometimes difficult to meet fitting partners. That’s why Internet dating sites are very popular. Have you ever taken out an ad to find a partner? I tried that once before I met David. At the time I was working as a psychotherapist. Imagine my toe-curling embarrassment when I realised that a guy who had answered my ad was actually a client of mine. And he even started talking about answering an ad in the session with me! Oh dear… I tried to keep my face as blank as possible but I could feel a pink tide rising.

You can discover the science behind dating ads by taking a ‘lonely hearts’ test. The test was published by the BBC. It’s very interesting, as it tells you something about how you see yourself, as well as who you are really looking for).

I wonder, what’s your experience of falling in love? Please share your stories with us.

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© Mary Jaksch 2008

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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