Am I in Love? – Scientific Proof and Theory
Most people want to fall in love and have the support and companionship that it provides (there are those that don’t, check out the article on philophobia). There is no denying that falling in love can be intense and that most of us find the process of finding someone to love exhilarating, and you may find yourself asking “am I in love?”. People have studied and examined love ever since ancient times, but it still remains very misunderstood. Though many would say that falling in love is subjective, there are actually scientifically proven signs that you may be in love.
Am I in Love: Is being in love just chemistry?
Falling in love can cause physical changes to your brain and body, and is associated with increased energy, a narrowing of mental focus, lightheadedness, racing heart, sweaty palms, and a lot of positive feelings. Your actual brain chemistry changes, which accounts for all of the giddy feelings and illogical thinking that may come with love. The chemicals that are involved actually function similarly to amphetamine, making us alert, excited, and wanting to bond with others. Some chemicals that are associated with love are oxytocin and phenethylamine, which have been found to play a role in human experiences and loving behaviors.
However, the big chemical that is known to influence love is dopamine (what are the functions of dopamine?). This neurotransmitter enhances the release of testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone that plays a part in language and cognitive abilities, as well as aggression and sex drive. Dopamine is created in the brain and adrenal glands, which affects various organs, such as the genitals, the sweat glands, and the senses. Dopamine influences your mood and emotions, which leads to feelings of excitement and happiness. Testosterone will increase sexual desire, but it also increases aggressive behavior. This may lead to a person pursuing the one who is fueling this response, which may seem like a very intense reaction to the person.
Once the dopamine and testosterone spread throughout the brain, the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and phenylethylamine (PEA) then get to work. These types of neurotransmitters lead to focused attention and cause one to concentrate on only the person they desire. At the same time, when the person is around the person they love, there’s often a feeling of euphoria. Because norepinephrine is a stimulant, it causes individuals to feel alerted and unable to sleep, and people are able to notice and remember details about the person they love, even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential details. PEA is responsible for the feelings of giddiness when a couple is together and may cause the loss of appetite when apart. After a breakup, or perhaps with unrequited love, PEA levels are low and are responsible for the feelings of depression that can be experienced.
Scientists don’t see love as an emotion, but rather a set of processes that activate the reward center in the brain. This is why people have such strong physiological responses when we are attracted to another because the human brain supports this reaction. The body’s reward system is influenced by the central nervous system and by what is in the bloodstream, such as the level of various neurotransmitters. The reward system sends chemical messages, via these neurotransmitters, to various parts of the body. So, the stomach, skin, genitals and other organs send messages back to the brain, which causes the person to seek more of what caused that pleasurable response. Even the anticipation alone of seeing someone you love can cause the biological response in the reward system.
The question, Am I in love? is a very difficult one since it’s always been seen as something subjective. Recently researchers have found correlations with being in love and serotonin levels. They have studied the relationship between love and peripheral serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate mood and behavior. Romantic love is complex and it can be calm or more passionate, leading on occasions to spark obsessive thinking and anxiety symptoms. This might be serotonin correlating inversely with love.
Langeslag and colleagues decided to study this issue. These researchers invited 10 men and 10 women who professed to be in love, and 10 men and 10 women who were not in love, into the lab to complete a series of questionnaires and to have samples of their blood plasma taken. The results were mixed however a link was established between romantic love and serotonin. Men in love had lower levels of peripheral serotonin. Women in love had higher levels of serotonin than those that proclaimed not being in love. This might be the start to discovering the biological basic gender differences for romantic relationships. Women related to more obsessive thoughts about their partner had higher serotonin levels. Their results suggest that being in love might be a mood stabilizer for men but very different for women.
Am I in Love: The Theory of Love
Psychologist Robert Sternberg developed the triangular theory of love, in which the three forms of love are intimacy, passion, and commitment. The different stages and forms of love are basically different combinations of these three elements that form the forms of love, and a relationship based on a single factor is less likely to last a long time than a relationship based on a combination of two or more. The first form of love, intimacy, includes the feelings of liking and friendship, attachment, closeness, connectedness, and bondedness. Passion is a form of love that is connected to both infatuation and sexual attraction. Commitment is a form of love that is, in the short term, the decision to be with and stay with each other, and in the long term, commitment means sharing plans, goals, and achievements with that person. The three components and forms of love are usually labeled on a triangle, interacting with each other and the actions they produce.
Am I in love? These interactions to form seven different kinds of love experiences:
1. Am I in love: Liking
According to Sternberg, liking does not just mean a passing fancy. In this case, liking is a more intimate relationship with someone that characterizes true, lasting friendships. The people are bonded and warm with each other and have a closeness with one another. However, they do not have an intense passion towards each other or a long-term promise of commitment.
2. Am I in love: “Love at first sight“
“Love at first sight” is considered by Sternberg to be called infatuated love. But infatuated love alone, without the intimacy and commitment elements of love, may disappear without warning, and the relationship ends.
3. Am I in love: Fatuous love
Fatuous love is exemplified by a whirlwind courtship and has the commitment of marriage, but, since it is motivated mostly by passion, it does not have the stabilizing influence of intimacy.
4. Am I in love: Romantic love
Romantic love is passionate and intimate, but it does not have the promise of commitment.
5. Am I in love: Empty love
Empty love occurs when a strong, consummate love deteriorates. The commitment in the relationship still remains, but the fundamentals of intimacy and passion have petered out. In cultures in which arranged marriages are common, relationships often begin as empty love.
6. Am I in love: Companionate love
Companionate love is an intimate type of love that does not have passion but is stronger than friendship because of the promise of long-term commitment. It is often found in long-term marriages in which no longer has the passion element, but there is still a deep affection. Companionate love is generally found in relationships with family members or strong relationships with friends, people you could spend your life with, or at least remain in a loving, non-sexual relationship with or a long time.
7. Am I in love: Consummate love
Consummate love is the complete form of love; the ideal relationship many people long for but is hard to find. Sternberg also stated that maintaining a consummate love may be harder than finding and achieving it. If all of the components of love are not translated into action, then the bliss of consummate love may not be permanent. For example, if passion is lost over time, it may change into companionate love.
The balance among the three elements of love will most likely shift during a relationship. Knowing about each of the components of love can help couples avoid pitfalls in their relationship, or work on the areas that need improvement. It may even help a couple realize that it might be time for their relationship to end.
Fisher, M., Costello, V. (2010). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Chemistry of Love. Alpha.
Sternberg, RJ. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119-135.
Sternberg, RJ. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment.
Langeslag, S. J., van der Veen, F. M., & Fekkes, D. (2012). Blood levels of serotonin are differentially affected by romantic love in men and women. Journal of Psychophysiology, 26, 92-98.
Elsie is a public health professional working in education and research. She is a lifelong learner, and is especially interested in mental and behavioral health. She loves travelling and spending time with her dog.