Let's talk about love, ba-BY...
Most of us grow up thinking of love as this kind of magical, in-definable universal force that motivates us, or enslaves us ( depending on your current situation ). It plays with our emotions, turning us into superheros in one moment, and then crushing us in the next moment.
In truth there's a who lot more logic and biology to love than you realise.
A look at love hormones
The tangible part is the chemicals known as hormones, which are responsible for all of those happy, excited, giddy, lovey-dovey "I miss you" feelings.
Those same hormones are also responsible for pain, rejection, heartbreak... and that not so fun "I can't live without you" feeling.
As strange as it seems, Mother Nature was wiser than you know, and has 100 million years of successful mammalian evolution to prove it.
So then, what was Mama N up to, and why all the craziness?
The many ways hormones affect you
When you’re in a romantic relationship, you have three powerful collections of chemical triggers affecting you.
- Lust hormones - primarily Testosterone and Estrogen, which increase with sexual desire.
- Attraction hormones - featuring Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin, which are impacted when you “like” someone. Maybe you like their personality, voice, sense of style, the way they move, their confidence, their smell.
- Attachment hormones - including Oxytocin and Vasopressin, which elevate as a result of pair-bonding activities. For a romantic couple, these elevate during sex and cuddling. For a mother and child, during breastfeeding and childbirth. These hormones are essentially the basis of all long-term relationships, and probably the existence of society itself. They are what make people want to stay together.
The reason relationships and love feel so good is that many of these hormonal receptors are in the reward center of your brain. Why? Because nearly 100 million years of mammalian evolution decided that humans survive best as a species when they are rewarded for specific behaviors…
- Find a suitable partner, have sex, and make more humans.
- Identify and distinguish people who are safe to be around, and useful to be around, from those who are not.
- When you find those people, to stay with them and form a social group that can improve your safety, and access to food and mates.
- When you have children, to want to keep them around and look after them until they are old enough to do so on their own.
- When you find a mate, to want to stay with them to increase the chances of the survival of your offspring, through better protection and more food.
Feeling good, and feeling bad.. and why breakups hurt
Your hormones exist to make you feel really good when you are pursuing these behaviors, and feel really bad when you are not pursuing these behaviors. At the core, is survival of the species.
The really good feelings, we’re all very familiar with. The really uncomfortable ones are pretty much the exact opposite.
- No sexual partner? You will feel uncomfortably horny.
- No one in your life that you like - friends, family, or lovers? You will feel uncomfortably lonely.
- Your romantic partner is away on a business trip? You miss them dearly.
Here’s the thing- your hormonal system exists “below” your rational mind. It’s an older and more fundamental system. Your pet dog, for example, has exactly the same hormonal triggers as you do.
So for humans, that hormonal system is not especially aware of the "higher" rational & well-thought reasons that the break-up happened.
After all, we're all just mammals.
All your hormonal system knows is that your romantic partner is away, which means your life now has less sex, one fewer friend, and no “other half” to your pair-bond. Your hormones react by trying to motivate you to fix it, and they go wild.
No, you are not crazy. I promise.
No, you are not going to die right now. I promise.
Yes, you will question both of these promises.
What have we learned?
Oh so many things..
- First, essentially all of your fundamental drives for sex, friendship, family connection, social connection, a long-term relationships are driven by chemicals that have controlled mammalian behaviour for about 100 million years.
- These hormones are why humans exist today, and are specifically why you exist today.
- These hormones have a deep, deep influence on your behavior, because... they were designed exactly for that purpose.
- The feeling of love, and the feeling of love lost, are mostly chemical in nature.
The madness of love makes so much more sense, when you can see the reasons behind it.
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Key "love" hormones such Dopamine and Oxytocin originate in the hypothalamus, which according to the Triune brain theory is part of the Paleomammalian complex.
This suggests several interesting things...
- Your "middle brain" (the Paleomammalian complex) evolved long ago before higher brain functions (the neocortex or Neomammalian complex). You share this with all mammals.
- Essentially the same hormonal triggers (with some variations) are common across all mammals.
- This is why your dog can bond with you as its owner, and choose to protect you at the risk of its own life. These are the same hormones that drive parents to protect their children, husbands to protect and nurture their wives.
- This also explains why as humans, our "emotions" (which are physical feelings triggered by hormonal output) can feel so out of touch with our psychological perspective. You can break up with someone, and still miss them terribly.