What happens when we fall in love?
Psychologist Francisca López Torrecillas discusses how the brain responds to the emotional state, and what other factors come into play
Falling in love is an emotional state in which there are various factors at play. Studies indicate that we fall in love when we meet someone who has pheromones similar to our own. But at the same time, falling in love is also shaped by culture. For example, some heterosexual women may be attracted to certain characteristics in men, such as power and money. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, may be drawn to physical characteristics in women linked to child-rearing, such as wide hips.
Personality also plays a role. Being one way or another influences falling in love. As do expectations. In other words, falling in love combines instinctive, biological factors with our expectations about a person.
Falling in love also has a biological component. It triggers the release of a series of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. These signalling molecules can lead to a semi-hallucinatory state similar to those produced by drugs.
It’s also important to remember that we can fall in love at any age. Although it might happen more often during our teenage years, when our bodies are going through a rush of hormonal changes, it can also happen after menopause. And that’s because that there are many factors involved, not just biological ones. Culture, personality traits and expectations also play a part. Falling in love is a very complex process.
A person in love lives in a state of happiness as the process activates neurotransmitters related to satisfaction. Our brains have a reward system, one that can be triggered by drugs, and also by falling in love.
This state does not last long, however. Some studies suggest it lasts for around six months. In other words, the first phase of falling in love - the one characterized by the activation of neurotransmitters - ends after half a year. After this point, other factors start to play a bigger role, such as culture and the expectations you and your partner have about the relationship. Falling in love becomes more rational; it is no longer a biological process causing hormone-induced euphoria.
What happens next depends on each couple, their personalities, imaginations and expectations. After those approximately six months, a person can still be in love, even though they are no longer releasing neurotransmitters. And this is where having a strong sexual relationship plays a very important role. An active sex life is a key way to strengthen bonds.
It’s also important that I say that we can all fall in love. Some people, for personal or cultural reasons, may not express it, but that does not mean they are not experiencing it.