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Timeline of a Love Affair

By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Being in love is a powerful experience unlike anything else. It's an altered state in which people think and act very differently than usual. Some people never get to experience it, but many of us do at least once in a lifetime.

Those who have experienced it also know that the powerful rush doesn't last forever. And when those feelings end, the relationship often ends, too. Yet many couples manage to move on from that stage to keep their love affair going.

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We used to turn to poets for insight on the mysteries of love, but now we ask doctors and researchers. Science offers two basic ways of understanding love affairs. One is to look for what many different people in different love relationships tend to have in common. The other is to look at how chemicals in the brain mix to make us feel various emotions related to sex and love.

But first things first. Just what is it that makes two people fall in love, hard and fast?

(How has your relationship changed over time? Talk about it with others on WebMD's Health Café message board.)

Madly in Love

Beginning in 1965, a psychologist named Dorothy Tennov began to study the state of being in love as something different from other ways that people love each other. In 1979, she published a book summing up her research, in which she coined a new scientific term for "in love." She called it "limerence." Based upon hundreds of interviews with people in love, she came up with a general description of the condition.

  • In the beginning, we become very interested in another person.
  • If the other person seems interested in us, we become even more interested in that person.
  • We feel a keen sense of longing for the other person's attention.
  • We become interested in only that person and no one else.
  • Our interest develops into an obsession: We can't stop thinking about the other person even if we try to concentrate on other things.
  • We daydream and fantasize about the other person constantly.
  • The relationship causes euphoria -- an intense "high" or feeling of joy and well-being.
  • We think about engaging in sexual activities with the other person. 
  • Sometimes we feel an aching sensation or pain in the chest.
  • We fail to notice or refuse to acknowledge any faults in the other person, and no logical argument can change our positive view.

This Is Your Brain on Love

Researchers have looked for changes in the brain that may go along with the state of limerence. Studies show that the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin may be related to the peculiar feelings and behavior of people in love.

Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, we feel various degrees of well-being, from contentment to euphoria. High dopamine levels may be related to the "high" people experience early in a love affair. People in love also tend to notice less need for sleep, extra energy, and decreased appetite. Some scientists think it's no coincidence that these are also common effects of amphetamines and cocaine, which alter the mind mainly by raising dopamine levels.

Next Article:

What physical changes do you experience when in love?