Timeline of a Love Affair
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
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.
The downside of high dopamine is anxiety, restlessness, and emotional
volatility. Such bad feelings are often mixed up with good ones in passionate
love affairs. Dopamine plays a role in our ability to concentrate and control
our thoughts, so elevated dopamine levels could explain lovers' tendency to
focus exclusively on their beloved.
Because low serotonin in the brain is related to obsessive disorder, some
scientists think low serotonin is a likely explanation for the way people in
love obsess about their beloved.
Falling in love has been linked to hormonal changes, too. Researchers in
Italy who studied serotonin and love affairs compared hormone levels of people
recently fallen in love and those who were single or in a long-lasting
relationship. They found that women who had recently fallen in love had higher
testosterone levels than those who had not recently fallen in love, and men in
love had lower testosterone than those who had not. Both men and women who had
recently fallen in love also had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
When researchers tested these people again one to two years later, their
hormone levels were no longer different.
The "in-love" stage of a love affair typically lasts six to 18
months, and occasionally as long as three years, says Denise Bartell, PhD,
psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. But it does wane at
some point. People get used to loving each other, maybe in the same way that
people develop tolerance to the effects of mind-altering drugs.