The Chemistry of Love

We were having our normal, casual conversation when she entered the room. Then everything changed.

I was sitting at the table in the teachers’ workroom grading papers and talking to a nice looking Mathematics professor, probably in his mid thirties. I often see him reading, waiting for his next class to start, and we usually chat. She entered in a classy looking purple outfit, a petite woman with long brown hair. I knew them both, but had never seen them together before, so I was somewhat surprised by the exchange. They stood, lobbing erotic comments above my seated head, and I could feel the energy thicken with their passion. The air was lush with sexual innuendo and I had to get up and move out of the line of fire to protect myself. I had a class to teach in 20 minutes and I didn’t want to get contaminated!

Inadvertently witnessing this scenario reminded me of my first encounters with my husband Bob. That was 28 years ago. Our relationship doesn’t feel charged quite like that any more, but I can remember the general sensations.

When I first started dating Bob I felt electrically charged, hopelessly excited, optimistic, tirelessly energetic, insatiably sexual, inexplicably creative and just plain happy to be alive. I thought about him constantly and had a hard time concentrating on work. I wanted to be with him every minute, to talk to him, listen to him, buy him gifts, cook for him and rub his back. I felt like I wanted to wrap an invisible cocoon around us so we could snuggle together and keep the rest of the world out. I wanted to blend with him, merge, have my cells crawl in between each one of his cells and create one person. If you’ve ever had such an experience you know how hard it is to describe, and how wonderful it feels to get to live in this blissful state of mind. That’s the good news. If you’ve ever had this experience you also know the bad news. It doesn’t last forever.

As you might have guessed someone has actually studied this phenomenon. In fact Dr. Michael Liebowitz at Columbia University has determined that there is an increase in the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin during what he calls “Romantic Love”. An increase in these chemicals will produce the above described effects of euphoria, energy and well-being, but eventually the brain becomes acclimated. So like an odor that has been smelled too long, we just don’t notice any longer. The honeymoon is over, and the thrill is gone.

At this point the brain does another very interesting thing. It increases the release of endorphins, our own natural morphine or painkiller. Thanks for the help! If I’m going to have to live without the thrill of “Romantic Love” I guess I can appreciate a little painkiller to help me over the hurdle.

The biological theory behind this condition is that nature fills us full of chemicals that help us feel the bliss of love ….. for about two years. Long enough to get pregnant perhaps and insure the preservation of the species. Then we get a little pain killer to help us make the transition out of “Romantic Love” and into whatever we will be doing next.

Some people can’t live without the feelings associated with “Romantic Love”, and they move from one chemical induced high to another. Others decide the loss is too painful and they decide to live without relationship, but most of us strive to transcend into something called “Mature Love”. Making the transition from “Romantic Love” to the “Mature Love” of a lasting relationship can be tricky business even if one did manage to get pregnant and bear children. It is hard work, so for now let me leave you with a quote by the Psychologist C. G. Jung. He summed it up nicely when he said:

“Seldom, or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly, without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain.”

It crossed my mind that I should tell my friends in the Teachers’ Workroom that what they were experiencing would be a passing phase. That if they were really serious about having a lasting relationship it wouldn’t be this easy. They would have to struggle, and work at it. But I didn’t want to spoil their fun, and besides, I’m sure they couldn’t hear me anyway.