You know that phrase, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you?” That phrase is often used as a preface to dumping someone. However, if you’ve been with your partner for more than say six months, it’s completely normal to feel that way. After all these years, I was- until recently- still buying into the idea of romantic love that we are all sold by our society, that we should have that in love feeling forever, and that if we don’t there‘s something wrong and we should get out of the relationship. But, if we use science to inform our expectations, we might come to some very different conclusions.
In fact, hormones are largely responsible for the way we feel throughout a relationship, right from that first stage of lust all the way to the attachment stage. I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, but it’s the truth. Below, let’s go over the three hormonal stages and see what happens:
1. Lust. You know it when you feel it. It’s that animal attraction that causes you to want to jump the other person’s bones, even if you hardly know them yet. The hormones at work here are testosterone and estrogen – in both men and women.
2. Attraction. Once you get to know some thing about the person, you begin to fall in love. The three main neurotransmitters that scientists believe are involved in this stage are adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Adrenaline is the one responsible for those adorable things that happen when you get around your new love- you start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry. Dopamine is the one that triggers an intense rush of pleasure. It is the same chemical that people get when they use cocaine. No wonder falling in love feels so good. And it’s even legal! Then there’s the serotonin. People in love have been found to have the lower levels of serotonin similar to the ones found in people diagnosed with OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is the one that’s responsible for how your new lover keeps popping into your mind constantly, much like an obsession.
3. Attachment. As far as we know now, there are two major hormones responsible for this phase: oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is sometimes called the cuddle hormone. It is the one released by men and women during orgasm. It’s the reason why we tend to feel more attached to and closer to our partners after sex. Vasopressin is also released after sex and appears to contribute to the bonding of a long-term couple.
What do you think about all this? Have you experienced these stages? Have you thought there was something “wrong” in your relationship when you were no longer in the lust/attraction stages but had moved on to the attachment stage? Or, are you one of those who swears they are still in love after years? I’d love to hear from you!