Feb 14, 2023 - News

The chemical elements of romance, explained

Obscured person carrying large bunch of red, white and pink balloons across street.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

People have long talked about having "chemistry" to describe that spark that draws people together romantically.

  • Just in time for Valentine's Day, brain scientists say research shows it's more about the chemicals in our noggins than the muscles of our hearts.

The big picture: “Love is the result of chemical changes that happen in the brain when we meet someone and feel that connection,” Larry Zweifel, a neuroscientist with UW Medicine said in a new blog post outlining love as a state of mind.

  • “There are long-term changes in our brain when we connect with someone that link us to those individuals, sometimes for life," he said.
  • "Love at first sight" is more likely a flood of dopamine and serotonin while that fated feeling of "finding a soul mate" could just be a deluge of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that causes brain changes that help us form bonds.
  • Not every relationship evolves into an oxytocin bond, Zweifel told Axios Seattle. "That requires reciprocity, the feeling has to be mutual," he said.

Yes, but: Even strong oxytocin bonds can break down over time, Zweifel said. Stress from work, family, finances and infidelity can all put the brakes on those happy vibes.

  • The best antidote to relationship-killing stress? A strong support system, he said.

The absence of those love hormones might also explain why V-Day blues are common, said Zweifel. Even the approach of the heart-themed holiday can bring a sense of dread, he said.

The good news: For those of us who dislike the manufactured and forced celebration of so-called love, just remember it's only once a year.


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