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The Science Of Seduction

“Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning." - Paulo Coelho

While most people would agree that love is the most vital of all human conditions, it still remains the least understood. Writers, poets, philosophers and scholars throughout the ages have pondered the subject of love, and indeed, no other emotion has been the inspiration for more songs, literary tales and works of art, as we attempt to express both the joy of finding love and the heartbreak of losing it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines love as:

  1. an intense feeling of deep affection

  2. a great interest and pleasure in something


This definition, however, seems woefully inadequate, when it comes to the mystery, complexity

and magic of romantic attachments.


A study published by verywellmind.com found that “Love is a set of emotions and behaviors characterized by intimacy, passion and commitment. It involves care, closeness, protectiveness, attraction, affection and trust. Love can vary in intensity and can change over time. It is associated with a range of positive emotions, including happiness, excitement, life satisfaction and euphoria, but it can also result in negative emotions such as jealousy and stress.”


Social psychologist Zick Rubin asserts that love is essentially made up of three elements:

  • Attachment: Needing to be with another person and desiring physical contact and approval

  • Caring: Valuing the other person’s happiness and needs as much as your own

  • Intimacy: Sharing private thoughts, feelings and desires with the other person


But why do we fall in love?


Biological Need

Love, it appears, has been widely observed throughout the natural world and many animal species form close, exclusive pair bonds or mate for life. While displaying evidence of empathy, care and grief in their interactions with each other, and with their human companions, animals are clearly capable of strong feelings of affection or devotion - as many pet owners will attest.


From a biological standpoint, it is thought that love evolved to ensure the successful future of the next generation. For our early ancestors, living together in close-knit family groups - usually within tribes - meant safety and security, and forming long-term, committed partnerships proved advantageous to the survival and development of children through to adulthood.


According to betterhelp.com, “From the perspective of evolution, love exists primarily as a motivator. Love encourages people to procreate, and the experience is, in and of itself, enjoyable, to further the desire to do so. This creates an ongoing cycle that determines the constancy of the human race as a growing population. Love is more than simple chemical reactions, emotional experiences and bodily functions. Love is the thing of keeping the human race alive and is an evolutionary mechanism driving humankind’s survival.”


Chemical Reactions

“Love. It’s a drug, a dangerous drug. But without it, the world would feel nothing but pain.” - anonymous

Scientists commonly define love as a chemical reaction in the brain, with the various components or stages of love each releasing a different set of hormones. According to study.com, “Lust releases testosterone and estrogen, attraction releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, and attachment releases oxytocin and vasopressin”.


Each of these hormones play an important role in how people become attracted to each other, and for what reasons.


In the early stages of attraction, our brains go into overdrive, releasing large amounts of dopamine - a feel-good chemical the effects of which have been likened to being drunk, or being addicted to drugs. It is thought that these feelings of euphoria and addiction, which can often border on obsession, are what lead us to form a long-term, devoted attachment to the object of our desire. Our brains also release oxytocin, which makes us feel less fearful and inhibited, while adrenaline and norepinephrine can cause our hearts ro race, our palms to sweat and can even induce a physical sensation of craving for that person.


We may also suffer a loss of appetite or feel nauseous - a condition sometimes referred to as lovesickness. This reaction is thought to be caused by the stress hormone cortisol contracting blood vessels in the stomach. It is not uncommon to feel more energized but at the same time, less focused, with disruption to normal sleep patterns or inability to sleep being a frequent complaint from those in the early throes of love.


When we are in close proximity to our crush, the resulting surge of hormones causes our cheeks to flush, our lips to redden and the pupils of our eyes to dilate - a physiological response which makes us look more attractive to potential partners. Our body language is usually a good indicator of our desire, as we may subtly begin to mirror the other person’s posture, expressions, gestures and speech patterns, or engage in preening (self-grooming) behaviors touching or smoothing our hair, checking our reflection in the mirror, and adjusting our clothes.


Aside from the hormones produced by our brains, our bodies also secrete odorless chemical messengers known as pheromones, which can be detected, subconsciously, by those around us, and increase our perceived desirability. These pheromones are often responsible for the love-at-first-sight connection between two people, but may also have the opposite effect, causing us to feel repelled by individuals with whom we have little genetic compatibility.


Love And Our Health

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that love is generally good for our health, and being in a loving relationship may have several significant and lasting benefits to our well-being and quality of life. For example:

  • Lower risk of heart disease

  • Better health habits

  • Lower stress levels

  • Less depression

  • Decreased risk of dying after a heart attack

  • Lower risk of diabetes

  • Increased longevity


Love has even been shown to alleviate pain; according to a 2010 Stanford University School of Medicine study, a passionate all-consuming relationship may work just as well as medication at easing chronic pain, with intense feelings of love stimulating the same areas of the brain as painkillers.


There is a down side, however; a study by the American Heart Association reports that love can literally break your heart.


Far from being a myth perpetuated by sappy romance novels, a condition known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy can occur due to a surge in stress hormones during an emotionally traumatic event, such as divorce, a bad break up or the death of a partner. Symptoms are often similar to those experienced during a heart attack and include chest pain, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath. In extreme instances, “broken heart syndrome” can cause permanent damage to the heart and even death, but thankfully the condition is fully treatable in most cases.


Love Is A Verb

“Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken.” – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

It has often been said that in its truest sense, love is a verb, not a noun. It is not passive. It requires action and intention. It is a behavior. Love is what you DO. “It is time to change the meaning of the word love,” says Rabbi David Wolfe, in Time Magazine. “Between human beings, love is a relational word. Yes you can love things that do not love you back–the sky or a mountain or a painting or the game of chess. But the love of other people is directional. There is a lover and a beloved–you don't just love, but you love at someone. And real love is not only about the feelings of the lover, it is not egotism. It is when one person believes in another person and shows it,” he says.


“We would have a healthier conception of love if we understood that love, like parenting or

friendship, is a feeling that expresses itself in action. What we really feel is reflected in what we

do. The poet’s song is dazzling and the passion powerful, but the deepest beauty of love is how

it changes lives.”

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