Welcome to the world of dating, situationships and one-night stands. How is today’s hook-up culture influencing how relationships are formed and maintained? People often forget that falling in love is also a biological process and knowing how it all works just might save your next relationship, so keep reading on!
Falling in love as a biological process The first phase of love is lust. This basically means that we become physically drawn to whomever we are dating. At this stage, the most important hormones are testosterone for men and estrogen for women.
What's dopamine? When you're dating someone and you're enjoying your time together, your dopamine levels also increase. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and is associated with reward-motivated behaviour in the brain. Many drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy increase dopamine levels in the brain, which plays a role in why people become addicted. It also sheds light on the fact that love, can sometimes feel like a drug.
The second phase of love is attraction and involves intensive attention on that one special person. You may even experience change in appetite or sleep pattern. When you start to fall in love your social judgement is decreased and the brain activity in regions associated with negative emotions is suppressed. Your oxytocin levels increase and your brain basically goes on a vacation to love land.
What’s oxytocin? Oxytocin is a hormone associated with bonding in mammals. It is not only the reasons why couples get together but it’s also responsible between the bond between a mother and her child. Oxytocin is also known as the cuddle or trust hormone because its levels rise when you are cuddling with or kissing someone. Oxytocin is also involved in the third stage of love - attachment; and it is necessary for maintaining close and long-lasting bonds between partners. Another crucial role at this stage is played by the hormone vasopressin. Vasopressin is sometimes also called the commitment hormone.
Simple enough. Two people spend time together, they like each other, fall in love and then live happily ever after, right? Well… not quite. Men and women function in different ways when it comes to forming an attachment to their romantic partner.
Men and women fall in love differently For a woman to fall in love, her dopamine and oxytocin levels need to increase. Dopamine increases when you’re having a good time and you’re happy. You’re dating, spending time together and making nice memories together. So, dopamine slowly rises. Similarly, to oxytocin, its levels slowly rise over time as two people become closer. However, after sex the oxytocin levels of a woman skyrocket. This results in increased trust towards the partner and increased likeliness that she’ll find herself emotionally attached.
For men it’s a different story. For a man to become emotionally attached the vasopressin levels need to increase. Vasopressin is also called the commitment hormone and rises over time as you're dating and enjoying each others' company. However, after sex the vasopressin levels drop. For a man it is this hormone that is involved in the third, attachment-forming stage of falling in love, remember?
So ladies, if you really like the guy you’re seeing, turning your first date into a sleep over might not be the best idea. Aside from the other dozens of reasons, which I am sure you have all already covered during your high school Sex-Ed class.
Beyond the physical... Of course, it’s not all just hormones and biology. Individual differences between people, our attitudes towards relationships and cultural influences also play a crucial role in how we form relationships with others. This is where importance of communication comes into play. Getting clear on what both partners expect from their new-found relationship/friendship/dating-situation can clear out a lot of future misunderstandings and provide an honest foundation for whatever type of relationship you choose to pursue.