Here’s a look at the three phases of falling in love as outlined by anthropologist Helen Fisher; the symptoms, the signs and the substances responsible for making you all flushed, doe-eyed and crazy in love.
Also known as the Lust Phase, this is a powerfully disorienting and all-consuming period in which our hormones do all the talking…
Symptoms: You may find yourself breathless, dizzy, and incapable of rational thought. Your friends may find you unbearable.
Signs: You will know you are in the midst of Phase One when you have the attention span of a five-year-old. Your days are dotted with delicious daydreams featuring your new leading man/lady, and your nights are punctuated with text messages to and from same.
Substances: Early on in the Lust Phase, pheromones — odorless chemicals detected by the nose — help guide our selection of an appropriate mate. Some researchers say this ensures that we don’t choose someone we are closely related to. The sex hormones testosterone and estrogen are also hard at work driving us to seek intimacy, while phenylethylamine, the same feel-good substance found in chocolate, keeps us coming back for more.
I Think I Love You: The chemicals pumping through our lust-stuck bodies create some mightily intense sensations, which can fool the uninitiated into thinking they are actually in love. In fact, hearing your new beau say “I love you” in the early days of your romance is a tell-tale sign that the poor dear been completely overcome by feel-good hormones. Either that or you’re dating a stalker.
Welcome to Phase Two of falling in love. Wipe that smug, self-satisfied look off your face.
Symptoms: Your heartbeat races, your palms are sweaty and your body may feel hotter than usual. You walk around with a dopey perma-grin plastered on your face, you’re on speaking terms with your mother again, and somehow, your slave-driver boss doesn’t seem that bad.
Signs: Loss of appetite, insomnia, infatuation, obsessive thoughts — it’s no wonder people in the throes of Phase Two are described as being “lovesick.” This is the Attraction Phase, in all its glory. Psychologists state that this phase most closely mimics the symptoms of mental illness.
Substances: Behind the scenes, your body is busy excreting all sorts of delightful substances, known in chemistry circles as “monoamines.” Two of the usual suspects, namely dopamine and norepinephrine, combine to produce a sense of elation, energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite — behavior quite like that of someone under the influence of illicit drugs… Meanwhile, serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control the nervous system and its responses, ensures that your loved one is never far from your thoughts; adrenalin keeps the whole mélange coursing through your body just nicely.
Crazy in Love: Dr. Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa, studied 20 couples who’d been madly in love for less than six months and found that their serotonin levels in these love birds were equivalent to the low serotonin levels found in sufferers of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
This is the period in which the bond between you and your paramour solidifies, and is known to sex researchers as the Attachment Phase.
Symptoms: After the heady rush of the Attraction Phase, you and your partner settle into what is more or less your romantic niche. Symptoms include separation anxiety, an intense bond and sense of togetherness.
Signs: When Phase Three strikes, you and your partner will be joined at the hip, you finish each other’s sentences, and make those around you gag with your lovey-dovey antics.
Substances: Scientists believe there are two major hormones involved when love reaches this stage; oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin, also known as the Cuddle Hormone, is released by men and women during orgasm, and is responsible for that delicious afterglow. It is also the chemical that bonds mothers to new born babies, and has a similar effect on those in love. Vasopressin too is released after sex and, as noted by animal researchers studying the prairie vole (a stubby rodent native to North America, if you must know), is essential to the preservation of bonded-pairings or couples. Vasopressin makes us want to stay together.
Love is Blind: When we first fall for someone, we are usually guilty of focusing on their good points and ignoring their faults. Ellen Berscheid, a leading researcher on the psychology of love, says that the reason we do this is so that our relationships last through to the Attachment Phase. It’s all part of Mother Nature’s grand scheme to keep us procreating, really.
So, it’s no coincidence that the first bloom of love is described in the same terms as taking a fall; burgeoning infatuation creates the same sense of recklessness, exhilaration and fear as falling. And when we fall, we can fall hard. Watch your step…