Understanding Love: How it Works in Romance and Relationships

understanding loveWe’ve been talking a lot about love lately, including in the posts on how to not fall in love and answering the question should you say I love you. What I want to go into today is a focus on understanding love and how it works - more specifically, the chemicals in your brain that cause that temporary madness that comes over us when we find someone captivating, and the process we all go through as love matures.

The best book about this topic is probably Why We Love by Helen Fisher. Fisher is considered THE authority on the subject, and you would do yourself a huge favor by reading her book – it will really help you to understand a lot of what’s going on underneath the surface when we fall in love.

In the meantime, here are some of the biochemical substances that get released between two people who have a crush on each other:

  • Pheromones: As mentioned in our last article, many researchers believe that this process can be strengthened by uncovering commonalities.

  • Noradrenalin: This hormone gets released when you hold prolonged eye contact with a girl… keep that in mind.

  • Norepinephrine, Dopamine and Serotonin: These are the “honeymoon” chemicals, and they’re the ones responsible for the crazy emotional ride you get on when you first fall in love. You know – you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you have more energy than ever before but the only thing you can think of is… her, 24/7. You dream about her at night, only to wake up and have her be the first thing on your mind again. Nothing but your body’s own drugs… and the FDA approves.

  • Oxytocin and Vasopressin: These are the chemicals that bond you together. A lot of oxytocin gets released in women, especially through physical touch and even more so when you give a girl orgasms. Another thing to make good use of.

  • Phenyl Ethylamine: The chemical that creates feelings of joy, bliss and euphoria when you’re in love… also called PEA.

  • Endorphins: The “happiness” hormone, and what’s responsible for the feeling of emotional intimacy - this substance has also been labeled the “opium of the couple.”

There are some ways to accelerate the release of all of these hormones, if you want to brew a stronger emotional cocktail for her to drink… and that is to go on dates with her that will be emotionally more engaging than the usual “drink and back to my place” that I always recommend for more casual encounters.

If you want the blood pumping through her veins and a lot of addictive biochemical substances being released into her brain, try some of the following… take her kart racing or go to an amusement park and ride the roller coaster for the extra adrenaline. The heightened emotions WILL translate over to you: the man she was with while experiencing them. Even going to a comedy club or salsa dancing can have similar effects.

Understanding Love: The FDA Should Warn You…

Now… this listing should come with a warning.

YES – these are powerful biochemical processes, much akin to being on drugs… and while they’re natural, they are no less powerful than many of the synthetic drugs available from your friendly thug at the train station.

In fact, the reason most synthetic drugs have such POWERFUL effects on humans is that they target the very centers of the brain activated by love itself!

And these drugs – and we’re talking about your body’s natural love drugs here – come with ALL THE SIDE EFFECTS.

Just like any other drug, you will feel amazing during the first few months, but after a while, the high will begin to wear off… and at that point, you need to get your daily fix just to feel normal.

understanding love

And when you don’t get your fix, you will go through the incredible agony of withdrawal… which is ultimately the reason why I always equate falling in love to placing your happiness in someone else’s hands.

If she can make you miserable by freezing you out, arguing with you or breaking up with you, you’re in trouble… and that’s part of the territory of romantic love.

Just a fair warning.

Another side effect of being in love are the proverbial rose-colored glasses… not only do you see her in a more flattering light than is even close to realistic, but she will also present herself in the best way she can, because she’s just as invested as you are.

You might be in for a big surprise once your infatuation wears off, especially if she stops making an effort around the same time as you take off the rose-colored glasses.

This is one of the main causes of why relationships fall apart after about two years, and it’s crucial to genuinely understanding love… because two years is the half-life of the biochemical processes described above.

And it takes about four years until ALL the drugs are out of your system… which is why there is a second big spike in breakups after about that time. The third spike comes after the proverbial seven-year itch.

The seven year itch, by the way, stems from the fact that people undergo a major personality shift every seven years… so in a way, you won’t be with the same person you initially got together with… and NEITHER WILL SHE!

Which brings me to the most important piece of advice in this entire series:

Don’t think about lifelong commitment until you’ve been together for 4 years… ideally 8.

Any earlier than four years, and your positive perception of her is likely to be a result of nature’s own psychotropic substances… and any earlier than eight years, and you have no way of knowing if the two are going to be able to weather the storm of a major change in your personalities and interests.

Eight years seems extreme? Well, answer me this – would you trust any “commitment” someone entered into you with while under the influence of a powerful drug... or would you trust yourself to make the right call in such a situation if you yourself were the one under the influence? If the answer is anything other than, “Yeah, sure, why not?” then I recommend you take a moment to pause and consider what that means for the wildly passion-fueled “commitments” many people make to each other who end up tying their lives to one another.

So… What IS Love Then, Really?

The Ancient Greek were really a lot smarter than we were today when it comes to this question.

While the English language knows only one word for love, the Greeks had at least four that we know of today – agape, eros, philia and storge.

That’s a good start, but the Ancient Greek also had a more limited understanding of the biochemistry of love and affection than we do today. In reality, romantic and sexual love go through different stages and are completely separate from (but can coincide with) what is usual called “unconditional love”.

Let’s have a look at the different types of love, and the phases they go through.

  1. Sexual Attraction – This is the first stage, and it can happen in seconds, both for men and for women. It isn’t usually considered to be a form of “love”, but when we talk about a man and a woman being in a relationship together, that always implies a sexual element – otherwise it would simply be called a friendship. This form of attraction is also the spark that can later ignite romantic love. Without it, different forms of affection CAN develop, but the straight path is through the reptilian brain we discussed in the posts about “The Success Factor”.

  2. Infatuation – This is the stage where two people first develop a “crush” on each other, and this is what we usually call “romantic” love. When we talk about dating, we usually refer to these first two stages – sexual and romantic relationships. Infatuation is not a binary yes/no thing, but rather is on a gradient – from a mild crush all the way to full-on obsession. It has been said that the two strongest human instincts are for survival and reproduction, but infatuation can override both of them... at the extremes, people may even become suicidal over unrequited “love”.

  3. The 3-Month Drop – the first significant emotional change takes place in a couple after about 3-6 months, with the three month point marking the half-life of the initial infatuation. During these first months, the emotions are so intense that people often have trouble concentrating on work, going to sleep or even eating anything. The intensity of the initial honeymoon phase lets up after a while, which was evolutionarily hard-coded into our emotional makeup so we’d be able to focus on other areas of survival again.

  4. The 2-Year Drop – the second significant drop is one Chase has written about at length (linked to above, or here if you missed it), and it happens after about 2-4 years. Just like the half-life of the most intense initial infatuation is about three months, so can the half-life mark of “young love” be found after about two years. As mentioned earlier, this is really the make-or-break point, where many couples will have to come to a decision: their feelings for each other have changed, but have they bonded enough and found enough compatibility to stay together despite that fact?

  5. Long-Term Love – when couples decide to stay together even though the initial romance has clearly worn off, they are in a stage of love that lies somewhere between unconditional love (the final type of love that we will discuss shortly) and romantic love / infatuation. They are still attached to each other and suffer when they are apart, more than friends or family members usually do. But the heat of the initial passion and desire has transformed into a comfortable, warm glow of familiarity and affection.

  6. Unconditional Love – This is difficult to find in male-female relationships. As we’ve discussed previously, both sex and romantic love are value based (see: “What Do Girls Look For? Part I” and Part II), and hence inherently not unconditional. Unconditional love would be the love a mother has for her child – even if her son turns out to be a criminal, she will often still love him and be there for him. Most women would leave their man if he was homeless on the streets (and didn’t make an effort to improve his situation). Some couples develop this form of unconditional love for each other eventually, after they have been together for a very long time, but the trade-off is, of course, that they are no longer in “romantic” love with each other at that stage.

All of the above together comprise some of the most important reasons why I myself don’t get into monogamous relationships anymore… you sign up for one thing (passion, infatuation and romance) and end up getting another (familiarity, comfort and affection). And for many people that’s fine… it’s a decision everybody will have to make for themselves.

Like many seducers, I’m too much of a thrill seeker to settle for the latter… it feels a bit like going to a car dealer and purchasing a Ferrari, only to then drive a station wagon off the lot. But I also know that a lot of people actually prefer the later, more serene stages of love and relationships, so there is no real right or wrong answer here.

I am, however, going to give you a brief explanation of why some people prefer one over the other, as I see it crucial to understanding love and how and why people pursue it the way they each individually do.

understanding love

Why People Choose Monogamy (or Polygamy)

Maybe you’ve heard someone say: “I haven't met a girl that I've clicked with like this in a long, long time, and I actually want to spend time with her… I don’t have much desire to see other girls anymore, and therefore I’ve chosen to be monogamous now.”

This is a very common reason why people get into relationships, but it’s actually a mental trap, and here is why:

It is really a man’s biochemistry that triggers these types of thoughts when he has a lack of abundance.

I get the same emotions when I take a break from meeting women for a couple of months… but as soon as you sleep with another ten girls, this desire and fixation on one girl simply goes away... poof.

I know that’s a cliché, but it IS in fact true…

You see, your subconscious quickly calculates what would give you the best chances of replication in your current situation:

  1. High abundance of sexual partners (let's say you sleep with four NEW girls per month or more) means that polygamy is better for your replication.

  2. Low abundance of new sexual partners, and monogamy is better.

Then your brain triggers the emotions that will drive you to take the appropriate decision, and subsequently your conscious mind will latch onto that decision and take credit for it.

You think you’ve made a conscious decision one way or the other, but the reality of the situation is... you didn’t make a decision at all. Your unconscious “mating computer” made the decision and made you believe it was yours… if you want to know more about this process, read the book Vital Lies, Simple Truths – The Psychology of Self-Deception by Daniel Goleman.

And thus, people say things like:

  1. “I've decided I want to sleep around now because I don't like the drama of relationships…”

Oh really? Maybe it's just that your limbic brain has calculated your odds of making babies!

Or, you might hear someone say the opposite:

  1. “I've decided I don't want to sleep around now because I really click with this girl…”

Oh really? Maybe it’s just that... well, you get the picture.

It’s amazing how upset people will get when you tell them this - they are convinced that their justifications for their actions are THE reasons why they’re taking them - as if they were beings of pure logic for whom emotion and under-the-hood mental calculations played no part.

But as science has shown, the mind’s already made its decision split seconds before an individual becomes consciously aware of that decision... and starts assigning it rationale.

You are the product of your evolution and environment; you’re optimized to select the best mating strategy for your current situation, because doing so would be, of course, the best mating strategy for your current situation. Your brain isn’t foolish... even if it doesn’t necessarily see much need to give your conscious mind full access to what’s going on behind the scenes.

So what’s next?

Well, believe it or not, we’re still only about halfway through the relationship series here... maybe less. There’s a lot more coming up. The next few posts are going to be focused on relationship rules, jealousy issues, relationship power struggles, and a lot more. Relationships are a deep topic in and of themselves, and there’s a great deal to explore - so stay tuned, and keep reading.

Onward and upward,


UPDATE: read the next article in Ricardus's relationship series right here: Relationship Jealousy: Here's How to Beat It.

Ricardus DominoAbout the Author: Ricardus Domino

Ricardus was one of the most prolific and respected coaches in the men’s dating advice industry. He’s dated some of the planet’s most beautiful women, ranging from a Miss World contestant, to a model for Coca-Cola, to one of “Brazil’s Next Top Models.” His specialty is daytime street stops. He is most remembered for his “Are you single?” opening line. Ricardus is currently retired from the dating advice industry.

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James S's picture

Ricardus - another amazing post. Reading the bit about the subconcious mind and mating strategy was truly an "Aha" moment - "your subconscious quickly calculates what would give you the best chances of replication in your current situation."

It is so obvious when you think about it given that deep down we just animals looking to breed!

When I go through dry spells I find myself pining for and often booty calling old flings and exes. As you say, my mind is just looking for the "best chances of replication in the current situation". I immediately regret it afterwards - but the emotional mind is one powerful force to try and stop!

The mating strategy and mind tricks you describe in the article are obviously very true for men. My question though is - what is the equivalent subconcious mind impulse for women? We've all seen teenage girls go hysterically mad at boy bands, rock stars etc. Men just do not behave the same way. Is a woman's subconcious mating strategy stronger and sometimes even more impulsive than a mans? What are the differences? How can men use that knowledge to our advantage (without having to join a boyband!)?

Looking forward to the new book coming out. JS

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