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The Chemistry of “Love”

March 25, 2010

Being infatuated with somebody is one of the most amazing feelings a human can experience. The object of your affection passes by and your heart starts racing, your palms start sweating and you’ve lost all ability to speak comprehensibly.
I haven’t been “infatuated” in quite a while. I was in a serious relationship my entire 5th form year of high school, which ended at the end of the first term of lower six. I immediately got into another pseudo-relationship, a fast, mutual romance that ended when we both came to our senses about a month later.
And now I was ready to be single. Actually, I thought it was necessary. I needed to be single at this point in my life, for more reasons than one. I was emotionally unstable, I had exams coming up blah blah.
So I was single for about a month when it happened.
The day before my birthday, I went to a swim meet, which was where I saw my crush. I’d seen him around before, said hello occasionally, but never considered that he existed like that.
And then I just saw him staring at me. Full on staring.
And that’s when it happened…
I started freaking out. Why is he staring? Why do I care? Why is my heart beating so quickly?
If I’m supposed to be in control of my body, why are my hands shaking even though I didn’t tell them to? And gross, my palms are all sweaty and clammy.

A classmate of mine is doing her Communication Studies Internal Assessment on the more scientific aspect of love. I thought it would be interesting, so I did a little research of my own.

In the sixties, psychologist Dorothy Tennov surveyed 400 people about what it’s like to be infatuated. Many of her respondents talked about fear, shaking, flushing, weakness, and stammering. Indeed, when human beings are attracted to one another, it sets off quite a chain reaction in the body and brain. But there’s a perfectly logical explanation to those intense feelings.

It’s all because of phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring trace ammine in the brain. PEA is a natural amphetamine, like the drug, and can cause similar stimulation. So I guess Ke$ha was right then. The feeling of it is actually quite addictive. You can also get a of PEA from adrenalin-inducing activities like skydiving, or by eating chocolate. One of the substances released by PEA is the neurochemical dopamine. A recent study done at Emory University shows that female rodents choose their mates in response to dopamine being released in their brains. When injected with dopamine in a male rodent’s presence, the female will pick him out of a crowd later. Chocolate also elevates levels of dopamine in the brain.
Some scientists believe that after a certain period, from 18 months to 4 years, one’s body gets used to these love stimulants. After building up a tolerance to uppers like PEA, passionate romances can cool into what Helen Fisher, author of “Anatomy of Love” calls “attachment.” In this phase of the relationship, your brain produces endorphins, brain opiates more like morphine than speed. “Unlike PEA,” says Fisher, “they calm the mind, kill pain, and reduce anxiety.” So what some people call “separation anxiety” might actually be a form of drug withdrawal.

My objective with swim meet guy was that I would have a hopeless crush on him. He wasn’t supposed to reciprocate. I wanted to be infatuated. Wanted to swoon on the inside when I saw him walk past me. Wanted to giggle to my girlfriends about him. And even though he’s my boyfriend now, I’m still ridiculously infatuated with him.


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