The Chemistry of Love

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The Chemistry of Love
What's behind love's highs and lows? Chemistry, the author finds.

Helen Fisher, PhD, an anthropologist and Rutgers University professor, has made the chemistry of love her life's work. According to her, I'm right on schedule. She says the first stage of romance—the one with all the kissing and love letters—can last anywhere from one to three years. Would I have appreciated our giddy phase just a little bit more if I had known that it was going to end?

While Paul and I are phasing out of the excitement of new love, Sona Mody, 26, and Carl Bartsch, 29, are just getting started. The couple met at the birthday party of a mutual friend, and have been inseparable ever since. As a medical student, Mody doesn't have much free time, and wasn't looking for a relationship. But her connection with Bartsch was too strong to ignore. After three months together, Mody says, "I feel overwhelmed by how much I care about him. We said we loved each other a month in." Though Mody has had serious relationships in the past, she says this one is different. "It's a new feeling, a satisfying feeling. You go to bed content every night. It’s really inspiring."

Falling for each other, as it turns out, is just as much physical as it is emotional. New lovers "get a real surge of dopamine in their brains—in the same area that feels the effects of cocaine and that makes us reach for chocolate," Fisher says. They may also experience a rush of norepinephrine, the chemical that causes the heart to pound and the palms to sweat, she adds. "Infatuation is a state created by nature to get us to meet, mate, and procreate," says Pat Love, a relationship therapist and author of The Truth About Love: the Highs, the Lows and How You Can Make it Last Forever. "It's an altered state. Your brain wants you to pay attention so it gives you pleasure. You’re just flooded with dopamine."

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