Thanks to 80s day at my son’s school yesterday, I’ve been going around singing music from that spandexed epoch, including “What is Love,” by the inimitable Howard Jones. It got me thinking: What is love? I mean, we all know it when we feel it, but what makes us feel that way?
Furthermore, I wondered, how long does it take people to fall in love? Science tells us the answer is a fifth of a second. Yes, that’s right. Research by Professor Stephanie Ortigue at Syracuse University has found that our bodies unleash upon us the potent chemical cocktail that results in the love in less than one second, for the right partner. Considering that we blink about once every five seconds, this means we literally are able to fall in love faster than the blink of an eye.
Ortigue’s team found that 12 areas of the brain work together to create “love,” reacting to chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and adrenaline. That we feel so much of this in our “hearts” could have something to do with the fact that we actually have a “second brain” in our gut. (Don’t believe it? Click to read about this amazing discovery!)
Cultural norms tend to dictate how and when we decide to say those three little words, however. Research on love shows that cultural beliefs about the emotion determine how, when and why humans express it.
One study shows that Russians and Lithuanians, who overall think love is temporary and inconsequential, perceive themselves to be falling in and out of love much more quickly that their American counterparts. The Eastern Europeans rarely identified love as a source of “comfort” or “friendship,” compared to the Americans, who almost always saw love that way.
I never believed in love at first sight, until I met the cowboy. As I recount in breathless detail in my forthcoming memoir about our relationship, I’d simply never seen a man as beautiful as he, and when he smiled at me I just knew. I was in love, deeply. Not having science to back up my foolishness then (as I do now) I held off on saying it out loud, until I could not longer contain it and blabbed the truth about a month later, thanks to a couple of glasses of Shiraz. It took this most stoic and independent of men another two or three months to return my volley, but I could have sworn I saw love in his eyes long before that…