Crazy in Love: This is Your Brain on Happy

If there’s one fundamental constant I know in this world, it is this: Beyonce speaks truth.

You know it. Jay Z (sans hyphen) knows it. Blue Ivy knows it.

So once upon a time, when my girl Yonce sang “Got me lookin’ so crazy right now/Your love’s got me lookin’ so crazy right now,” she was speaking truth.


“Crazy” is commonly used in conjunction with that sought-after emotion mankind has experienced and fought over for centuries: Love.

Love makes you crazy. You can be crazy in love. Crazy love and the occasional restraining order. We’ve all been there.

What better day than today, as we honor St. Valentine (a Roman priest who was beheaded for performing the sacrament of marriage for young people against the Church’s wishes – where’s the Hallmark card for that?), to explore what exactly happens to us when we fall in love?

While love (see also: infatuation, obsession, stalkerishness) can very much be a noble and beautiful thing between two people, it does have a way of inciting negative consequences. Love has led to fallen empires, ruined relationships and marriages, many Facebook relationship status changes, and thousands of consumed calories via eating your feelings (I’m looking at you, french fries).

Why do people continue to risk so much for love?

The way we’re wired has a lot to do with it. The chemicals in our brains entice us to seek a partner. Ultimately, to procreate and further the species. You know, all that romantic stuff.

Scientists have estimated that it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide whether or not you are attracted to someone. And don’t count on a cheesy pick-up line to enhance the situation, because words have little to do with that decision-making process. What you say counts for about 7% of that decision. 55% is attributed to body language, and almost 40% is dependent on the speed and tone of your voice. So if you do go with that pick-up line, you better make sure you sound really good when you deliver it.

Helen Fisher, professor at Rutgers University, is an anthropologist who has been studying romantic interpersonal attraction for over thirty years. In her book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Fisher describes three stages of love.


Stage 1: Lust

During this first stage of love, both men and women are driven by the sexual hormones testosterone and estrogen.

Stage 2: Attraction

This is the stage of love when you’re infatuated and can’t get enough of each other. This is usually when your friends start noticing that you never text back or feel like going out with them because you’re always with “him” or “her.” Three neurotransmitters are often associated with attraction: adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.

Adrenaline: When you are in the throes of developing significant feelings for someone, your stress response is activated, which increases your levels of adrenaline and cortisol. This is why your heart beats a little quicker and your mouth gets dry when you see your pookie-bear-honey-bunny-snickerdoodle (I’m sorry).

Dopamine: Studies show that people in love exhibit higher dopamine levels. Dopamine is associated with euphoria, desire, and addiction. Tests show that love has a similar effect on dopamine as does cocaine.

Serotonin: When dopamine increases, serotonin levels tend to decrease. This can result in a decreased appetite and need for sleep, and more focused attention on your loved one. Scientists find similarities in decreased levels of serotonin between people who are in love and individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which might explain why you can feel anxious when in love.

Stage 3: Attachment

This stage facilitates a permanent bond between two people, keeping them together ideally to have and raise children. Oxytocin and vasopressin are the two hormones believed to play a major role in attachment.

Oxytocin: Dubbed the cuddle hormone, the love hormone, the trust-me drug, oxytocin is a dominant hormone that is released during powerful interactive moments such as childbirth and orgasm. This hormone is released and can strengthen the social bond between two people. Romantic gestures such as cuddling, kissing, and hugging are also believed to surge levels of oxytocin, facilitating attachment. Scientists theorize that the more sex a couple has, the stronger their attachment. I guess mother nature didn’t foresee the end times, aka PlentyOfFish.

Vasopressin: If oxytocin is the cuddle hormone, then vasopressin is the monogamy hormone. The significance of this chemical – which is also released during sex – was discovered when researchers studied the prairie vole. Only three percent of mammals are considered monogamous (similar to human males: too soon?). The prairie vole is one of these mammals.

Scientists evaluated male prairie voles before and after mating and determined that mating for life may be associated with vasopressin. After mating, the male vole remains partnered to the female and defends her fiercely from poaching males. The more mating the voles engaged in, the more attached they became. When researchers blocked vasopressin’s effects, the males became disengaged and had no interest in protecting the females. #harsh

Fisher also has a formula designed around different personality types and how to find love based on particular characteristics. You’re going to have to Google that to find out.

For now, if you’re in a loving relationship, take a moment to reflect on how so many intricate components have to work perfectly in harmony to produce such an intense emotion that we have labeled love. However you choose to define love, appreciate the chemistry.

If you’re not in a loving relationship, there’s always a vole waiting for you.

I mean, look how cute. I’d snuggle with one.


Leave a Reply

About HealthShire

HealthShire is an online mental health resource. We help patients find local mental health services and aid mental health professionals with marketing, mental health news and business support.

Are you a mental health provider? Find out how you can publish your articles and reach a new audience on Submit an Article Now Not a professional? You can still submit your story.