Love is the desire of two human beings to be together in good and loving relationships. Love encompasses a wide range of positive and strong psychological and emotional states, from the deepest religious virtue to the most mundane joy, the greatest happiness, or even the clearest future. It is not simply the recognition of our differences that makes us love someone. Love involves a complex interplay between physical needs, the need for safety and security, and the need to care for others. The love we have for our spouse, children, parents, friends, siblings, and even a pet, is the love that sustains us in good times and teaches us how to love others.
Love expresses the depths of human relationships in terms of intense feelings of compassion and devotion, often including sexual attractions and desires. Love can encompass a variety of shared experiences, including closeness or intimacy, friendship, parental relationships, work-related difficulties or challenges, and even professional or educational pursuits. In all these areas, love demonstrates a desire on the part of the one who is loved to be understood, valued, supported, and invited to participate in his or her life. The love we have for each other often motivates us to make the best of every opportunity and to accept whatever good comes our way.
The experience of love requires an intense physical sensation: the “buzz” or tingling sensation of falling in love. It is this very physical contact with another person that can help produce feelings of intimacy and create the opportunity for romance. Physical intimacy can take many forms, including walking, kissing, hugging, and holding hands, or it can be a mutual sharing of time, space, and resources, such as watching movies, going for a walk or going to the beach. Achieving intimacy with another person is possible when the desired outcome is achieved in a safe and loving environment. This state of deep personal intimacy fosters feelings of deep personal satisfaction, which often results in the ultimate expression of romantic love: falling in love.
Individuals who are in love exhibit much greater activity in several brain regions than those who are not in romantic relationships. Our brains are wired to respond to our environment in ways that increase our desire to experience pleasure, novelty, and new experiences. Our default mental operating system responds to positive events with a burst of dopamine, which is associated with increased feelings of gratification and enthusiasm. This kind of brain activity is positively associated with “honeymooning” (falling in love) or being involved in committed, long-term relationships. People who are in love show greater activity in the pleasure brain regions than people who are not in love.
Another way that our brains work is by being aware of the competition between others. People who are competitive tend to display an “immediate need for reassurance” as they feel threatened by competition from others. By feeling threatened by competition, people who are in love style are likely to demonstrate more intense feelings of affection for their partner. When there is no competition, love cannot develop.
Finally, people who are in love tend to be very attentive to their own well-being and health. The quality of our attention to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is associated with our level of attachment and commitment to another person, as well as to a meaningful relationship. Greater attention to our physical well-being allows us to be more satisfied with our intimate relationships and to experience stronger feelings of affection and other positive emotions.