Love is a complex and mysterious emotion that inspires us to do amazing things. It’s why we forgive our partners when they’re late, work hard on a creative project, or support our kids’ dreams. It’s why we cheer on our favorite team or encourage a friend to keep going when they’re down. It’s also why we sometimes take on burdens that aren’t our own, put others’ needs ahead of our own, and even rob ourselves of sleep when we want to spend time with someone we love.
Throughout history, love has been speculated on and discussed by philosophers, theologians, and poets. In the 20th century, psychology added to the discussion by studying the biological and neurological causes of romantic, platonic, and familial love. More recently, the fields of sociology, anthropology, and neuroscience have taken on the topic as well.
While psychologists agree that there are some core characteristics of love, they disagree somewhat about how to define it. Some say it’s not really an emotion, but rather a physiological drive like hunger or thirst, while others think of it as a combination of primary emotions.
What we do know is that when we’re in love, our brains release hormones that stimulate feelings of bonding and pleasure. Affectionate behaviors such as holding hands, hugging, and having sex elevate levels of oxytocin, a chemical that promotes bonding, lowers blood pressure, and reduces pain. This is why it feels so good to be cuddled and kissed.
People in love tend to feel a yearning for the person they love, which is why they may miss them even when they’re not around. It’s why they want to call or write them, and it’s why they think about them at all times. They often feel a need to prove their love by doing good deeds for the person they’re in love with. They may even find themselves thinking about the person they love when they’re alone, or imagining their future with that person.
When we’re in love, we often think of our partners as our best friends and our closest family members. It’s why they can cause the same feelings of joy and sorrow as our own parents, siblings, and children.
In a healthy relationship, both people in love act like adults and treat each other with respect and equality. This means not yelling or screaming, stonewalling, or playing the victim. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but when it works, the connection and comfort that love brings are unmatched. It’s what keeps us going through all the highs and lows of life.