The feeling of love is pretty universal. It’s why the topic of romantic relationships features in so many songs, novels, movies and poems throughout history. It’s also why it’s one of the most common subjects for artworks, especially paintings. But what exactly is it that makes our hearts go pitter-patter? Scientists, sociologists and just about every other field of study have tried to find out what it is that causes us to fall in love. They’ve researched attraction and likability factors, but the truth is that no one can really explain what it is about a person that makes your heart flutter.
In fact, the word “love” has so many different connotations and is such a complex emotion that it may vary from person to person or even from culture to culture. It can be a feeling of affection, care and loyalty, commitment and devotion, or it could be a desire for companionship. It can be the love of a child, a friend, a partner or even an animal. Love can be platonic or sexual, and it can feel like an all-encompassing sensation of elation or despair. It can make you forgive a partner for being late or feel devastated when your team loses. It can be the reason you put on a brave face at work or spend all your spare time working on your creative project. It can be what drives you to take care of your health or the wellbeing of others, the reason you volunteer for a charity or support your friends when they need it. It’s the thing that keeps you going when all else seems lost and it is what makes you want to fight for the people you love.
Whether it’s the love of a spouse or best friend, we all have a unique relationship with love. Generally speaking, however, it’s a powerful feeling that makes you want to spend more time with the person you love. It’s a desire to be close and intimate, to feel safe and protected, and it is often accompanied by feelings of affection and adoration.
For some, love is a strong sense of companionship and mutual dependency; for others, it’s a feeling of passion and excitement. While most psychologists agree that there are only a few primary types of love, they disagree about what these are and how to consistently define them.
Some experts argue that love is biological, based on a mammalian instinct for bonding with other people. This view is supported by studies showing that when we’re in a state of romance, brain regions involved in reward and pleasure are activated, the same areas that are activated when you take cocaine. For other researchers, however, love is a social and cultural phenomenon. It can be influenced by hormones, such as oxytocin and neurotrophins, as well as by other social cues. It’s a process that requires nurturing and is often complicated and messy, but it can be worth the effort in the end.