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How Love Works

By: Lee Ann Obringer & Michelle Konstantinovsky  | 

What Is Love?

love
If you've ever been in love, you've probably at least considered classifying the feeling as an addiction. And guess what? You were right. The same chemical process is taking place. Andia/Getty Images

Romantic love both exhilarates and motivates us. It is also critical to the continuation of our species. Without the attachment of romantic love, we would live in an entirely different society that more closely resembled some (but not all) of those social circles in the animal world. The chemicals that race around in our brain when we're in love serve several purposes, and the primary goal is the continuation of our species. Those chemicals are what make us want to form families and have children. Once we have children, those chemicals change to encourage us to stay together to raise those children. So in a sense, love really is a chemical addiction that occurs to keep us reproducing.

There's solid science to support the chemistry of love in all its forms. According to a 1997 paper entitled "Lust, Attraction, and Attachment in Mammalian Reproduction," by Dr. Helen Fisher from Rutgers University, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction and attachment. And depending on the type of love you're talking about, different bodily chemicals are involved.

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Lust, driven by the desire for sexual gratification, is primarily motivated by the production of sex hormones testosterone and estrogen thanks to the brain's hypothalamus. Attraction, although closely related, is something different; it hinges on the brain's reward system and is the reason why new relationships feel so insanely intoxicating. This form of love relies on other hypothalamus products: dopamine and norepinephrine, which induce giddy, energetic, euphoria. And attachment, the main factor in long-term relationships, is largely rooted in the hormones oxytocin (aka "the cuddle hormone") and vasopressin, which promote bonding.

­Regardless of the country or culture, romantic love plays an important part. While cultural differences in how that love is displayed vary greatly, the fact that romantic love exists is undisputed.

But let's get down to the nitty gritty. What is it that makes us fall in love with someone in the first place?