social sciences

Romantic love: being in love

Romantic love has been the basis for many of the things happening around us. It has made its way into a myriad of aspects of our lives, including entertainment, consumption, and societal expectations. In a society where monogamy is favored, the idea of having to meet someone and settle down is often perpetuated by family members, friends, and coworkers. While many people want to know who others fancy and like, it’s still a bit of an embarrassing topic to talk about. Or when someone is head over heals, they might not be able to shut up about the person in question.
But what causes this strange mix of emotions and feelings that can push us to do weird things. It has even been suggested that love affects our brains like a drug.

Relationship with parents affects romantic love
Your childhood can affect the way you experience romantic love later in life. To study this, researchers looked at three attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious/ambivalent. These are ways in which children are attached to their parents. The secure attachment style is seen as a positive predictor of future relationships. This means establishing physical contact with the infant and responding to their cries. Children who are attached in an anxious/ambivalent sense tend to protest. And the avoidant attachment style is characterized by detachment.
In terms of romantic love, this means that securely attached people experience trust and other positive emotions than the other two attachment styles.
Those who fall in the avoidant category tend to doubt the existence of romantic love and wonder if happily ever after with a partner exists.
While anxious/ambivalent types do fall in love frequently, they do have trouble finding true love. They do report experiencing more loneliness than the other types.¹

Romantic love can be healthy
Having close ties with a person can have a positive effect on your health. It can help life satisfaction and it might decrease the risk of depression. However, it should also be noted that those who never married are better off than those who are divorced. Being divorced or broken up increases your risk of depression.²

Underlying mechanisms of romantic love
Most of the research seems to point out that there is no specific area in the brain responsible for all the emotions and feelings we experience when we’re in love. It is rather a set of systems involved in romantic love. Supposedly, neurohormones affect whether we might be monogamous or not. An experiment carried out on rodents showed that Vasopressin stimulated monogamy in males, whereas oxytocin had this effect on females.
From an evolutionary perspective, the dopamine (makes us feel happy/satisfied) and oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) rushes we get in the early stages of romantic love helps us imprint positive characteristics of a partner.
CRH (hormone) plays a role in feeling down when we separate from our love. This helps us stick to our partner.
Pheromones affect our mate choice. Possibly to find mates with a dissimilar immune system, as two different immune systems would create an advantage for the offspring. Two non-identical systems will be able to provide genes that can ward off more types of diseases, compared to two similar systems.²

Love can make us go crazy?
Researchers have found similarities between those who suffer from Obssessive Complusive Disorder (OCD) and those in the early stages of romantic love. OCD is a mental disorder which causes people to repeatedly engage in obsessive disorders. Such as constantly checking whether they locked their front door, or constantly having to switch on the lights in everyone room they enter. Since those in love tend to obsess over a person, researchers decided to look for a link between the two, and they found on on an underlying biological level. They found the same low density in serotonin (5-HT) transporters in both those in love and those suffering from OCD.³

1. Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of personality and social psychology52(3), 511.
2. Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of neurophysiology, 94(1), 327-337.
3. Marazziti, D., Akiskal, H. S., Rossi, A., & Cassano, G. B. (1999). Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love. Psychological medicine, 29(03), 741-745.