After our last segment “Can love last ?” I heard from some single listeners who had a slightly different question about love: How do you know if it’s real or just chemistry ? Indeed, many folks in relationships are unsure about what their romantic feelings of attraction mean. Are they based on love or sex ? With the high rate of infidelity and break ups, knowing what feelings are genuine and provide the basis for a lasting relationship is more important than ever. Today, in the second part of our look at love, we are going to talk about two different kinds of feelings that are often called love and show you how to tell the difference between an exciting infatuation and an enduring love.
Why Knowing is so difficult: How Chemistry Affects Falling in Love
Much of the confusion that arises from our initial feelings of love comes from the fact Mother Nature seems to play tricks on us to get us together. Unfortunately the genetic mandate to propagate the species has a very narrow concern and doesn’t really care about whether relationships last. Because of the release of neuro-chemicals, our urge to merge is so powerful that our judgment and ability to objectively assess a good relationship from a bad one is compromised. Passion and sexual desire often cloud our judgment.
— PEA and the initial rush of attraction.
We are all familiar with the rush that comes when we first meet someone to whom we are attracted. The experience is a complex interaction of neuro-chemistry, hormones and even perhaps our olfactory system. Music, literature, movies and plays are filled with examples of the stories of people who fall “madly” in love. Research has shown that a neuro-chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA) is largely responsible for the zing of first infatuation.
While this is exciting, there is a problem: The feelings don’t last. Over time, as with other drugs and alcohol, more and more PEA is needed to sustain the “wow” experience. Unfortunately, once the brain reaches its maximum output capacity, it is impossible to maintain those intense feelings.
This natural fall-off is the source of more confusion and misunderstanding. The loss of zing is often interpreted to mean that the person is no longer “in love” but, in fact, this change of feeling doesn’t mean that love has stopped, as is often thought. The end of the chemical buzz does mean that the person has “sobered up” and come to the point where s/he will discover if s/he is or can be in love with the object of his/her affection.
— Oxytocin, couple bonding and closeness.
Once the buzz of infatuation wears off, another neuro-transmitter takes over. If loving and considerate behavior is experienced, oxytocin is released and creates an ever growing sense of closeness and trust between the loved ones. This experience develops more slowly but, unlike the effects of PEA which decline, the feeling created by oxytocin intensifies over time.
The Signs of Real Love
Although love and attraction are initiated by chemistry, they are built and sustained by loving and caring behavior. Here are three characteristics which reveal the differences between transient attraction and a lasting love which will help you to reality test the nature of your feelings:
1. In addition to personal desire, real love is concerned about the well-being of the other. Real love is considerate. St. Paul said it best, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous … Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful”. (I Cor 13.4-5) By contrast, transient erotic attraction is selfish and only concerned with personal excitement and satisfaction.
2. Real love, at its base, is secure and serene. The rush of initial attraction is nervous, insecure and jealous.
3. Real love is intimate and understands his/her beloved. Initial attraction is excited by the newness but doesn’t truly know the object of his/her affection.
Another way to describe real love is to say that it is mature and calmer. By contrast, transient attraction is not. Transient infatuation has little patience when it is frustrated and can become agitated in the same way a drug addict does when deprived of his/her drug.
If you are dating and wondering about the feelings you’re having, take a moment and think both about how you are treated by your lover and also how you treat him/her. Lasting love is the result of loving and reliable behavior which builds a solid foundation over time. It takes time and experience to reveal a relationship’s maturity and reliability.
Here is the really good news… While some folks worry that they have to chose between a lasting love and an exciting one, that false dichotomy is simply not true. The keys to a lasting love are trust and safety which are also the elements which cause the flames of passion to ignite and keep them burning throughout a life time