The Science Behind Love

A classic love story

It’s another, typical day. The wind is stale, the sun is absent, the grass is dead (#mood). You’re thinking about the assignment you have to print shortly, and you’re only slightly worried that you might not have enough dimes in your pocket to load your student card. A typical situation, but you are expecting nothing less.

The bus stops a few feet away. You hop towards it and climb on board. You get dropped off at school, and you proceed to walk down the winding path to Leddy Library. You enter into the warmth of the library, close your eyes, and relax from the chill outside, not yet realizing that you are about to enter a confusing state called ‘love’. When you look up, your eyes meet a set of crystal blue orbs across the room. The world jolts to a stop -- your heart hiccups and your face flushes red instantaneously.

The Culprits:

  • Norepinephrine: When your face is flushed, this is the flight or fright response in action shunting blood to your brain when you’re instantaneously stressed!

  • Norepinephrine: causes your heart rate to shoot up!

  • Dopamine: the chemical that gives you a feeling of euphoria and happiness.

All the world's swear words rush into your head at once as the impending doom that is your outfit flashes before your eyes -- your bed head, the pizza stain on your sleeve. Wait,  absolutely not! I love myself and this is me. And my other half should know what he’s getting himself into. Besides, I’m not scared!

    The mysterious figure smiles at you and it looks like he’s about to approach you!

RED ALERT! Your eyes dilate, focusing on his smooth gait, and you begin to sweat, your heart speeds up, and you feel the blood draining away from your face! Where’s the bathroom?! You just can’t help yourself as you rush off from the stage lights that are his eyes. Once in the safety of the bathroom, you sheepishly smile at yourself in the mirror, knowing exactly what in the world has gotten over you, but refusing to admit it. I’m too old for this. Crushes only happen to kids.

The Culprits:

  • Epinephrine and Norepinephrine: these two catecholamines are released in the presence of fear or anxiety! The release of these chemicals prepare for one to ‘fight’ or to ‘fly’. Your brain is a smart little whip and knows exactly what processes to start to maintain your function if you choose to fight or flee the scene. You sweat to regulate temperature, your blood gets directed away peripherally to supply your larger organs (mainly the lungs and heart), and your pupils dilate, allowing you to see the ‘danger’.

You get to class and sit down beside your best friend, bursting to tell her your mortifyingly exhilarating experience a few minutes ago, but before even a word can come out, the professor calls for everyone to hand in their assignments. For the second time in a row, your world jolts to a stop!

Shooooot! I completely forgot. How could I forget!!!

The Culprit:

  • The Fight or Flight response: when one is in the fight or flight response, the catecholamines released redirect blood supply to organs of greater need. Meaning the brain gets less oxygen. Furthermore, certain functions of the brain temporarily relax to allow the body to focus on the  much needed task of staying alive! Logic and reasoning are such a function.

You sneak out of the lecture hall, race to the library, coins in one hand, student card in the other. You’re on a mission as you insert your card and slide in the coins -- but you’re moving too fast, and of course a coin slips between your fingers. For a fleeting second you think to let it drift away -- but, of course, every penny counts! Except when you go to retrieve it, all you see are a pair of whitewashed jeans and shiny penny loafers. How fancy!

Eeee! Of course you remember those jeans. You take a deep breath and stand up.  Instantly blood flushes your face red. Great! It proceeds to turn your skin even more red.  You grit your teeth and try to smile, but you can’t even look him directly in the eyes as you take the dime from his hands.

Turn around, you order yourself. Thankfully your body does not fight you, and you’re able to print your assignment with your shaky fingers. You relish in that warm, cozy feeling that envelops you all the way back to class.

The Culprits:

  • Oxytocin: this is a natural hormone in your body that is often called the ‘love drug’. It is released often in the presence of a loved one or with skin to skin contact (think newborn babies on their mothers bare chests). Not only does Oxytocin increase the love you feel towards that significant person, it fills you up with a comfortable fuzzy feeling that you wish you could hold on to forever.
  • Dopamine: In excess, it causes your hands to shake when you’re anxious and/or excited!     

Class ends, and you and your bestie sprint to the CAW for gossip-sprinkled pizza.

“Oh he had the most gorgeous eyes!” you boast. “Like magical ocean marbles! And his skin was literal silk. He had a tiny, miniscule mole right above his lip, and one at the tip of his ear, and the tiniest little freckle right by his eyebrow!!! OhEmGeeee!”

Your friend raises her eyebrow. “You got all that from one glance?”

“Two!” you correct her, exasperated. “I have a very selective photographic memory.”

“How tragic,” she jokes.

When the pizza arrives, you jump right in. The world stops again, but it stops in a different way. There’s a whole other beauty behind the magic of food. And of course you’re thinking about this when suddenly your eyes do this intense, zooming effect, and they hone in on the guy from this morning.

The pizza drops.

Again, everything stops.

There he is. He’s eating yogurt! What a healthy snack! And with his left hand too! Cool, so he’s left handed. And he’s eating with a metal spoon, so that means he packs his own lunch. How responsible! And--

Crap! “He saw me, we gotta go!”

“Who, your guy?”

Oooh, why do I love the sound of that! “Yes, my guy. He just saw me.”

Your friend turns around as obvious as ever, and you slouch down, mortified.

“Who is that!” she spins around and grins at you, eyes wide under her suggestive eyebrow dance.

Your heart flutters in pride, and you can not believe that you have just taken her comment as a compliment. But the affirmation is special, and now you’re even more engrossed.

You seek him out and stare at his hair for a few seconds, until he looks up and notices you -- then you look away casually, heart bouncing. Your eyes scroll back to his side of the room as you think to examine the decor in that corner -- and now he’s scratching his neck. You observe, until his eyes glance up at you -- and you’re back at critically determining whether the university should have chosen orange coloured chairs instead for the CAW.

The most amazing thing happens when you decide to take one last peek at him as you and your best friend get up to leave. As you conspicuously stand up, tilt your head in his direction and lift your eyes - BAM! They gaze directly into his winter snow globes!

The Culprit:

  • Gaze Direction: this is an evolutionary trick that allowed us (and animals) to pinpoint the dangers that are weighing in on us, gaze direction is a complicated blur of brain activity that can seek out the eyes of someone. Paired up with peripheral vision, anxiety and, in this case, love, people are great at predicting if someone is staring at them!  

“For like 10 seconds! I can’t believe he was staring at me! I can’t believe we stared each other down. He won, by the way!”

Your friend smiles at you and holds back a grin. “I hate to say this,” she says, “but it appears that you have . . . fallen in love!”

What! “Yeah, I totally saw that coming,” you admit.

“Step one, fall in love,” she sings.

“Step two, make a move!” you finish.

This is February, after all. The month of love. You think of the little chubby flying baby with his arrow. Maybe he’s to blame, shooting you right when you least expected it.

“Oh my god!” Now she’s the one hyperventilating. “He is literally walking over here. What’re you gonna say!”

Ice rushes through your body, and you’re frozen as you try to formulate a plan! Adrenaline rushes through you, panic bubbles up like ecstasy -- you feel your flight response kick in -- and then a hand lands delicately on your shoulder. The world stops spinning and sighs to a stop. Slowly, you spin around.

This is how love stories begin and memories are made. With a moment. And this is yours.