What Does it Mean to Love?

Love is often expressed through physical affection.Love is often expressed through physical affection.

"What is love?" was the top "What is?" search phrase of 2012, revealed Google. It's a question that scientists, psychologists, philosophers, and people in love — or looking for love — the world over have debated since the beginning of time. Everybody's experience of love is different, which makes the question a tricky one to answer. However, considering scientific, anthropological and psychological viewpoints may help to shed some light on what love means.

A Powerful Neurological Response

When you love someone, your brain releases a collection of powerful chemicals, including pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. These chemicals come into play regardless of the type of love, be it the love between parent and child or romantic love. Oxytocin is released during child birth and helps establish the strong, loving bond between mother and child, according to a 2011 study headed by obstetrician Navneet Magon of the Air Force Hospital in Kanpur, India, and published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. When a couple falls in love, their levels of oxytocin are higher than normal. New lovers tend to have double the amount of oxytocin typically found in pregnant women, as shown by a 2012 Bar-Ilan University study lead by Ruth Feldman and published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

Love Is Blind

Certain parts of the brain effectively shut down during the initial stages of romantic, including those that govern negative emotions, planning and critical social assessment, asserts anthropologist Helen Fisher in the article "What Exactly is Love?" for The Independent. For around 18 months to two years, the loved one's faults are ignored, making a long-term attachment more likely to form. Dr. Fisher believes that this attachment evolved to facilitate people tolerating one another at least long enough to rear a child together, but adds that partners in long-term relationships can feel surges of romantic love throughout the rest of their relationship.

Love Is a Commitment

When it comes to romantic love, scientists differentiate between the early stage of a relationship — lust — and the later stages of attachment and bonding. From an evolutionary viewpoint, love may be viewed as a survival strategy, which the human race has developed to protect long-term relationships, support children and encourage feelings of personal security that stem from love from family and friends, as well as romantic partners.

Love Is Out of Your Control

Romantic love isn't something that can be planned -- an arrangement to be negotiated the way a physically intimate relationship or a marriage may be. You can be open to falling in love and take steps to put yourself in the best position to encourage love to come your way, but you cannot decide how, when and where love expresses itself, says Deborah Taj Anapol, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, in the article "Love Without Limits" for Psychology Today.

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About the Author

C. Giles is a writer with an MA (Hons) in English literature and a post-graduate diploma in law. Her work has been published in several publications, both online and offline, including "The Herald," "The Big Issue" and "Daily Record."

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