This is an adapted copy of a speech I gave the other night at my Toastmasters club on the three stages of love.
How do you measure love?
It’s a tough question, isn’t it? Love is not something you can see, something you can pin down.
Love and science aren’t two things we see in the same context very often.
Science, after all, is the process of quantifying, measuring and witnessing things. Explaining things.
And there is so much to love that is unexplainable.
But that doesn’t stop scientists from trying. And they’ve figured out a way to measure love.
These three stages have been measured, and proven with the use of a brain scanning machine by the wonderful Dr. Helen Fisher.
For any romantics out there, I’m sorry if this bursts your love bubble… but it turns out love is just a chemical arrangement in our brain…. One that we can even trick if we want to.
Each of these three stages is governed by different hormones that have different effects on our system. In a brain-scanning machine, these hormone surges are very apparent, and each stage looks completely different.
Stage One: Lust
Stage one is lust. This is present before you’ve even found a partner to focus your energies on. The Lust stage is driven by testosterone.
Testosterone is a powerful hormone (just ask Lance Armstrong). It increases libido and energy levels in both men and women. You are delivered large quantities of it when you’re in the lust phase of love.
You know how single people always seem to have such great energy to get off the couch and go out night after night? We have testosterone to thank for that. Biologically, it works to help you find a suitable mate. At this stage of love, it’s a scattergun approach. We’re not thinking about any one person in particular.
But once you have found someone that piques your interest, you may well find yourself in stage two before long…
Stage Two: Attraction
Stage two is attraction. This is the kind of love that they write about in poems and love songs. The kind of love that started wars in Ancient Troy and that caused Romeo and Juliet to make some questionable decisions.
Attraction is the love everyone wants to have. It’s that blissful time when you fall head over heels for just one particular person.
All of a sudden they are your everything. You think about them all the time. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. You want to be around them, always. You are quite simply, smitten. It’s a thousand butterflies in your tummy and it’s lovely.
But remember – it’s all just chemicals. There are three particular neuro-transmitters at play in your brain during the Attraction phase, a cocktail of fantastic hormones.
The interesting thing about this phase of love is that it’s not built to last. It takes far too many of our body’s resources and to be sustainable over a long period of time.
This attraction phase slowly melts away after 6-18 months. If we stayed in stage two forever, we’d never get anything done!
And relationships that have the right stuff, they move onto the third phase of love: Attachment.
Stage 3 – Attachment
The third phase of love is a more relaxed and gentle phase. Only the most sturdy of relationships make it here and these relationships form the foundations for having children and raising a family.
There are two main chemicals that come into play during the attachment phase:
In one interesting study, scientists blocked vasopressin in the brains of pair-bonded prairie voles. As soon as they’d blocked the vasopressin, the prairie voles lost all interest in caring for or protecting their partner from new suitors.
So there you have it – the three clear phases of love. Lust, Attraction and Attachment. Each very measurable in a brain scanning machine and each with their own set of hormones to govern our behaviour.
Trick your brain.
I did, however promise to tell you how you can trick yourself into loving someone using these hormones. Research suggests it’s as simple as this:
1. Find a complete stranger
2. Reveal to each other intimate details about your lives for approximately half an hour
3. Then, stare deeply into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes without talking
When put through this simple test, many of the “couples” that had been thrown together in a lab reported very high levels of attraction and one couple even got married after the experiment was over.
Now all this might sound like depressing news, but don’t despair. As someone pointed out to me the other day, while love might just all be chemicals in our brain, there is also now conclusive evidence that love does exist! And further, we’re still not entirely sure why we fall for the people we do… there’s a long way to go to explaining all about love.
For now, just relax and let those hormones do their work.