Weak at the Knees: The Chemistry of Love

couple kissing under blankets

Falling in love has been associated to many poetic notions, yet aside from the sonnets and song ballads, there is a bit of science involved in the felt emotions. For instance, you’ve heard about the feeling of going ‘weak in the knees,’ yet do our muscles actually go numb or experience an atrophy due to deep feelings? Below, discover scientific excuses for the way we believe we naturally feel.

Addicted to Love

Gambling is an addiction. Due to the brain’s release of dopamine, a ‘feel good’ chemical, gamblers get a rush whenever money is on the line and stakes are high. It’s the reason that, despite the odds being incredibly stacked against them, regular gamblers continue to invest in the enterprise. The forced release of dopamine is also responsible for a number of drug addictions; the ‘high’ is due to an surplus of dopamine in the system, so addicts constantly crave to return to that state of well being.

The release of dopamine can also be present in the early stages of courtship and throughout a long-term romance. The urge to return to the state of zen is a goal oriented behavior, and the reason some can liken the object of affection as an addiction.

The Cuddling Chemical

Have you chosen to stay at home with a movie and love mate instead of going out to a party or mainstream event? You’re not alone, and it may be due to chemicals rather than subjective decisions. Oxytocin promotes intimacy; as one professor explains, “It’s what hugging, kissing, and cuddling are made of.” Oxytocin levels rise during a mother’s milk production, necessary to nourish and bond with newborn babies.

If you feel like you can’t get enough of cuddling with your loved one, it’s likely that an influx of oxytocin is responsible.

Sex Hormone

Testosterone is commonly labeled a male hormone, yet it exists in both sexes and responsible for feeling ‘hot’ for another. Actually, men are known to have traces of testosterone in their saliva, and since lovers transfer saliva when kissing, it could be the reason kissing usually leads to more intimate behavior.

The exchange of testosterone can increase the sexual desire in the female partner too.

Stuttered Speech and Pitter Patter of Heart

Have you gotten nervous around a potential love interest? Do you feel like you’re ‘off your game,’ and a bit tongue tied? Norepineprine increases one’s heart rate and could be the reason people feel flustered around crushes. It’s also responsible for the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, and a loss for words.

If your love makes your heart go pitter patter, norepineprine is preying on your nervous system.

Opposites Attract

A set of genes, MHC, control cell-surface molecules, released through sweat, saliva, and odor. Those in close relation have similar MHC structures, and we can ‘pick up’ on MHC levels in other people. It’s believed the more you differ in MHC, the stronger a sexual attraction can become.

It’s believed that opposites attract; Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet feature young lovers from separate families and Billy Joel’s song, Uptown Girl, is about a love interest from a different social stratum. Perhaps there’s more to attraction aside from crossed stars and geographic distance.

Smells Like Love

It’s likely you’ve heard of love at first sight but the sense of smell is also involved. Insects use smell for a number of behaviors, and it’s theorized that humans do the same. Girlfriends often maintain a bottle of their boyfriend’s cologne and men have been known to well remember the scent worn by their lovers. So, though you’ve only been on one date via Meet Bae, the smell of your date can linger in your memory for a long time.

Animalistic Tendencies

The notion of ‘animal attraction’ connotes a primal urge of lust between two people. However, such lustful sentiments are shared by animals. The prairie vole, a small, furry animal, engages in a lot more sex than needed for reproduction, which is also necessary for long-term bonding. Doctors believe oxytocin, discussed above, is responsible as well as another chemical, vasopressin.

It’s Getting Hot in Here

As discussed, a love interest can affect a nervous system, making one stutter and causing sweaty palms, yet pheromones are also found in sweat, and may be responsible for specific attractions. For example, rats detect pheromones via the urine of potential mates, and researchers found that humans also respond to pheromones. Rats avoid partners with similar immune systems, so offspring has a better chance of survival.

So, if you have an unexplained attraction to another, it may be pheromones helping you select a well suited partner for eventual mating.