What is love?


love
noun an intense feeling of deep affection.
according to Oxford.  What a fucking plain definition.

How did we end up, evolutionarily speaking, here?  How did we end up with these complex thoughts and feelings, and how far have they drifted from the biological necessities or why they developed in the first place?  Why do we feel love?  Is the feeling of love real?  I wonder how much of it is my being a slave to biology and how much is truly an intangible thing I can't explain.

I want to start at the beginning:
Let's discuss facial expressions since that's where emotions or being emotive finds its roots.  It's now widely accepted that facial expressions had initially served as a non-communicative physiological function.  For example, when passing by a garbage truck.  Your eyes squint, your nose scrunches up, your lips purse.  You are displaying disgust. A reaction that likely developed in order to limit the amount of the nasty smell you intake, and potentially hazardous particulates floating around in the air.  As time went on these became more distinguished, and eventually developed to fulfill a socially communicative adaptive function.  In studies, researchers have shown that even the congenitally blind show the same expressions linking to emotions of shame and pride in situations that correlated to social status.  These expressions have clear similarities to displays of submission and dominance by other primates. Humans viewing expression of pride automatically assign a higher social status to such individuals than to those expressing other emotions.  I believe that displays of basic emotions were, and to a certain degree still are, pure physiological reactions.

Neuroscience dictates emotions are more or less the complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When we are on a date for the first time, our hearts race, our mouths become dry, our palms sweat(mine more than others). This reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously.  A physical response.  Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling; nervous.  The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes the signals in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called somatosensory centers. For the most part feelings occur when the maps are read and it becomes apparent that the physical changes have been recorded.  

The chair of the University of Iowa contradicts himself by saying "...not all feelings result from the body's reaction to external stimuli. Sometimes changes are purely simulated in the brain maps. For example, when we feel sympathy, we re-create that person's pain to a certain degree internally."  I would still count this as an external stimuli, you are observing this person in pain and reacting to it by empathizing and conceptualizing their suffering to the best of your abilities.  Also, the mapping of our physical state is never completely exact. Extreme stress or extreme fear and even physical pain can be dismissed.  Why?  Self-preservation, another innate biological response.

When you think of your partner what do you think of?  Their voice, their smell, their touch?  Attachments to sensory stimulus are a result of what?  Biology?  Or is it really just some abstract thing words and science can not simply define, something beyond the urges engraved into our DNA.  There's quite a bit that biology can tell us.  Lust, attraction, and attachment are all governed by chemicals produced in the brain.  As we know lust is driven by sexual desires or in other words that urge to pop out babies so we can perpetuate this shit show lineage.  Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are produced, and these hormones, more so testosterone increase libido.  Now, wanting to bang someone's brains out and having an indescribable magnetic attraction to someone kind of go hand in hand, but they can very well happen separately.  I myself have looked upon the face of a man, in awe, chiseled into existence by the best physical gene pools, only to be completely disappointed when he opened his mouth.  Cue the disappointing trombone sounds.  

Further exploration of the "love" soup in our brains:
Now, dopamine is well known to be a part of the brain's reward pathway.  The brain releases dopamine and norepinephrine we're experiencing attraction.  This is the chemical that accounts for that "high" feeling we get, especially in the earlier stages of an intimate relationship or whatever you want to call it.  Just like how cocaine signals our brain.  When in "love" we are pretty much drug addicts, but instead of banging lines we're banging bones?  When doing things that make us happy, are we really just chasing the dragon of a neurological response?  Attachment is related to oxytocin and vassopressin.  Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breast-feeding. It is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building.  In one study published in PNAS they found that men actually produce more oxytocin with their partner which, in turn, created a positive bias:
The biological mechanisms underlying long-term partner bonds in humans are unclear. The evolutionarily conserved neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) is associated with the formation of partner bonds in some species via interactions with brain dopamine reward systems. However, whether it plays a similar role in humans has as yet not been established. Here, we report the results of a discovery and a replication study, each involving a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject, pharmaco-functional MRI experiment with 20 heterosexual pair-bonded male volunteers. In both experiments, intranasal OXT treatment (24 IU) made subjects perceive their female partner's face as more attractive compared with unfamiliar women but had no effect on the attractiveness of other familiar women. This enhanced positive partner bias was paralleled by an increased response to partner stimuli compared with unfamiliar women in brain reward regions including the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). In the left NAcc, OXT even augmented the neural response to the partner compared with a familiar woman, indicating that this finding is partner-bond specific rather than due to familiarity. Taken together, our results suggest that OXT could contribute to romantic bonds in men by enhancing their partner's attractiveness and reward value compared with other women.
In regards to smell, for me personally I have an incredibly good sense of smell.  So this has always been important to me.  One of the first things I notice with everyone I meet for the first time, not just a potential partner, is how they smell.  I was always completely engrossed in the smell of my partner.  An indescribable smell that would trigger some primal thing in my head.  The following is an excerpt from a great article that's more or less an amalgamation of a bunch of different studies that involve smells, and talks about how we more or less sniff out compatible partners whose DNA gene pool varies from our own(you know to avoid recessive traits and shit like a ghastly bout of Habsburg).  Long live the progeny or wtfever right?  (You can read the full article here.)
It was found, by Wedekind and his team, that how women rate a man's body odor pleasantness and sexiness depends upon how much of their MHC profile is shared. Overall, women prefer those scents exuded by men whose MHC profiles varied the most from their own. Hence, any given man's odor could be pleasingly alluring to one woman, yet an offensive turnoff to another.
Raters said that the smells they preferred reminded them of current or ex-lovers about twice as often as did the smells of men who have MHC profiles similar to their own, suggesting that smell had played a role in past decisions about who to date. MHC-similar men's smells were more often described as being like a brother's or father's body odor... as would be expected if the components of smell being rated are MHC determined.
Somewhat more surprising is that women's evaluations of body odor intensities did not differ between MHC-similar and MHC-dissimilar men. Body scent for MHC-dissimilar men was rated as less sexy and less pleasant the stronger it was, but intensity did not affect the women's already low ratings for MHC-similar men's smells.
That strong odor turned raters off even with MHC-dissimilar men may be due to the fact odor is a useful indicator of disease. From diabetes to viral infection to schizophrenia, unusually sweet or strong body odors are a warning cue that ancestral females in search of good genes for their offspring may have been designed to heed. (In the case of schizophrenia, the issue is confounded—while some schizophrenics do actually have an unusually sweet smell, many suffer from delusions of foul smells emanating from their bodies.)
Nobody yet knows what roles MHC may play in male evaluations of female attractiveness. Females' superior sense of smell, however, may well be due to their need to more carefully evaluate a potential mates merits—a poor mate choice for male ancestors may have meant as little as a few minutes wasted, whereas a human female's mistake could result in a nine-month-long "morning after" and a child unlikely to survive.
Perfumers who really want to provide that sexy allure to their male customers will apparently need to get a genetic fingerprint of the special someone before they can tailor a scent that she will find attractive. But before men contemplate fooling women in this way, they should consider the possible consequences.

There's a whole slue of information on the interwebs regarding how people rate attractiveness of a partner by pitch and tone.  Here's a cool video you can watch on YouTube featuring Erik Singer, a dialect coach, explaining tonality blah blah blah blahs.  Interestingly enough, lower pitches are associated with dominance, so women will tend to find men with lower voices more attractive and the opposite can be said for men.  These differences are thought to be because of evolutionary pressures such as mating choices. In the animal world, pitch is associated with larger animals that can cause a bigger threat.  Research has shown that we even change the pitch of our voices, during a menstrual cycle, a date, etc. to increase chances of again, procreating.  I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Sometime ago I read something about the science behind not putting out on the 1st date.  I know I'm going on somewhat of a tangent here, but studies have shown that biologically speaking, as a female, you're much more likely to have a male partner stick around because, yes, you guessed it, of the incessant need to procreate.  The longer we prolong their suffering the higher likelihood of a successful long-term bond.  I thought this was relevant as to pointing out, once again, our biology fucking ruled us.

While recent studies have suggested that the timing of sexual initiation within a couple's romantic relationship has important associations with later relationship success, few studies have examined how such timing is associated with relationship quality among unmarried couples. Using a sample of 10,932 individuals in unmarried, romantic relationships, we examined how four sexual-timing patterns (i.e., having sex prior to dating, initiating sex on the first date or shortly after, having sex after a few weeks of dating, and sexual abstinence) were associated with relationship satisfaction, stability, and communication in dating relationships. Results suggested that waiting to initiate sexual intimacy in unmarried relationships was generally associated with positive outcomes. This effect was strongly moderated by relationship length, with individuals who reported early sexual initiation reporting increasingly lower outcomes in relationships of longer than two years.

Memory association may be a result of these chemical reactions too.  When asking what one defines as love they usually give an arbitrary response as to what maybe their ideal partner is or even what a person does for them as the definition.  Recently, someone told me love, like happiness is an evolving thing that changes as you get older.  Is it that different things start to trigger responses or that as we get older we expect more to create the feeling of love or is it that as we develop and mature mentally we understand better what this intangible thing is?  I think a healthy love is without dependency, but with reliance-the ability to rely on your partner for everything but not necessarily needing them for anything.  It is not attachment, but missing them when they are not there and the ability to let go to lead their own lives.  It is a coexistence and feeling of comfort when they are there, but a yearning not a dread when they are not.  It is a never ending smile, a laugh, an endless hug.  It is a blanket of comfort.  I think real love is an extension of the Self.


Is the truth that what we define as love just a bunch of crap produced by our lowly pleb limbic system with our higher brain putting all this garbled nonsense on it?  Many may argue that love is not just dependency, sexual attraction, attachment, or defined by the chemicals or brain produces or what one is willing to do for someone.  But does that not sound exactly like what I described?


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