I want to start out by saying that I draw a clear distinction between love and romantic love. Many will disagree, but thankfully I have science on my side.
Love itself is as close as human beings can come to being selfless. People will make sacrifices for love. They will make compromises. They feel connected with this other individual to the point that this individual becomes a part of them -- in the psyche, quite literally.
Romantic love, on the other hand -- what so many confuse for actual love -- is little more than an obsession. Helen Fisher, an American anthropologist and human behavior researcher focusing primarily on romantic interpersonal relationships has over 30 years of experience on the subject -- and I believe she’d agree with the distinction I’m making.
She certainly agrees with my believing that romantic love is an obsession. There’s a very interesting TED talk by her that, if you have time, I’d recommend watching.
Putting the differences between romantic love and love aside for the moment, I’d like to address that point in time when we fall in love.
What makes you fall in love? Sure, the person you are in love with is definitely the cause. But have you ever wondered how an outside force can have such an effect on you? Some believe that love is a tangible, ethereal substance and the substance linking one person to another is what makes loving a person possible.
Personally, I’ve stopped looking to fairy tales for advice a long time ago. I can’t accept that things simply "just happen," as if by magic or by a process that is incomprehensible to the human mind. If things happen, there certainly must be underlying mechanics that facilitate that happening. Love is no exception.
There are many factors that go into the chemistry behind attraction and romantic love. A person’s physical appearance is certainly one -- human beings like symmetry as well as specific ratios between facial features. Social status is most certainly another.
A person’s background, the way he or she was raised, and his or her level of intellect also all play key roles in deciding whom you could possibly fall in love with.
However, these are not the only factors. Chemistry itself -- literally chemistry -- plays an enormous role in deciding which person you could or could not fall in love with. There are four chemicals in your brain that play the largest roles in deciding compatibility: dopamine, estrogen, serotonin and testosterone.
Dopamine is what makes reward-based behavior feel so rewarding. It’s the reason drug users get addicted to drugs. Estrogen and testosterone -- present in both men and women -- are what give us that sexual appetite.
And serotonin helps regulate your moods as well as being the neurotransmitter that allows for obsessive thinking and behavior. Of course, there are several other chemicals in the body that seem to be in hyperdrive when we find ourselves in love, but these seem to play the largest roles.
The question now is: Do these chemicals have an effect on the type of person you can fall in love with, and if so, how? Truth be told, the amount of information that we have on this topic is abysmal. But there are plenty of people out there, like Helen Fisher, who are digging into the field and conducting research.
From the research Fisher herself has so far collected, it is now believed that there are four basic personality types that decide what type(s) of person(s) you could potentially fall for.
These types are classified according to the production levels of each of the four chemicals I previously mentioned. The types are as follows:
1. Builders: cautious individuals who tend to follow traditions and value persistence.
2. Directors: analytical personalities who enjoy making decisions and have a tendency to lean toward aggression.
3. Explorers: risk takers who are impulsive and creative.
4. Negotiators: intuitive, idealistic and compassionate individuals who are more selfless than the other three types.
What you should also keep in mind is that although these four types are rather distinct, where each individual falls won’t be so black and white.
Because these types are based on chemical levels in the body and the body’s ability to produce these chemicals, it’s safe to say that every person falls partially into several -- if not all -- of these four groups.
However, most will fall primarily into one or two. Which type you are is believed to decide the type of person you will be compatible with.
For example, those predominantly falling into the categories of builders and explorers tend to fall for others who predominantly fall into the very same group. Directors and negotiators, on the other hand, have a tendency to fall for each other instead of falling with individuals within the same type.
This is important to note because understanding why you feel the way you do, and why you choose the lovers you do, can not only help you understand yourself, but also help you understand the person you are looking for.
In a world where there are too many options and not enough time to sample, being efficient with learning who you are and aren’t compatible with could mean the difference between a happily ever after and a solitary future.
There is plenty of research into this topic and I urge that you look into it sooner than later. You can continue believing the fairy tales that you were raised on, but from my personal experience, life never mirrors what we were taught was the "correct" way to love.
Better understanding the chemicals, functions and reasonings at work when we fall in love will help us be better at loving. Romantic love is great, but because it relies on chemicals, it fluctuates and can even fade entirely.
Understand how romantic love works and how to differentiate it from love itself, and your chances of finding and keeping the person of your dreams increases two-fold.