“Dude, he was so cute. I'm definitely feeling him,” I told my friend, Brenda*, as we were driving home from the bars. We were at Park Street, a local party district in the Short North area of Columbus, OH.
I had just met this guy at one of the bars we had gone to. I wouldn't say he was the most gorgeous man on Earth, but I don't know: He just caught my eye. When I walked in, I saw him. I was immediately drawn to him, and I wanted to dance with him.
“So, did you get butterflies or something?” Brenda asked me. I kind of thought about it for a second. All I could ask myself was, "What the hell even are butterflies?"
In our culture, we throw the term around quite a lot, especially when we begin to analyze our feelings toward someone. We get butterflies in our stomach when we like someone and when someone makes a sweet gesture toward us. But why?
According to scientists, these butterflies are actually a bodily reaction we've had to threats since the beginning of time. These butterflies are actually a fight or flight response.
Back in ancient times, if you were getting chased by a lion, your butterflies would kick in to keep your body alert and regulated. In this way, you could keep your cool and stay alive as you were running away from the lion.
In order to keep you aware and calm, your body would draw blood from your stomach and send it to your heart and muscles. You could therefore get better circulation within your body and concentrate on running away from the lion.
But most of the lions we see nowadays are at the zoo. We don't really run into too many near death situations on any given day. So, how are butterflies applicable to our lives today? Why do we still get them?
1. Someone caught our attention.
This is the most basic type of butterfly. We'll call them “type A” butterflies.
They just release feel good hormones and make you excited and enthusiastic. Even though a lion isn't trying to eat you, you're around someone who makes you a bit more alert and aware.
You're not in your ultimate comfort zone. You're not sitting on your couch, watching reruns of "The Office" in your jammies. Therefore, your tummy starts doing weird stunts down there in order to keep you calm around this new element of excitement.
These were probably the butterflies that were fluttering around in my stomach when I saw Steve*. My heart rate quickened a bit, and I felt a rush of adrenaline.
When people talk about “love at first sight,” they're usually referring to this feeling. They're most definitely not going to get eaten alive.
But they don't want to have their guard completely down in front of this person. They're not loose and relaxed. It's this prepared alertness that causes the butterflies.
2. We're subconsciously scared of getting hurt.
These butterflies produce emotions that are a bit more intense than the previous type. Let's call them “type B” butterflies.
As they are a different type of butterfly, they produce a different bodily reaction as compared to the “type A” butterflies. You know that moment when you've been texting someone you're really feeling, and he or she just – out of nowhere – tells you how amazing you are?
Think about the case of someone you're already dating. He or she tells you how he or she wants to kiss you so badly, and can't wait to see you.
What happens? Your tummy starts quivering, you freeze all over and you're way too jittery to sleep calmly. According to ZocDoc, when we first enter into a relationship or find ourselves falling for someone, our bodies want to be prepared for danger.
In this case, that danger is getting our hearts broken. You subconsciously think your new relationship might be too good to be true, or you know there's risk involved somewhere down the line. Your body is actually preparing you for that danger by increasing circulation throughout your body and releasing adrenaline.
3. Our feelings are changing.
Butterflies can also be dark and painful. These can produce some of the most complex emotions ever.
These aren't those sweet, feel-good butterflies that people often talk about. Enter butterfly “type C." A day will come when you realize your feelings for someone extend past just physical attraction and fun times together. You actually care about this person.
When your partner is hurt or betrayed, this hurts you so badly. In fact, it probably hurts you more than it hurts your partner. You want to hug and take care of your partner.
On the other hand, you may also wake up one day and realize you no longer feel the same way about your partner. You've either started feeling like you're falling out of love or like something has changed in the relationship. You've begun to accept that you two aren't a good match.
You may need to get out. Whether your feelings are changing for better or worse, the fact that they are changing is scary to you. This is the primitive fight or flight response working on your body right now.
Your partner isn't the lion here: Your relationship is. Your brain is very much aware that the dynamics of your relationship are changing. It wants to be prepared. This explains the apprehension and anxiety you feel.
4. We're about to take a huge step.
When he kneels down on one knee and proposes to you, your tummy is literally on speed. The butterflies are bouncing off your stomach walls and jumping up into your throat.
These are the eccentric butterflies, otherwise known as "type D." This is likely one of the most intense fight or flight responses you'll ever get in your life.
You could either say “yes” and start preparing for your wedding, or you could say “no” and run away. But as you're preparing for this life-changing decision, your body is simply trying to keep you calm. This is what causes your intense bodily reactions.
You might feel a great discomfort in your tummy, accompanied by crying and a sense of overwhelming happiness. Yes, all this will happen at the same time. You get these butterflies when you reach a major milestone with your significant other.
Whether you're walking down the aisle together, consummating your love for each other or finding out about your first child together, these butterflies will probably be the most intense type you will ever feel.
The bottom line is, the butterflies in your stomach are simply a bodily reaction to a stimulus that causes you to get anxious, excited, nervous, scared or even a combination of everything. What type of butterflies have you been feeling recently?
*Names have been changed to protect identities.