Can’t stop thinking about your partner’s face? Maybe you’ve memorized every little detail, down to that dimple on their left cheek or the way they raise their eyebrows when they’re laughing. When you’re in love, it can be the most comforting feeling to see your partner after a long, tough day or week. What is your brain's response to looking at your significant other? What is it about them that makes you feel so happy and calm?
It’s obvious that seeing someone we care about would make us feel excited, but there’s even more to the story here. Turns out there’s a scientific reason love makes us feel so good — it’s connected to so many different chemical processes in the brain. Dawn Maslar, science of love expert and TEDx speaker, says that especially early on in the relationship, the feelings love creates in our brain are similar to the effects of cocaine or another “upper” drug. We get giddy, we feel invincible, and we can’t get the person off our mind. This is why love can make people so annoying and obsessive in the early stages — we literally can’t help it!
Ever had a friend who met someone new and then you stopped hearing from them? Their dopamine receptors might be partially to blame (but also, totally not an excuse to ditch your squad). When we look at someone we’re newly involved with, our brain goes haywire with dopamine and craves that person whenever they’re not around.
What gets even more interesting is the way our brains respond to someone we’ve been seeing for a long time. “After two years, when we’re in the long-term phase, we see a different effect on the brain,” Maslar explains. “It occurs in the periaqueductal gray area, and it provides a pain-relieving effect.”
Say what? Looking at your partner can actually chill you out? “When you look at the face of the person you love, you can withstand more pain,” Maslar says. So if you’ve ever been getting a tattoo or a medical procedure and asked bae to hold your hand during the process, you’re totally onto something here. Studies have shown that love has a healing effect on the body and can promote feelings of joy and contentment. No wonder you have all those freckles memorized.
In fact, Maslar says that these chemical reactions can actually help you live longer. Especially in men, who are more likely to spend time alone as they get older, looking into their partner’s eyes can have huge health benefits. This is why love and relationships are just as important for us when we age. Intimate connections are part of being human, and after all, love is what helps ensure the ultimate survival of the human race.
There’s also a surprising reason why breakups hurt so badly, even when they happen early on. When we first fall in love, our body’s serotonin levels actually drop, which helps explain the “can’t live without you” feelings of connection. “So if you break up in that early two-year period, your serotonin is still low, which is a hallmark of depression,” Maslar says. This can make you feel crappy almost immediately, and seeing the person you’ve recently ended things with could make it even worse. The confusion of chemicals in your brain will likely produce a lot of feelings that you’d rather avoid.
Overall, there are obvious scientific benefits to gazing into your partner’s eyes or letting them envelop you in a giant bear hug. Relationships make us feel calm, connected and loved, so it’s no wonder your partner’s face brings you so much joy, goofy dimples and all.