What is love and does it last forever? Good question. It’s one that philosophers have been trying to answer since ancient Greece, and even they had a lot of trouble, with no definitive conclusion.

Even William Shakespeare seems somewhat confused: “The course of true love never did run smooth. Love is a familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love”… Umm… Thanks for that, Shakespeare.

I am no Socrates or Shakespeare, but I know a few things about psychology and science. When you meet someone you are attracted to, a whole bunch of neurons fire chemicals around your brain that create that feeling of attraction. These chemicals make you feel really good — so good that you want to experience the effects of them more and more.

However, the unfortunate thing about chemicals (whether natural or in pill form) is that the more they are released into your body, the more your body adapts and the less of an effect they have (a process called ‘tolerance’). If you are in a relationship this means the initial shot of chemical reactions that create that rush of feelings whenever you touch was never going to last forever.

Unfortunately this loss of chemical sensitisation is often used as an excuse to end a relationship. “I fell in love with someone else” or “I just didn’t feel the same way any more” are common justifications. In light of the revelations of science this seems like such a sad mistake to make, because even with a perfect partner, the effect of those chemicals was never going to last, and there will always be someone else on the sidelines who gets your chemicals firing again.

But beware! Repeated exposure to a new guy will cause his chemicals to wear off too. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of the ‘serial LTR’ (chasing that ‘chemical feeling’, jumping from one person to the next as the chemicals wear off) and never finding that lasting relationship you are looking for.
What does this mean for relationships? It means that real love doesn’t have much at all to do with chemicals. Keep this in mind next time someone other than your partner gets them firing (I guess that’s why wedding vows typically include the promise ‘forsaking all others’).

Sure, chemicals may be important at the beginning but research consistently shows that people in LTRs are happier than the rest of us, have fewer health problems, live longer and are more satisfied with their lives after making a commitment to their partner, despite the chemicals wearing off. People in a committed LTR are likely to have highly increased levels of intimacy that cannot be achieved after just one or two years, plus the reassurance of an enduring partnership.

So living in the 21st century has some benefit. Now more than ever we have the information needed to make better choices about our relationships. Feelings are important — but love is more than a chemical in the brain. True love is about commitment, selflessness, learning to trust, and helping each other through life. And it was never meant to be easy — maintaining a lifelong commitment to someone is always going to involve sacrifice and compromise.

What do you think? Are you going to keep chasing after chemicals you’ll never be able to keep around forever? Of course you won’t, will you…

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