Physical attraction can be mysterious. What can science tell us about falling in love with someone?
To find out, Family Goes Strong talked with Leil Lowndes, author of How to Create Chemistry with Anyone (and previous bestsellers such as How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You). Excerpts:
You write about falling in love with someone – and taking steps to not fall out of love. Why did you want to look at chemistry?
I've basically always been in love with love. I remember with my dolls, I always wanted to have a boy doll and a girl doll so they could fall in love. I adore seeing people in love.
You've talked about reading many studies about love. What did you find?
I discovered love is a condition of neurons and neurotransmitters causing feelings of absolute madness and obsession.
When you're falling in love, what's going on in your brain?
When we first spot someone, the neurons in our brain are exploding and sending messages to other neurons in the brain. This forces our heart to beat faster, our palms to get sweaty, our throats to get dry. One of the most important chemicals in love is dopamine. It's the thrill of what's to come. Someone who's a skydiver, the moment before he jumps out of the plane, that's the thrill. Falling in love — it's everything is going to be wonderful.The other chemical that's so important in love is oxytocin [which has been called a "cuddle" chemical]. And vasopressin gives a man a very protective feeling about his family. If a young mother gives a baby to a father to hold, in the first days or weeks of a baby's life, it raises his vasopressin levels.
What can people do to increase a partner's levels of these good-for-love chemicals?
One of the most important things is touch — not sexual touch, but holding hands. When you're sleeping, spoon your partner. Put your arm around your partner. Sit close on the couch, put your hand on his knee. Touch is a big oxytocin creator. In nursing homes, people who are touched live a lot longer. In orphanages, babies who are held become healthier later on in life. Touch is an unbelievable thing. My husband and I touch all the time. He holds my hand. It is such a bonding thing. A woman needs to feel loved, and a man needs to feel needed. Do all of the things that help you bond.
How is chemistry the same or different with age?
When you're younger, of course, you're filled with testosterone and estrogen, and dopamine is going crazy every time you like somebody. The male hormones actually peak at age 18. When you get into a relationship, the warm part starts when a man does something that is caregiving or a woman does something that is supportive. All these things give a rush of oxytocin to the potential partner or the partner. One problem with oxytocin and testosterone is they don't go well together. If they feel more and more of a bonding, it drives the testosterone down a bit. After childbirth, her oxytocin, that bonding chemical goes up 300 percent. That's why a woman is forever bonded to the child she gave birth to. That oxytocin bond is so strong. After childbirth, with all that oxytocin, sex is not the first thing on her mind.
When is it impossible to create chemistry?
You can't change your partner's DNA. Also, previous experiences are etched in your brain. All the past relationships resurrect when you meet somebody. A [Johns Hopkins] psychologist named John Money came up with something called the love map. If you had a father with a really sweet boyish grin, you might find someone 20 years later, and his grin might make you go wild because of that positive connection. You can do all the other things mixed in with chemistry, especially a woman for a man.
How can people re-create chemistry with a long-time partner?
Start doing the same things that were the first attraction. Maybe you went to movies, museums, you went bicycling. At that time, this was high dopamine stuff. You are connecting the feelings that rushed that dopamine with the partner. You get married, and all of the sudden renting a rowboat gets expensive. The kids come along, we don't have time to go row boating. He's just sitting around on the computer. You start connecting boredom with your partner. One of the ways to get it back is to start doing all these fun things again.
Should couples talk about it if they don't want to fall out of love?
No. Make the time to do things together. And laugh a lot. If you're laughing, you think you're happy. It's just the joy of being together.
How do you make the marriage last as long as possible – maybe for life?
Let your partner know that you feel the same way they do about the important things in life. Women like agreement. Men need respect. Even if you can't agree with what he believes, let him know you respect him for that. Try to avoid getting a guy into an argument. He's handicapped. He can't articulate what he's feeling. It goes straight to his muscles, and he wants to fight. A man [should] let a woman know that he is absolutely there for her.
How does your husband do that?
When I had breast cancer, he was scheduled to go and take a ship to Italy. He was a ship's captain. He said, I can't do that. I've got to stay there and take care of Leil. We weren't even married yet. I'm 61. This was back when I was 40. That was one of the reasons that absolutely made me think, "This is the man for me." He's there for me. He stayed with me. He hasn't even read any of my books. But the touching and the loving, and the rituals and the tradition and the caregiving, those are the things that have kept us together.
How important is it to stay attractive?
Men don't like flannel nightgowns. I've got a whole selection of really gorgeous nightgowns. Men are so much more attracted to physical appearance than women are. We don't mind if our husband doesn't look 100 percent. But a man is much more aware of how a woman looks.
What should you say to your teen or adult children about chemistry, especially if you're not a fan of one of their partners? After all, you don't want them to go for Mr. or Mrs. Wrong.
Never say you don't like him or be discouraging about him. Get her talking about him, and you can plant the seeds of doubt. You can say, "What do you like about him?" That will get her thinking.
You mention wearing red.
Red is such a dynamite color. Men react to red. Red is a hot color that creates excitement in the brain. Bulls will look at a red cape, and their brain will be on fire. What women will most respond to is qualities in clothes in men that show he is affluent. In our evolutionary nature, we want to feel that a man is able to care for eventual offspring.
But not showy?
Not things that are flamboyant. Women do respond to men's shoes, fine-quality shoes. It's important for a man to be coordinated in his dress. She wants to know that he can handle things, put things together well. If a woman wanted to wear the ideal thing on a date, she would wear a very low-cut blouse but have a suit jacket that would be closed at the beginning of the date. As they're sitting there, open the jacket just a little bit. They don't want other men to see it. They want to see it's just for them. Evolutionarily, it's much worse for a woman to be promiscuous. No man wants to be stuck bringing up another man's child. Everything has an evolutionary or chemical reason.
How should a woman let a man know she likes him?
The woman has to be rather blatant about showing her interest. Men are very insecure. Evolutionarily, women in the animal kingdom really are the pursuers. The woman is making herself available to certain men. We're the ones who are choosing the quality of the species. We want our offspring to come from a quality man. Two thirds of all relationships are initiated by the female, by doing something subtle. Always a man thinks he was the one who made the first move, but the woman will tell me she spotted him.
They like thinking they're the pursuers?
They were the hunters. There are a lot of women who feel they should be taken care of by a man. He probably won't remember that you made the first move. Men are insecure, and they like the fact that you're coming up to them. Many times a man is afraid to approach an attractive woman. They're deathly afraid of rejection. If she shows that he's not gong to be rejected, he's much more likely to make the move. She can just show him by her body language that she's very open to him.
How does a woman try to create chemistry when she is out of practice?
Make a man feel secure. The big thing in killing relationships is what I call the big C: criticism. Criticizing a man is just death to a relationship. Men love to feel needed.
How can men make their partners feel loved?
It's important that men don't just say, "I love you," on Valentine's Day. It would be wonderful if a man could tell his wife at least once a day he loves her.
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