I have thought of love as a feeling. When it is getting started, it is such a rush of emotion. I can't imagine how anything could be more powerful. But maybe after all the hormones get roused and then routine sets in, love becomes more of a decision than a feeling. It's hard to know what love is because it can sometimes be such an intense feeling while at other times, I think that it is a momentous decision.
Dictionaries define love simply as "an intense feeling of deep affection". So that would mean that love is at the level of other feelings like anger, sadness, happiness. But then there is the other concept of love being a conscious decision to care for someone. Obviously, there are going to be times when you don't feel much love, yet you have decided that overall you do love the person in spite of all their warts and other unlovable things.
But maybe there's a third option here that relates more to chemical dependency. There are a lot of chemicals racing around your brain and body when you're in love. Researchers are gradually learning more and more about the roles they play both when we are falling in love and when we're in long-term relationships.
The falling in love part comes with those feelings of giddiness and a racing heart, flushed skin, and pure bliss. These physiological feelings come from the chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine that are released into our system. Dopamine is called the "pleasure chemical". Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline and produces the racing heart and excitement. Together these two chemicals produce elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite and focused attention. So there appears to be a reason for feeling "love sick" and addicted to love. And it is mighty powerful stuff.
MRI's have been used to examine the brains of people who are looking a photo of their romantic interest during the initial crazed stage of attraction. The scans showed increased blood flow in areas of the brain with high concentrations of receptors for dopamine -- associated with euphoria, craving and addiction. High levels of dopamine are also associated with norepinephrine, which heightens focus, short-term memory, hyperactivity, sleeplessness and goal-oriented behavior. What this means is that couples in this stage of love think of little else but each other. Definitely I have done that, so much that I couldn't sleep.
Other research has shown that the intense focus and idealizing view that occurs in the attraction stage may be the result of lower levels of serotonin. These lower serotonin levels are the same as those found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders, possibly explaining why those in love "obsess" about their partner. And this is a behavior that I see wasn't healthy at all, but I'm glad that someone has a physiological reason for it.
But these chemicals can't be sustained for a long period of time and gradually the passionate focus-crazed love-attraction phase wanes and is replaced by commitment, if the relationship continues.
Maybe this is where the decision part comes into play. Love at this stage isn't about chemicals as much as it is about choices. And sacrifice and concern for the other person. As one writer put it, love is about stubbornness and the ability to stick with a person through the worst of times.
And that's where I am glad that Al-Anon comes into play. Because if love were just a feeling and not a decision, I don't think that I would still be married. It seems that the longer you're with a person, the more that love becomes a decision.