Falling in love can be a powerful, life-changing thing. In those early days of romance, you'll literally act differently, think differently, and sometimes even dress or talk differently. But how love affects the brain is one of the most interesting, and mysterious parts of falling hard. It can be so intense that it's actually possible to see certain areas of the brain lighting up on brain scans.
"When falling in love, chemicals associated with [the reward center of the brain] increase, such as dopamine, which makes you happier," NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle. And this trickles down to your body, too. "It may create a feeling of your heart racing, sweaty palms, and feelings of romance." You know, like the desire to swing around a lamppost while bursting into song.
Feelings of love and how it affects your brain can be different for everyone, and may be spurned by different things. "Women may feel the sensation of love after having sex because of hormone levels increasing," says Hershenson. But for those who identify as men, it might even be entirely different. It's important to note the role of social constructs in the way our brains react to love – while brain chemistry can differ for each individual, some experts suggest that socialized gender norms can sometimes be internalized, and affect the psychology of love and how we express it.
So, if you have always wondered what a self-identified guy might be thinking or feeling whilst falling in love, you're in luck. Though not all men will experience love the same way, here are a few brain changes experts tend to notice in men falling in love.
1They May Actually Feel Less Pain
OK, no need to test this yourself — unless you and your partner are into that sort of thing — but love can make you feel less physical pain. "Love is so powerful that in laboratory tests, it reduces pain by half," neuroscientist Dr. Jarred Younger, an associate professor at University of Alabama, Birmingham, who has conducted brain scans on men and women when they're in love, tells Bustle. "It does so by sending messages down to the spinal cord to block the pain messages before they reach the brain." Pretty interesting, right?
2They Might Be Able To Finally Stop Smoking
As part of his research on the subject, Younger found that a new romantic relationship may also change a someone's brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier for him to stop using addictive drugs, like cigarettes. So if someone in your life is suddenly able to ditch his smoking habit after getting into a new relationship, his partner may be why.
3Partners Can Feel Addicted To Each Other
Again, a new romantic relationship will flood the "reward" part of the brain, which means partners can truly become addicted to each other. "These are the same areas that are activated when someone takes an addictive drug," Younger says. "It is thought that the first part of the relationship is 'addictive' so that two people stay close to each other long enough to form a longer relationship."
4They'll Only Have Eyes For Their Partner
While out on a date, does it feel like the sexiest human alive could walk into the room, but a guy in love stays staring at his partner? If so, there's a reason why, for heterosexual men at least. "In men, [the hormone] oxytocin released in the brain during a new relationship makes them see their [female] partner as more attractive and desirable than other women," Younger says.
5They Could Stay Madly In Love For Years To Come
If you somehow had access to a brain scan, and were able to take a peek inside your partner's brain, you'd actually be able to tell whether or not the two of you are likely to stay together long-term. "Brain scans at the beginning of the relationship can predict who will still be in a strong relationship 40 months later," Younger says.
And it's possible to stay madly in love for decades to come. "Over time, the brain chemistry in men may change as the relationship shifts from intensely passionate to more familiar, comfortable, and intimate. However, some men and women remain intensely, passionately in love even 20 years later," Younger says. "Those individuals still show activation of the reward areas of the brain."
6They Can Become A Bit Guarded
Moving away from brain chemicals and brain scans, and into the psychology of love, it's possible to notice changes here, too. For example, when someone falls in love, they may instantly become guarded. "Some men will put up emotional armor to protect themselves from getting their feelings hurt because they recognize they are feeling vulnerable," says clinical psychologist and The Web Radio Show Host Dr. Josh Klapow. This might come across as them shutting down, or appearing disinterested.
That's not to this will always happen, though. Despite socialized notions of men's inability to express emotions, Klapow says plenty of men are able to embrace their vulnerability, and feel plenty comfortable showing it.
7They'll Suddenly Care About The Little Things
Another funny quirk of someone whose are falling in love? Their focus shifts to little things, like how they speak, dress, and act. "They pay attention to things they never pay attention to, like how they are speaking, their sensitivity, and their personal hygiene," Klapow says. So if your if someone you know is suddenly picking up their game, it could mean they're falling in love.
8They Won't Be Able To Think About Anything Else
"When men are dating, but not yet in love, the relationship will fit into their life. But once they are in love, they might find themselves not being able to think about anything else," Klapow says. "Very often they will fail to recognize this change as love." But if they can't seem to think of anything else but their new partner and their latest significant other has become their main focus in life, then it's likely the real deal.
9They'll Be More Aware Of How They Affect Their Partner
Not to say that someone needs to be in love to be kind. That's obviously not the case. But lots of people truly pick up their game once they're head-over-heels. "They become acutely aware of their behavior and how it affects their partner," says Klapow. "When in love they are hyperaware. What did they do? Were they gentle enough? Did they bring flowers?" These are the things they think about, all in an effort to impress you.
10They'll Start Saying "We" Instead Of "I"
"He may begin using terms such as 'we' or 'us' instead of 'I' when making plans or decisions," Hershenson says. If you've ever done this, then you know it's a sign that you're pretty darn happy with someone, and are starting to see them as part of your future.
11They'll Be More Willing To Compromise
Compromising is tough in relationships, but it becomes easier the happier — and more in love — you are."When in love, a man will begin thinking of your [his partner's] needs and wants before his," Hershenson says. "He becomes willing to compromise and makes sure you [his partner] feel safe and supported."
Whether we're looking at brain scans, or just noticing little changes in someone's personality, I think we can all agree love is a powerful thing.