Here’s my favorite part of falling in love: There’s this instant when you realize that the person who you think is the most attractive person in the universe, who is the funniest, and the coolest, and the smartest person you know actually wants you back. Maybe it’s the moment when they go out of their way to brush their hand across yours — skin on skin contact sending little electrical charges up your body. Or maybe it’s when they lock eyes with you in the middle of a group conversation, and give a private little smirk. Or the way that they go out of their way to seek you out and then lean in when you make them laugh.
That feeling — when you can sense the room shifting and colors blurring to center around just the two of you — is one of the most addictive feelings in the world. It’s like a drug. You can’t help but crave the thrill of it. It’s a rush of joy that runs right through your veins.
We seek out that connection because love isn’t just emotional, it’s chemical. It’s the sensation of being changed on a physical level, every cell in your body rearranging to match someone else’s. The intoxicating way your partner smells… the gentle weight of their hand on the small of your back… the calming sound of their voice… all of it pulls you towards the other person like a magnet. When we fall in love, our brains and bodies are being altered as much as our hearts.
They say love hurts, but it also heals. And study after study shows that being in a long-term, healthy relationship with another person has positive impacts on our mental and physical wellbeing. As if we needed another reason to want to be in love, science tells us that having a partner has all sorts of physical benefits. Maybe love really is all you need.
Here’s what we know — scientifically speaking — about the crazy little thing called love:
Love can cure what ails you.
Being sick in front of your partner can be both a wonderful and terrible thing. Having someone to take care of you, bring you chicken soup and fluff your pillows, is lovely. But having that same person see you at your very grossest — when all you want is to impress them is not so fun.
When my partner and I were first dating, I came down with that kind of terrible flu where you cannot stop vomiting for 24 hours. My new boyfriend stopped by my apartment a couple of times to bring saltines, and make sure I was drinking water. Things were not pretty.
I would open the door, shaking, a pale, horrifying spectre of death who might suck out your soul dementor-style at any moment, and then I’d grab the tokens he’d brought roughly, and shove him out the door while screaming normal things like, “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous.” He’d leave, and like the Phantom of the Opera, I would skulk back into the shadows. Except, instead of melodious songs, it was the sounds of me retching and throwing up again that drifted to my one true love through the air vents. I don’t know why he’s still with me.
But I’m glad to have him. Science has shown that having a partner when going through an illness can actually improve your chances of getting better.
A study from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California looked at the data from nearly 800,000 people who were diagnosed with cancer in California between 2000 and 2009 and found that married people were more likely to survive cancer than single folks. Researchers tracked the subjects until 2012 and adjusted the data to account for factors like health insurance which could make a difference in the level of care and location which also could skew things. But even when you took those things out of the equation, they found that men who weren’t married were 22 percent more likely to die from cancer and women, 15% more likely than those with spouses.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is, but having a strong support system has been shown to have an impact on positive outcomes in serious illnesses. Things like being driven to and from doctors, being made healthy food, and simply lovingly cared for probably make a huge difference.
And being in a relationship doesn’t just help you recover from an illness. Chemicals released when in love may actually change how you experience the discomfort in that illness, reducing its severity.
A study at Stanford University tested this by scanning the brains of college students who said they were in love. They then subjected them to a small amount of pain, heat on the palm of their hands, and watched their brains’ reactions to the stimuli under different conditions. They found that when the subject looked at a picture of the person they loved (as opposed to an acquaintance), the pain was reduced by 40%. When the pain was more severe, the effect wasn’t quite as dramatic, about 15%. But still, love seems to be a natural pain reliever. So, staring deep into your lover’s eyes may be just as effective as popping a Tylenol because just the sight of true love makes us feel better.
Maybe we all should put a headshot of our significant others right over that chair that we always stub our toe on. We’d probably scream and swear less when it happened. Maybe. I mean…stubbing your toe really f**king hurts.