Quiz: How much do you really know about love?

Take this quiz to get to the bottom of some commonly held beliefs about what it takes to find’and keep’true love

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True or false? Falling in love always starts with feelings of lust

After studying functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the brains of couples in love, scientists have identified three core brain systems for mating and reproduction, according to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The brain’s testosterone system in both women and men triggers lust or feelings of sexual desire; the dopamine-rich regions of the brain trigger romantic attraction or intense feelings of longing; and the region linked with oxytocin activity triggers attachment or feelings of long-term commitment.

Fisher explains the difference between these three types of love as follows. In the first type, desiring someone is just that-you feel sexually attracted to them. In the second type, “romantic love,” you might have trouble eating and sleeping because that person is on your mind all the time: They have special meaning to you and you crave them emotionally, and are highly sexually attracted to them. And in the third type, when you are attached to someone, they have special meaning to you but you don’t obsess about them; unlike romantic love, when you are attached you experience calm and emotional unity.

“These brain systems don’t work in any order,” adds Fisher. So you could fall in love either through the more traditional route, starting with lust, or starting with deep feelings of attachment (say, when you experi­ence lust for a friend).

Bottom line: False

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True or false? We fall in love with the way someone looks, first

The things that make men and women fall in love are complex. Looks certainly play a role, but Fisher explains that as we grow up we all develop unconscious lists of what we are looking for in a long-term partner, from socio-economic background to religion to specific personality traits.

Everyone’s list varies, but there are some general differences between the genders. Several studies suggest that men are more interested than women in looks and vitality, while women place greater weight on intelligence, self-confidence and social position. However, both genders are interested in all of these characteristics, as well as personality traits such as warmth or honesty.

“When you meet somebody who fits your ideal, and they are the right age, size and shape, and they appear to be intelligent, it can trigger your brain for romance,” says Fisher.

Bottom line: False

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True or false? You can fall in love at first sight

The process of falling in love uses 12 areas of the brain to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, adrenalin and vasopressin, as well as to spark sophisticated cognitive functions such as mental representation (imagining your life together)-and all of that can happen in as little as a fifth of a second, according to research out of Syracuse University in New York. How quickly you fall in love hinges on genetics and past experience, says social psychologist Maryanne Fisher (no relation to Helen Fisher), an associate professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. For example, some people’s brains are wired to fall hard. Ask your parents how quickly they fell in love; you may be genetically wired to follow their path. Furthermore, you may not act on the brain’s activity at all if you have had bad relationship experi­ences. “If you’ve been hurt in the past,” says Maryanne Fisher, “you’re going to be leery.” So, yes, you really could fall in love in a split second-but it could also be staring you in the face and you wouldn’t see it.

Bottom line: True

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True or false? Men view potential matches more romantically than women do

Some psychologists believe men and women love differently, possibly because they have different motivations for loving, explains Maryanne Fisher. According to this school of thought, women need someone who is intelligent and capable to be there to support them with raising children. Men, on the other hand, are biologically motivated to fall in love for reasons of sexual fidelity.

“The theory is that men don’t want to put long-term energy into a partnership if they can’t be sure their mate is faithful,” she explains. Texas Tech University research supports this: Women were shown to be more pragmatic about love than men (for example, they rank a man’s child-rearing qualities as highly important). On the other hand, men tend to view love more romantically, says Gary Lewandowski, professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department at Monmouth University in New Jersey. They tend to agree more strongly than women with notions that love will conquer all or that there is a perfect “soulmate” out there for each person.

So does this mean we are destined to want and expect different things from each other? No. For starters, these theories are vastly simplified, says Maryanne Fisher. “Men also want smart women; women also want faithful men.” Plus, she adds, if couples recognize that they value different things in a relationship, they will not be as disappointed when, for example, he takes it for granted that his laundry is done or she fails to respond to his sudden acts of affection.

Bottom line: True

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True or false? Humans were not meant to be monogamous

Researchers believe that at some point after falling in love with someone, we make a choice to pursue and sustain love or commitment with that person for all time. This is different from feelings of sexual desire. “You see no end. You want to be with this person indefinitely. It’s a much more lasting phenomenon,” says Lewandowski.

Why do humans make this decision when 97 percent of the rest of the earth’s mammals don’t commit to one partner for a lifetime? “There is a reason to think that pair bonding [coupling up] is inherent to the survival of the species,” Lewandowski says. “We also have a need to belong, and to experience attachment.” This need explains why falling in love triggers such intensely pleasurable physical sensations such as bliss, euphoria and excitement, and why the brain registers the heartache of any breakup as physical pain, he adds.

Bottom line: False

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True or false? It’s possible to keep the thrill going forever

Science has shown that there is reason to believe that being in romantic love can exist over a lifetime. She recently conducted brain scans on couples who had been together an average of 21 years and claimed not just to love each other but to be in love romantically-just as they were in the beginning, experiencing feelings of ardent passion and adoration. “And sure enough, a tiny part of the brain was active just as it would be as if they had fallen in love yesterday.”

Yet it’s quite possible to “fall out” of romantic love, even after making the cognitive decision to stay together. “People who say they have fallen out of love are probably putting too much emphasis on physical things, like passion,” says Lewandowski. We become habituated to it, and more often than not all that arousal and excitement fades, he adds. “That’s why I suggest doing new things together.” You might go backpacking in a faraway country that you have always wanted to visit, or take up a new hobby together. Adventure, excitement, thrills-pursuing these emotions together for the sake of enjoying time with one another mimics the early stages of the relationship and triggers those same chemical reactions of being in love, says Lewandowski.

Bottom line: True

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