The Biochemistry of Date Night
Date night has long been a catch phrase for couples hoping to rekindle romance, keep the passion alive, or simply reconnect with each other away from the stresses and struggles of daily life. We know that it works, but until recently, we did not necessarily know why. Now, however, science has provided the answer. Here is a look at what happens to your biochemistry as a result of date night.
Early Romance and the Brain
Have you ever wondered why new couples seem so positively giddy? When you are in a new relationship, you suddenly develop an amazing ability to survive on little sleep or food, spending hours upon hours just walking and talking together, dreaming up over-the-top poetry, and planning you next date. When you are in the throes of early romance, it seems that passion will sustain you forever.
These intense feelings and behaviors are driven by very real chemical changes in the brain. The ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain goes into hyperdrive, flooding the system with such powerful neurotransmitters as dopamine and norepinephrine. Responsible for feelings of euphoria and intense energy, these chemicals also fuel the somewhat bizarre actions of the newly paired.
Of course, such intense passion cannot survive forever. As couples become more familiar and more comfortable with each other, the honeymoon period comes screeching to a halt. The brain returns to normal, real life begins to intrude, and the happy couple starts to see each other in the cold light of day.
Many couples break up at this point. According to the triangular theory of love, there are three components to any love relationship: passion, commitment, and intimacy. Early-stage relationships have not yet built the bonds of true intimacy, which comes only with time and shared experiences. If the couple is not committed to seeing it through, the relationship either fizzles quietly or burns out spectacularly.
However, couples who are prepared for the shift and committed to working through it sometimes develop the opposite problem. Unaware of how to reignite the passion, they slip into a relationship sustained by commitment and intimacy, known as companionate love. This is the type of love that keeps deeply attached friendships and family bonds alive, and some romantic partners live happily in this state for years, but many couples want to find the passion. Love that is supported by all three legs of the triangle is known as consummate love, and is the romance of which most people dream.
Date Night Chemicals
Fortunately, it turns out that date night stimulates the same regions of the brain that are associated with early love. While it might not be as all-encompassing as the flood of chemicals released during the honeymoon phase, the effect from date night can be enough to ignite a new spark of passion. What you do on date night matters, though.
To trigger the desired brain activity, novelty and intense experiences matter. Going to the same restaurant you always do can bring back fond memories and deepen intimacy, but it is not likely to ignite passion. Instead, use date night to try new things. Check out the intimate bistro you always pass on your way to work, sign up for a class together, or visit the local zoo. If you are more thrill-seeking by nature, choose something that will get your heart rate up such as parasailing or an extreme ride. Whatever you choose, it should be new to both of you, carry some element of perceived risk, and be something that interests you both.
The Effects of Music and Socialization
If you are not quite ready to plunge into brand-new experiences, liven up your date night with some music and friends. Visiting the same restaurant or bar takes on a new dimension with the novelty of adding new people, while upbeat music triggers the release of dopamine. Although taking on new challenges is always best, changing up your routine in even subtle ways can make a real difference in the level of passion in your relationship.
Date night has long been known as an important way to keep romance alive. From a biochemical standpoint, it is easy to see its powerful effects. If your relationship is lacking in passion, why not give date night a try? The rewards are well worth the effort required to work it into a busy schedule.
Looking for verifiable information on the science of attraction and relationships? We’re a neuroscientist and a biological anthropologist eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your own life.
Written by: Lisa FritscherNEXT