You may have asked yourself what makes a man feel attracted to a woman and fall in love. You would like to know how to really seduce a man, be a real femme fatale and feel irresistible to him, so that your partner commits.
And you may think that the phenomenon of falling in love is the same for a man or a woman.
Well, it’s not.
There’s a chemistry of attraction. Biologist Dawn Maslar studied how the brain falls in love and found big differences between men and women. She calls it the neuroscience of dating.
This article summarizes the main points of her research. I interviewed Dawn Maslar for my coaching.
The only reason you are attracted to a particular man or he’s attracted to you is because your reptilian brain releases a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which reduces your fear or anxiety and encourages you to approach the other person. Physically, you feel the effect of this neurotransmitter when your heart beats faster, you may sweat more, your hands may get moist, and you may feel a kind of inner excitement.
Your rational brain is shut down during this phase.
What determines who you’re attracted to?
Your reptilian brain uses the following principles to select your partner:
- The principle of opposites. You choose the one whose genes are in strongest opposition to yours to increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy child capable of survival.
- The principle of similarities. You will unconsciously look for a person who is similar to your relatives, father or mother, or other important people in your life, to calm the fear and insecurity that are inevitable in this phase of seduction. So you are attracted to the person who can bring you the love you think you need, the love you think you deserve, and the love you give to yourself. These beliefs about love, you have not imagined them alone, they have arisen in your childhood, with your parents or in your relationship with other people.
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- The selection is made through your 5 senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch…) and the first kiss. In this phase, the rational brain is like turned off, i.e. reason is it does not take much hold in the attraction phase, which can make you feel attracted to the wrong people and eventually become attached to them.
Is there love at first sight, and does it really mean that you fall in love so quickly?
At the risk of disappointing you, the answer is no. It’s just a reaction of releasing the two neurotransmitters and has nothing to do with falling in love.
When you are attracted to someone, the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is released, which puts you in a survival, fight or flight mode and encourages both partners to have sex as a survival response. It is logical that nature uses sex as a means of reducing stress, so that we can reproduce even in stressful situations (the famous baby boom during epidemics like the corona). When sex takes place relatively quickly, vaginal-cervical stimulation occurs, secreting another neurotransmitter that creates an even stronger addiction than heroin. We don’t say that we are addicted to someone for no reason ;-).
If as a woman you are sensitive to these two neurotransmitter secretions, you may try to reproduce these secretions by being attracted to turbulent relationships (I run away from you, you come back to me, I reject you, you reject me). My personal interpretation is that if you have had a turbulent environment in your past, or if you have experienced many ups and downs in intimate relationships, you have a tendency to be attracted to these secretions.
The seduction phase
As soon as you feel this (sexual) attraction, you or the man you like can decide to become active and enter the famous seduction phase.
This phase of seduction is a mixture of 2 contradictory feelings:
- The joy of time spent together produces dopamine (dopamine is the reward hormone that is often released when eating, taking drugs or having sex), which makes you want to see the other person again.
- The fear of not knowing if it’s the right choice, or just a sexual attraction or even more, if the love is mutual.
At this stage men and women have fundamental hormonal and cerebral differences that motivates the man to hunt and the woman to choose:
- The man has higher testosterone levels, which makes him a better hunter. In his hypothalamus he has what scientists call a “Pursuit Spot”, which encourages him to approach a woman he is interested in and take the risk of coming forward. His hippocampus makes it easier for him to recognize “his prey” at a distance. It can be seen in the wild with male animals that have beautiful plumage or are particularly careful attracting and seducing their partners.
- The woman is naturally more eager to choose, as she is ultimately the one who takes the most risks during sex (she can get pregnant). She must therefore choose the safest and genetically most suitable partner and therefore weed out the potential partners and find the one who is really worth it. Her brain is better able to select accordingly through several criteria and her hippocampus has a better memory at remembering the characteristics of each partner thanks to the release of oestrogen.
To fall in love
Men and women fall in love differently, with different hormone levels or different receptor growth:
- Women fall in love when their dopamine and oxytocin levels reach a certain level.
- Men need a certain level of dopamine, vasopressin and testosterone to fall in love, but they also need to create new receptors that can absorb this new level, and it takes time.
These differences between men and women govern how one man or woman must behave for the other to fall in love:
- The man must know that he can hunt, resulting that the woman gives him the green light: a smile or simply a gesture like touching her hair when she looks at him can be considered as green lights.
- The man must hunt. When the woman approaches a man, this triggers a biological phenomenon, the so-called “possum effect”, which makes the man suspicious (“it’s too good to be true, there must be something wrong”). This reduces his testosterone secretion and he will automatically be less in love. In order for his testosterone to be stimulated in the best possible way, he has to fight to be with you, a little competition won’t hurt him and, above all, he has to wait for sex.
- The woman has to choose and take the time to check if her beau meets the criteria she has set for a man or in a relationship before entering an emotional or sexual relationship with him. Why should she do this? Sex and tenderness produce a high dose of oxytocin, so a woman can bond with someone even though he is not what she is looking for. To do this, she needs to have a clear idea of what she is looking for in a man. Defining the ideal partner is a whole module of my 4-week online program Opening up to love.
- Waiting with sex. This allows the man to increase his vasopressin and dopamine levels and the corresponding receptors that make him fall in love and not just be sexually attracted.
The big question is: how long? And how do we know when a man falls in love?
According to Dawn Maslar, a man falls in love within two months to a year of meeting someone, and you know he has fallen in love when he commits to his partner. Therefore she advises a waiting period of 90 days (OMG!). I will not comment on how long one should wait, I think it is a personal decision. What I think makes the difference in how long it takes a man to fall in love is his previous bonding experiences, either in his relationship with his mother or in his first love stories.
I hope this article has shed some light on the chemistry of attraction. Share it with your friends who could need it, I also link below to Dawn Maslar’s TEDx talk and the link to her book on Amazon; both are in English, but they are worth the effort.