Thursday night, vodka sours, scented candles. We can talk a bit about the weather and we can talk a bit about the news. Cool. But you know damn well what we’re gonna talk about once a phone is pulled out for a detailed screenshot analysis. A variety of emotions spin around the room. This fucking guy.
When did he reply? When did he see the message? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN??? Freaking out because of your partner, crush, or liaison is really nothing new. Let’s create a hypothetical persona—our new friend Gloria. Gloria is a young, modern woman. She’s progressive, independent, and fierce. Unfortunately, she’s been the Silent Killer’s victim many times in different ways. Every time she thought she could get away, oxytocin got to her. Now, we’ll explore different types of situations that could culminate in Gloria’s defeat.
Type A: Gloria isn’t even that into him. He’s just cute. But the sex is good and neither of them want commitment. So they meet again. This time, the sex is even better and suddenly the cute boy is on Gloria’s mind. She leaves his house and almost gets run over by a car crossing the road. She’s smiling without a reason, listening to “Brooklyn Baby” and deciding to get a mimosa because life is “just so beautiful right now.” But then, halfway through her drink, the smile fades. As she puts down her drink and takes off her sunglasses, the bubble pops. Is she in love with this guy? Is this normal? Does she care?
Type B: Gloria is seeing a guy. He’s clearly toxic and she realized this a while back. They’ve only been dating a few months, and most of that time was spent fighting. She knows this isn’t going anywhere and that she needs to break up with him. But every time she wants to talk to him, he comes over and they have sex. And suddenly he’s okay. And they cuddle and they laugh and he’s funny. So maybe it’s gonna work out.
Type C: Gloria just broke up with her boyfriend. She’d been with him for a long time, and the break-up was really emotional. She isn’t ready for a relationship but wants to explore her sexuality. She wants someone who’s on the same page as her, who’s handsome and charming. Gloria finds such a man. Gloria is happy. Gloria has a lot of sex. Suddenly, Gloria can’t stop thinking about the boy. The perfect situation becomes stressful. Gloria feels butterflies in her stomach. No fucking way she’s in love. She can’t be.
You get the idea. We think we can sustain relationships without feelings, and then we can’t. But is it love?
The silent killer
Oxytocin, AKA the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” is a neurotransmitter produced in the hypothalamus. It’s especially important and active in women, as it plays a key role during birth and nurturing a child. It’s released during childbirth and lactation—and sex. That’s right. When your nipples or cervix are stimulated, you release increased levels of oxytocin, just like when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. So when you’re going to town with anyone, committed or not, you’re gonna release some love potion.
What does oxytocin really do?
After you have sex and your oxytocin levels are high, feelings of attachment, empathy, generosity, trust, intimacy, and kindness increase. While this might be helpful when you’re having a baby, they aren’t so great when they turn a rebound into a sticky situation.
So next time you want to smash your head against the wall because you’re falling for someone again, know that it’s okay. Wait it out, take a walk, and be aware of what’s going on in your brain. Tell yourself this is oxytocin, and what you feel doesn’t require excessive action or distress. In order to see if you really have feelings for someone you need to get to know them, and that takes time and effort. It isn’t just a matter of how many times you came last night or how happy you feel the next day.
But it’s also important to remember that getting attached to someone isn’t a bad thing. We often judge ourselves for having feelings and feel insecure about the vulnerability associated with that. You can like someone and still give yourself some time and space to observe the evolution of your bond. You can also like someone without commitment. Making rational decisions in terms of who you spend vast amounts of energy on is key to happiness and stability in relationships. So don’t freak out! Enjoy the butterflies, and don’t rush things—it might just be the oxytocin talking.