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E xperts say the western ideal of romantic love is constantly disappointing us.

Which is a shame because our culture loves romantic love. Somewhere out there our perfect match is waiting to meet us, so the theory goes. So what is love, actually?

Basically, love helps a species to cooperate. Love is the basis of animal attachment, distinct from lust or sex drive.

But forget about the myth of love at first sight, Machin says. When someone experiences lust, their amygdala — the ancient, central part of the brain responsible for emotion — is releasing the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine is a general reward chemical, which makes you feel euphoric, warm and motivated to form a relationship with someone.

Oxytocin works to lower your inhibitions to forming a relationship. The neurochemical processes of love are more complex, and last longer than lust. As well as the amygdala, love involves the neocortex — the part of the brain responsible for social cognition.

During love, the brain is flooded with an opiate called beta-endorphin. As a consequence you go back and get another hit. Our experiences of love are influenced by factors beyond spontaneous emotion. Carbino reckons this dating market has always existed in some form; the advent of online dating apps just made it more visible.

There is no algorithm for love, though both our experiences and our genetics influence our preferences in a partner. It is these differing expectations and experiences that can cause relationships to fail, says Kathrine Bejanyan, a relationship consultant.

These clashes can stem from our family upbringing, for instance. Another person with a different upbringing might understand love and how to receive it differently. Jeanrond argues that love involves engaging with otherness in at least four ways.

Then there is our relationship to the cosmos or the universe or nature. Then there is the question of God or ultimate reality — how can you relate to the radical other?

And most problematic is our relationship to ourselves — can I love me? The opposite of love is therefore not hatred but indifference, Jeanrond says. Hatred is a warped love, but it is still interested and obsessed with the other.

As Jeanrond points out, love is relative, diverse and not always conspicuous. It has countless definitions, depending on who you ask. But perhaps the real mystery is how these definitions fit together. The autocomplete questions Relationships. This article is more than 3 years old.

Alfie Packham. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries. Wed 11 Jul Am I too narcissistic?. All you need is love: experts on the changing face of modern romance.

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