you think. Experts and research explains how long it takes to fall in love, the chemicals involved, and how to make your love last. No, really—it's science. Technically, you need only an hour with a stranger, plus these
A question that receives quite a bit of attention in the psychological literature is why people fall in love. One promising answer is that romantic love occurs when the attributes that generate general attraction and the social factors and circumstances that produce passion are particularly strong.
The general attraction attributes are as follows (Aron, et al. 1989):
Two further factors that can help explain why people fall in love involve mate selection (Aron, et al. 1989):
Another five factors seem to be required for the love to be truly passionate as opposed to being a kind of friendship love (Aron, et al. 1989):
Aron et al. (1989) examined which of these factors are most prevalent in college students based on their descriptions of their experiences of falling in love. The researchers found that the most frequently mentioned factor preceding experiences of love was finding certain characteristics of the other person desirable, as well as reciprocity of the experienced emotions. There was a moderate frequency of descriptions mentioning the factors that spark passion (e.g., readiness, arousal/unusualness). There was a low to moderate frequency of descriptions of the other person being perceived as similar to the research participant.
The researchers argue that the self-expansion model proposed in Aron & Aron (1986) predicts this weighing of factors. On the self-expansion model, we have the greatest propensity to fall in love when we perceive the other person as a way for us to undergo rapid self-expansion. Entering a committed relationship requires giving up some of our personal autonomy by including the other person in our life. If the other person possesses desirable characteristics, their presence in our life can be perceived as an expansion of the self rather than a loss of freedom (Aron & Aron, 1996).
Work in neuroscience supports these findings in psychology. The neurochemical profile of people who are in love is characterized by low levels of the satiation chemical serotonin (Zeki, 2007). In this respect, the obsessive component of new love makes it similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
It is unsurprising, then, that several of the passion-generating factors, including arousal/unusualness, readiness, and mystery, correlate both with the propensity to fall in love and with increased anxiety. Blood levels of adrenaline and other stress chemicals are increased by anxiety triggers.
As argued by Dutton and Aron (1974), feeling increased levels of adrenaline is sometimes mistaken for a feeling of being in love with a person. Dutton and Aron (1974) found that more men fell in love with an attractive female interviewer when she asked them questions in anxiety-provoking situations (a fear-arousing suspension bridge) compared to calm situations (a non-fear arousing bridge). So, even in the absence of most of the other predictors of the onset of romantic love, meeting someone in an anxiety-provoking situation can cause us to fall in love with that person.
Another interesting feature of love is that a felt proximity to a new lover creates higher levels of the reward and motivation chemical dopamine, whereas distance can lead to cravings. Aron et al (2005) used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study people who were intensely in love from between 1 and 17 months. The subjects viewed a photograph of their beloved and then, after a distraction-attention task, they viewed a photograph of a familiar individual. The researchers found heightened brain activation in the right ventral tegmental area and the right postero-dorsal body and medial caudate nucleus—dopamine-rich areas associated with reward and motivation—in response to the photographs of the individual the subject was in love with. So, when you are in love, the imagined or actual presence of the beloved is rewarding and motivating.
The self-expansion model proposed by Aron & Aron (1986) can explain be used to explain this result: When a person conceives of their love interest and him- or herself forming a tight union, the desirable characteristics of the beloved trigger a reward response. This can prompt us to go out of our way to be with our potential partner in order to experience the most intense feeling of reward.
The self-expansion model also predicts that the similarity and propinquity factors should have a paradoxical effect in initial stages of falling in love but should have a more significant influence on the duration of love (Acevedo & Aron, 2009). The main reason is that familiarity and similarity make it less likely that the other person will constitute an expansion of you, once you include him or her in your life.
These predictions are consistent with findings in neuroscience. Low levels of serotonin are likely counteracted by similarity and familiarity, which can prevent people from falling in love (Zeki, 2007). At later stages of a love relationship, however, these same factors may correlate with higher levels of the attachment and bonding chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin, which have been shown to increase during the phase of a love relationship that fosters romantic attachment and pair bonding (Zeki, 2007).
Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love and a co-author of The Superhuman Mind.
Source: Oxford University Press, used with permission
Acevedo, B P.; Aron, A. (2009). Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology, Vol 13(1), 59-65.
Aron, A & Aron, EN. (1986). Love and the Expansion of Self: Understanding Attraction and Satisfaction, New York, NY, US: Hemisphere Publishing Corp/Harper & Row.
Aron, EN & Aron, A. (1996) “Love and Expansion of the Self: The State of the Model”, Personal Relationships 3, 1: 45–58
Aron A, Dutton DG, Aron, EN, Iverson, A. (1989) “Experiences of Falling in Love”, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships August 6, 3: 243-257.
Aron A, Fisher H, Mashek DJ, Strong G, Haifang Li H, Brown LL. (2005) “Reward, Motivation, and Emotion Systems Associated With Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love”, Journal of Neurophysiology 94, 1: 327-337.
Dutton, D.G., & Aron, A.P. (1974). “Some Evidence for Heightened Sexual Attraction Under Conditions of High Anxiety”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30 (4), 510-517.
Zeki, S. (2007). “The Neurobiology of Love”, FEBS Letters 581, 14: 2575–2579.
If you want to learn how to make a man fall in love with you, ask relationship expert Adam LoDolce. He's helped thousands of women find true.
Falling in love is something most of us yearn for. We want to fall in love with someone that motivates us and makes our walk through life much happier. I know sometimes it can be difficult, especially if you find yourself facing challenges in the love department. But don’t worry because, in this article, I am going to walk you through what makes him fall in love with a woman!
Love can sometimes be an addictive emotion. We often hold onto something that isn’t right for us and might be gasping for air without actually knowing what we truly love that partner for. The result is that a woman will be left chasing a guy, desperately trying to make him fall in love. There are so many different situations when it comes to love, so regardless of whether you are single or not, I am going to break down the best ways to make a man fall deeply in love with you.
So, before we begin let me take a moment to talk about the notion of “making” a man fall in love. You cannot make a person do or feel something. It will just end up being unattainable and leave you feeling like you’re constantly trying to chase satisfaction. With that said, we will discuss how to make a man fall in love with you naturally, without forcing anything that is not meant to be. Sometimes men do need that little extra push and you’re going to learn all about it a little further down in this article!
As always, I love hearing from you. Please feel free to comment below or ask questions about anything you may be going through, and it would be my pleasure to personally respond to you!
There are various qualities that men look for in potential partners, but as we get started I want to share the most important piece of advice: If you want to make him fall in love with you, you have to be yourself no matter what. Show up as the best person you can be for yourself and also for him. Faking a personality and trying to be someone you are not will only cause issues. Things will fade away quickly and what’s worse, this will also build a wall between you and the man in question. Men can feel when you aren’t being truthful in situations. They might not be able to tune into it as well as women can, but they do know when something is off.
So often when working with my male clients I hear a recurring complaint about women they’re seeing. It’s that women don’t smile often. When women don’t smile, it turns men off and makes them feel less inclined to want to move forward. Similarly, they don’t appreciate the attitude. A man does not want to be with a woman long term if she comes off spiteful, manipulative, or has a bad attitude. Men want to have a woman that has standards and is still pleasant to talk to and spend time with. This means that they want someone who is respectful and treats him the way she wants to be treated. By spreading loving energy, you will attract more love.
Trying to be someone you’re not is going to backfire on you one way or another. It just isn’t something you can maintain long-term. Typically, when you are playing a role, it comes from an insecurity that you may need to face. When you start to honor who you are and be honest with yourself, you can find power in powerless situations.
A lot of times I see women not being clear or honest about what they’re looking for. You might find yourself dating a man who doesn’t put in much effort to keep you around, but it’s simply because he already had his cake and got to eat it too… You never set the standard and you weren’t upfront with him about what you are exactly looking for. If you tell a man that you’re looking for a real relationship – not something casual – and he decides to walk away, then he isn’t worth it after all. That said, he may actually come back when he sees that you don’t give in and hold yourself to a standard.
There is a fine line between being attractively confident and being over-confident and off-putting. You never want to come off as someone conceited, especially when you want to know how to get him to fall in love. Men love a confident woman because it amps up their desire to figure you out. It shows that they can be confident in you because you value yourself, you know yourself well, and you take pride in setting the standards. Now, a lot of times you might find yourself settling or knowing in the pit of your stomach you shouldn’t let this happen, but you lower your standards in the hopes that this man will like you. There is something highly attractive about a woman that doesn’t give in too easily and sets a healthy standard. The thing about men is that they want to feel as though they have a prize and have won the best there is out there. The harder someone had to work for something, the more they are going to value it. So, the harder he has to work to get you, the more he’s going to value you! It’s human nature. It’s something that not only sets you apart, it is also a great way to show much much you value yourself.
I know every couple has its different opinions about sex. I always think it’s safer and more meaningful when you wait, especially if you like this man and want a relationship in the future with him. Here is where I ask you to take a moment and identify how sex plays a role in your life. If casual sex with someone can lead to feelings, then casual sex isn’t the thing for you. It’s important that you hold out until you are ready and until you find a man that is willing to wait until you both decide to make the next step. The reason I say this is because it makes things less difficult when you are dating and it adds value to the relationship. It shows that the both of you have values and goals that are aligned, and gives the man an opportunity to show you respect and patience. Yes, some might say that sex early on makes no difference, but think of this as how you will feel at the end. Just let him know you want to take your time and you are looking forward to the moment it happens.
Having your own life and your own thing going on is very important. Men love a woman that has a passion and something they invest their time in. It’s important that you set this standard with a man so he doesn’t get into the habit of planning things last minute. I know you would sometimes rather be with him than commit to the plans you already have with your girlfriends, but don’t cancel plans all the time to be available for him. Sometimes “No, I have plans, but can we do it tomorrow” is the best option! It shows a man that you are content with what you have going on and also gives him less of an opportunity to take you for granted.
Men love to be told that they look good, are smart, ambitious, or that they are doing a great job. So often men are confused about where a woman may stand and they want to see that you are supporting them beyond any superficial matter. So, complimenting him and giving him a reason or two as to why he is so special to you is a beautiful thing. In order to give this a personal touch, I would suggest about something that he has going on in his life that he has accomplished.
One of the best ways to make a man fall in love with you is to open his eyes to what you could be to him. He will recognize the beauty of a woman that does things for him that have no personal benefit to her. When you have conversations with this man, pay attention to things that are important to him and think about how you can incorporate these things into your gestures. Thoughtful gestures and going out of your way to help him out can make a big impact. It shows him that you care and also builds the bond of partnership between you.
So often I hear that men just want to be heard. They complain that they are always listening and the woman is always talking. It’s important that you establish a mutual balance in conversation and questioning when you are dating a man and want to make him fall in love with you. Don’t make it all about you! Be open and make sure that you make him feel like he is being heard as well. When you feel like you are oversharing just take a moment to pause, take a step back and let him speak. Ask him questions about his life and his passions as well.
Show him that you can be trusted by speaking positively about others and not sharing absolutely everything about your best friend… You don’t want him to begin to wonder about all the things you tell your best friend about him!
There is no magic wand you can wave to get a man to fall head over heels in love with you. You want a man to fall in love with you because you are showing up as your authentic self. Love has ways of making everyone feel better and happier and can last forever. That’s why it’s so important that you weed out the relationships that might temporarily feel good, and hold yourself to a standard that you know is right. When you feel it in your heart, there are no delusions or games when it comes to the man you love. Listen, if you’re chasing a man right now that isn’t treating you right, I know you know. You have that feeling in your stomach. This is the time to walk away or set up boundaries and standards in order to give him the chance to step up and be the man you need him to be.
I say this because not every relationship is perfect and I know things happen in relationships that can cause confusion, heartache, and mixed feelings. The only person you have from the beginning till the end is you. So, do yourself a favor and don’t give up on what you truly deserve and what you want in a man. When you have this mentality, the current man you have in your life now will either step it up or move on out, but let me be very clear of one thing: There will be another man that comes along to take his place. It’s up to you to set the right boundaries, expectations, and to always abide by your values. I remember when I was in my early 20’s I was in this horrible relationship. Let’s just put it this way – the man had no respect for me and I gave him all of me. At that moment I had no values or self-worth. I never held myself accountable because I didn’t know what good love looked like.
So, I fell madly in love with him, did everything in my power to get him to fall in love, and continued to chase after what my heart wanted despite the fact that it wasn’t good for me. Finally, we broke up and I, of course, was heartbroken. Right after, I went out with some girlfriends and one of them says this to me: “One man’s trash is another one’s treasure.”
I hated it so much and became furious with her for calling me trash! It made my night even worse but now, years later, I finally understand what that meant. Metaphorically speaking, you can identify to “trash” simply because you have been thrown away but in reality, these relationships and experiences become lessons. Just because one man decided he didn’t want you doesn’t mean you will never experience a greater love. You will, and you will be another man’s treasure! You will know when you are treated right because your needs will be met and you will feel that sense of security.
I truly do feel that no matter what relationship you fall into and no matter what man you date, you will always be tested. A man is always going to test how much he can get away with just like a woman would too. I say this because I want to reiterate the importance of holding yourself to a standard. If something doesn’t sit well with you about something he did, the way you two communicate about it is how a man decides if he can be with you. Having an open policy of communication and making sure it’s reciprocated is important to a man and a woman. Also, showing that you value and respect him is huge! So, raising your voice or subjecting him to insults isn’t something that sits well with a man. This is something that will not only bruise his ego, it will also show that there may be some instabilities that arise with you. Generally speaking, when this happens a man might not break up with you right away, but he will begin to feel less enthusiastic about the relationship. You will eventually begin to feel him drift away until he bows out.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s vital that you don’t dump on all your insecurities on him. If you had an ex-boyfriend that cheated on you, it doesn’t mean that this boyfriend is going to cheat on you as well. He doesn’t deserve to be penalized because of what someone else did to you in the past. Being able to define whether an issue you bring to him is coming from an insecurity or if it’s coming from something that truly was developed between you and him is key. When a woman is able to take her time and pinpoint where this problem is coming from, the man can see that she is mature and can be a balanced partner.
It also subconsciously gives him the opportunity to continue to be open and show up as the best version of himself that he can be! How many times do you hear men saying that they can’t tell their girlfriend something because she will get mad? When a man is being honest with you, try not to take offense to it. Just breathe and be thankful that he is coming from a place of honesty. Detach yourself from the expectation you had and bring light and love to this situation. The moment you do this is, you will begin to grow as a couple.
I know these times can be incredibly difficult because you’re left heartbroken and you just can’t seem to get a grasp of what to do now that the person you love has left you. Experiencing a breakup can be hard and it becomes easy to feel like the victim. You might catch yourself saying something like, “How can he leave me if he loved me?” This is a victim frame of mind that also allows you to deflect any blame in terms of why things went wrong. Remember, there are two people in a relationship and if things ended, there are lessons to be learned for the future for both of you.
When you continue to focus on what someone else did it subconsciously makes you feel better. It’s often a coping mechanism that ultimately preserves hate and mistrust within you. Being in a relationship does not mean that you own the other person. It means that the both of you have a mutual understanding of what love is and continue to put in the work when it’s needed. You don’t take this for granted. Typically, your man will want out when you take it for granted or take yourself for granted.
Everyone has a right to leave you even if they loved you at one point. Love isn’t always strong enough to make things work if it’s not working for your partner in the first place. The only thing we can manage in life is ourselves and our own happiness. So, letting go of the victim mentality is going to be the first step before anything else. The moment you take a look at this relationship from someone else’s perspective, you will see at which point you may not have shown up as the best person you could in this relationship. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get back with the one you love! It simply means that you are going to have to do the work to get them back and this will always be through actions.
It’s natural for most of us to beg to get the person we love back into our lives. Saying, “I love you” isn’t enough at this point. Stop apologizing because it’s only going to remind them of the mistakes you’ve made in the first place. Start to focus on things that you may have lost touch with the relationship like friends and your hobbies, or even begin to volunteer somewhere. Work out and become active so that every day you can have a fresh start and an open mind towards developing yourself into a better woman than you were yesterday. At some point, your ex may come back and this is exactly when you showcase what you’ve learned. Show him confidence and the change you have incorporated into your life through actions, social media, and conversation.
If I could magically make everyone happy with a blink of an eye I would! Love is such a beautiful thing when you have the right partner. But then I think, if I was able to deliver love to everyone with a blink of an eye then it would get boring and people would take it for granted. Everything great in life requires work. When we work for things we learn, but we also find value in the lessons we’ve learned. These lessons are ultimately what start attracting the right man to you.
When a man wants to be completely available for you, he will be. A man will treat you like you should be treated and being a well-adjusted, high-valued woman will be just enough. Don’t neglect your non-negotiables for a man as you want to always live with integrity. As they say. “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman.” It’s about how you can deliver value to your man overtime to help him be the best version of himself while making sure he always feels supported and trusted by you. Our strength is that we push men to be better people just by loving us. As long as you both continue to set boundaries and standards in your relationship, then you’ll be sure to be aligned with getting what you want. Understanding that a relationship is work is key, and as you grow you both need to have a mutual understanding that you will continue to grow together and show up for each other when the other one needs it. This is the goal in partnership. When a man sees and feels this, you can make him fall in love with you forever.
Wishing you all the best,
Your coach for knowing how to make a man fall in love
Falling in love with someone is a truly beautiful experience…
It’s also terrifying, exhilarating, nauseating, and generally a veritable rollercoaster of emotion that’s wonderful and hideous at turns.
If you’re fortunate enough to have met someone special and think you’re falling in love with them, you’ll likely experience the following.
In fact, pretty much everyone who has ever fallen for another has gone through these stages, so you can be certain that most of the people in your life can relate to what you’re going through.
Hell, most films and TV series have drawn from these steps when portraying realistic relationships, because people can relate to them.
Think you might be falling in love? Here’s what to expect:
This often strikes out of nowhere and leaves you with your jaw hanging somewhere around Antarctica.
One minute you’re sharing lunch with a colleague, and the next minute, your takeout pad thai is getting cold because you’re enraptured by the way their nose bobs up and down when they chew.
Then it hits you: holy hells, you like this person.
After this realization hits, it doesn’t take long before some kind of a date is arranged, whether it’s drinks after work, or a movie, or a shared meal… without the guy who sits next to you at work and eats Cheetos all day tagging along.
The person you’re falling for is constantly in your thoughts.
You overfill your coffee cup because you’re thinking about them, your eyes glaze over in class or during a meeting at work because you’re trying to determine your next step.
You miss a deadline because you were thinking about how they looked the last time you saw them, instead of being able to focus on your tasks.
Seriously, they fill your every waking thought, and might even keep you from proper sleep at night.
Everything they do is just so cute, isn’t it? Yeaaaah. It is. It REALLY is.
Also known as “the smittening,” this stage turns you into a quibbling mess of heartsick jelly that’s just oozing with delight about everything your partner does.
You may fall for their fondness for huge, messy sandwiches that they get all over themselves when they eat, or find the way they snore at night to be completely adorable.
You’re peeling back onion layers and getting to know this person better, and pretty much every single thing they do is the most endearing thing in the whole entire world.
They can do no wrong, they’re amazing, and you want to just sew yourselves together so you never, ever need to be apart ever again ever.
Maybe less of the sewing part, but still. ADORBS.
This is where you’re getting seriously involved with the person, but you’re still uncertain about exactly how they feel about you because you’re too nervous to discuss it, so you’re awkward and flustered and you worry about what you say (BREATHE) and think that they probably believe you’re a complete idiot and did they notice that you forgot your deodorant today omg you better not hug them too closely (BREATHE) but if you don’t hug them then they might think you don’t really like them as much as you do but you don’t want them to think you smell and and and (PANICKED BREATHING)…
^ Like that.
At this point, you’ll obsess about everything from whether you waited too long to send a text reply to if you ordered something too snooty the last time you went out to eat.
You’re walking on imaginary eggshells, thinking that they have you and your behaviors under a microscope.
They’re likely just as insecure as you are, and you’re both doing the emotional equivalent of running around like panicked emus while desperately trying to keep it cool on the outside.
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You may have already slept together several times, but it takes a while to be truly comfortable with a person.
The more time you spend together, the more intimate you can really become: protective walls are dropped, you let each other get a bit closer, maybe share stories about your past.
You might even find yourself in a situation where you’re helping one another through a difficult time, like a family issue, a health problem, or a difficult time with work.
Either way, there are new levels of closeness being discovered, and you’re getting a strong sense of who you both really are, beneath the masks we all wear on a day-to-day basis.
Everything in the world is so amazing. Life is beautiful. Hello sky! When you did you become so blue?
When you hit this point, you’re generally so blissed out that you aren’t even walking on solid ground anymore: you’re pretty much floating above it.
In fact, this very concept was encapsulated in the film My Fair Lady. When dudebro was completely smitten with Miss Whatsername, he sang:
I have often walked down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before… all at once am I several stories high, knowing I’m on the street where you live.
Kind of adorable, huh? Also very cheesy in a 1960s musical kind of way, and most of us have only seen it when dealing with really bad fevers around 3 am when nothing else is on TV, but that’s okay!
It just illustrates perfectly the kind of giddy fervor we experience when all the feel-good lovey hormones are bouncing around inside us.
Internal dialogue: “Omg omg this is getting really intense and I don’t know wtf to do with it”.
Normally at this point, it becomes abundantly clear that this… this is REAL. This is a maelstrom of really powerful emotions for a person, and that is HUGE.
This person is really special to you, and you want them to play a significant role in your life, and you’d be really, really upset if you lost them.
Those feelings can make people really scared and vulnerable, and often causes them to retreat a little bit in order to sort out how they feel about the whole thing.
This retreat can cause upheaval in the blossoming relationship, especially if the parties aren’t being really open and honest about what they’re experiencing.
Sometimes there will be a get close/withdraw back and forth dance for a while, which is especially daunting if both people are doing it.
Both of these ugly little gremlins rear their heads during the closeness/retreat phase, and can manifest in a number of different ways.
You may not yet know what kind of a relationship you want with the person, but you sure as hell want to make sure no-one else edges in while you’re thrashing around in indecision!
Fear of rejection or loss can make you act like a complete imbecile right about now.
You might be scouring your partner’s social media accounts to try to find clues that they’re interested in other people, or checking their phone when they’re in the bathroom, or any other number of things that make you a giant asshole.
We get it, you’re scared, but don’t be a d*ck.
Don’t assume: ask.
Then ask more. And talk more.
This is the stage at which you either find yourself wanting to cement “whatever this is” into a relationship, or finally run screaming because you’re overwhelmed by your own emotions.
If you love this person and want to cultivate something authentic with them, be brave and take the leap.
If you’ve managed to get through step nine without fleeing in abject terror, chances are you and your partner have had a good talk and decided to make a go of a relationship.
This is awesome.
A sincere partnership with someone you care about really is one of the most beautiful and fulfilling things a person can experience in a lifetime, and love – real love – is the most powerful force on the planet.
It may help to speak to someone about how you are feeling so that you can be sure it’s love and not something else. Why not chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero for some one-to-one advice? Simply click here to chat.
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But in romantic love, you just want to find the “one”. But long before But all bets are off when we actually encounter someone on a first date.
What is this thing called love?
We can live without St Valentine’s Day. But we can’t survive without love, because love is nested in the need for closeness that is wired into the deep structure of the human psyche. When that need is thwarted, we are beset by loneliness and rejection, blocked, adrift, stagnating in our lives. When we have love, we become more ourselves, more energised, more together. Love constitutes one of the essential nutrients of life, for psychological growth, for optimal functioning, and not least, for happiness.
Not all love is the same. We make a clear distinction between the love for family and friends, and romantic love. Most people can name about nine people in the first category, but only one in the second. Although we may fall in love many times, only a tiny minority put more than one person in that category at any one time. But what binds the two kinds of love is intimacy. Intimacy is how love starts. The loss of intimacy is how it ends.
When people describe experiences of deep intimacy they recall definite things. A look, a gesture, a touch. A sudden quiet awareness of what feels like the other person’s essence. The silent disappearance of the normal boundary between you, feeling as one. And yet, paradoxically, having an acute awareness of your own and the other’s body, although not necessarily in a sexual way. And then, the feeling of anticipation, of excitement: Something important about yourself and the other is being revealed. We feel a physical release, muscles relaxing, letting go of a weight.
Unlike the intimacy with parents and friends, the intimacy of romantic love has a sense of destiny and surprise about it. We experience it as completely natural and spontaneous, yet destined, meant to happen. Relationships with family and friends may be full of surprises, but rarely have a sense of destiny about them. The great mystery of romantic love is how we ever get to that sense of destiny. The story of falling in love is the extraordinary journey we make, from the moment two relative strangers first set eyes on each other, to some of the most intense moments of intimacy in our lives that happens over three stages.
The First Stage: Attraction
The first move in any love is simply to get closer. But in romantic love, you just want to find the “one”. But long before you do, you have entered a magnetic field. Evolutionary forces are already steering you towards a potential mate with the biological markers of good genes, who will help you produce nice, healthy babies. Clear skin, bright eyes, lustrous hair, white teeth, a lively gait, and a certain smell or pheromone that may signal a complementary immune system.
So men assign great importance to anything about a woman’s body shape that signals fertility, especially the ratio of fat between the hips, waist, and buttocks, a ratio that, irrespective of weight, seems to be biologically linked to a woman’s sex-hormone profile, fertility, and health. Women, for their part, show a strong preference for the traditional masculine inverted V shape – wide shoulders tapering into a narrow waist, hips and tidy buttocks. They are sensitive to male body scents and aroused by them, and respond to subtle facial changes that reveal high levels of circulating testosterone. Displays of male dominance, his ability to command attention and influence other men, are also noted as signals he can compete with other men. But women are paying even closer attention to anther set of cues – his education, career aspirations, talents, and financial situation. These are read as signs of his status or likely future status, and his ability to support a family. After a first encounter, these are the details she remembers better than details about his physical features.
But it’s the 21st century, you say. Surely, we have gotten over the “signs of fertility and status” business in dating? Nope. These are still the findings, right up to and including studies on internet and speed-dating. Whether people are describing what they want in a potential mate, looking at photographs, on-line profiles, or considering the speed-date prospect in front of them, the pattern is the same. As women advance their own careers and prospects, there is some evidence that a man’s financial status may be moving down, the hierarchy of attractors – but not too far down, mind you.
What about people who are gay and lesbian?
When it comes to physical attraction and sexual desirability, gay men are attracted to much the same things in a man as women are, although they tend to put a higher value on physical strength and muscularity, how “built” the potential mate is, than most women do. For lesbian women, findings about what they find physically attractive in a mate are mixed. Some studies suggest that they are relatively less concerned about finding a romantic partner who conforms to the cultural ideal of female attractiveness, especially “thinness”. They are more attracted by a woman who looks strong, fit, and in good condition, a body that is healthy and works.
Your brain is also busy steering you towards people who are very similar to yourself, its way to reduce risk by increasing the chances that the potential mate will be safe and predictable, and not an unknown quantity. That is why we are attracted to people who are similar to ourselves in background, values, education, interests. The social and work groups we belong to are our natural mating areas. We are drawn to people who share slight but significant physical similarity: in skin tone, eye colour, thickness of lips, width of nose, distance between eyes, length of ear lobes and middle finger, even lung volume. Who would have thought?
But, your brain is also concerned to widen the gene pool of potential mates and ensure genetic diversity. That is why we are also strongly attracted to novelty, to risk, even to danger. Difference excites us. We are attracted to someone who has personal qualities we don’t have, or would like to have. So we end up with a kind of Goldilocks strategy. We look for someone who is similar but not too similar, different but not too different. Passing the physical and Goldilocks tests only gets you through the first round of finding a mate. But once you are through these filters, you are now close enough to get choosy about their personal qualities.
What we say we want in a partner is pretty consistent. Someone caring, kind, sincere, trustworthy, someone who likes and values me, is responsive to my needs, and has a sense of humour. But all bets are off when we actually encounter someone on a first date.
Of course, we keep our quality standards in mind, but now we pay more attention to context information, reinterpreting what we said we wanted in the context of the whole person we see before us. We wanted sincerity, but not this over-earnest version. We wanted educated and caring. But now, we have to decide how much we value each quality. Are we prepared to trade off less of one for more of the other?
And of course, we are also acutely aware that we are entering a dating marketplace, requiring an exquisitely fine calculation of our own “value” as a potential romantic partner – including the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves. How fierce is the competition? How slim are the available pickings? How alone and desperate do we feel? Certain readjustments may be required in terms what we are looking for, at least temporarily.
But even if a particular candidate had all the qualities we wanted in a partner, most of us claim that we wouldn’t marry somebody we did not love. There has to be some stirring of romantic desire, we say, some ‘chemistry’, some feeling of excitement. And this hot emotional process affects our cold judgments of suitability. We mistakenly attribute our feelings to our rational judgments of their qualities. Flaws are overlooked, virtues exaggerated. Too late now. We are in love.
The Second Stage: Falling in Love
When people describe falling in love, the descriptions are remarkably similar, even if they sometimes sound a little deranged: a sense of consummate passion, obsession, and possession, swept up in something over which you have little control. You feel high because your body is releasing amphetamine-like substances that increase your physical and emotional arousal. There are mild hallucinogenic effects – an idealisation of the beloved as unique and special. A belief that this love will “last forever”, or endure into the known future. Sometimes the onset is sudden, more often for men than for women. For others, the process is more slow motion, a feeling that “something” has happened, some wave of feeling or energy is passing between the two of you, but it has yet to unfold.
There is a feeling of self-expansion, your heart “bursting” with love, your body with desire. You feel “puffed up” with pride – in the beloved, in yourself, in having this experience at all. You want to “fill up” your senses, and when you do, you feel that sense of complete satiation and intimacy rarely felt since infancy. Freud described it as the re-finding of a lost love, our ‘lost half’, a return to the blissful wholeness and union of early infancy.
Romantic love in its early stages activates not just the reward centres in the brain, but also the areas associated with obsessive-compulsive disorders. There is an intense emotional and sexual preoccupation with the beloved. You are fascinated by the curve of her lower lip, the slope of his nose, the way she rises from a chair, his distinctive gait, something you feel is their “essence”. You want to be with them, know everything about them.
At no other time in the human life course, outside of infancy, do you experience such physical intimacy. From early childhood on, physical intimacy with parents wanes. We learn the habits of normal social distancing – not staring too long at people, confining physical contact within strict cultural limits. This process is now reversed with the lover – prolonged gazing, kissing, nakedness, intimate touching, and sexual union. Belly-to-belly contact, your whole body touching theirs, vital in infant-parent bonding, plays the same role in romantic bonding.
Small talk, sharing formal information about ourselves gives way to more intimate sharing. Tone of voice becomes softer, more tender. Gradually words themselves become less important. We revert to private baby talk, to cooing. This shared security envelops the couple. All the hurly-burly is shut out. And for those precious moments, and as in early childhood, the rest of the world goes by, unnoticed. But there is method in the madness of falling in love. All of the above is designed simply as glue to keep you together long enough for an attachment to form, and that is designed to keep you together for the longer-term.
The Third Stage: Full-Blown Attachment
“Falling” in love eventually gives way to “being” in love. Your brain habituates to the cocktail of “in-love” chemicals. Oxytocin and vasopressin, the pair-bonding endorphins, take over. The dominant feelings now are security and contentment, a sense that “all is right with the world”. There is a growing sense of kinship, of companionship, a pattern of caring for each other – similar yet subtly different from what happens in friendships. This is the real beginning of attachment, of the ties that will bind us in love or in misery in a more long-term way.
This new attachment bond will be shaped by the kind of attachment you formed with your parents in childhood. Was their love your safe haven, your secure base, your bulwark against stress? And can you now do the same for someone else? Or was their love so compromised that you too are now compromised, searching in vain for a closeness that carries no risk? Settling for control instead of intimacy, or a repeat of the old pain, because any love is better than none at all. How all that plays out in will most strongly determine how your great romance will end. And that is a whole other story.
DrMaureen Gaffney is a psychologist and the author of Flourishing (Penguin). This is an extract from her forthcoming book.
If you want to fall in love but haven't yet, you might be looking in the wrong If your type was really what was good for you, and the person you really want in.