Love is universal. Everyone who has experienced it knows what it feels like, and yet, there aren’t many of us who understand why we fall in love. Knowing what influences your behavior will make it easier for you to make healthier choices in your love life. Find out the four underlying forces that determine why, and to whom, you are attracted. (Estimated reading time: 5 minutes)
“If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.”— William Shakespeare
Amore. Kärlek. Pyar. Ishk. Ài. Grá.
People from across the world use different words for love, but the feeling of being in love is the same for everyone. This underscores its importance and prevalence to human culture.
While most of us know what it feels like, we don’t understand why we fall in love and why we fall in love with certain types of people. These are questions that usually plague those who are unlucky in love, or who feel like they lose themselves in its rapture.
After a spell of bad dates, it’s tempting to throw your hands up in the air, convinced that you’re a victim of fate. This is no surprise if you grew up hearing things like, “love just happens,” “it will happen in divine timing,” or “you’ll know right away when you meet the one.”
While there’s no straightforward answer as to why we fall in love, romantic notions based on fairytale thinking and superstition are not healthy substitutes. The experience of love may feel mysterious and incomprehensible, but there are some underlying forces that we can pinpoint.
Since early history, luminaries from every discipline — art, popular culture, and science — have tried to determine what those forces are. Poets like John Keats and Rabindranath Tagore suggested that love is otherworldly and too esoteric to ever understand fully, while people of science, like Darwin and Freud, rationalized it with evolutionary and psychological principles.
The point of looking at these various perspectives is not to determine which one is right, and which one is wrong, but to gain enough knowledge to understand why we feel the way we do so that we can make better decisions. We also don’t want to remove the alluring and ethereal quality of love but balance it with a healthy dose of sensibility and discernment.
The reason why we struggle to make sense of the experience of being in love is that it encompasses many layers – mental, emotional, and social. It is also highly subjective and personal. All the confusing messages that we hear from pop culture adds fuel to the fire. Is love really “a battlefield?” Does the heart really go on? Can we all get “lovestoned”?
This list of explanations gives an overview of the main components. Becoming aware of their influence on your behavior will make it easier for you to make healthier choices in your love life.
1. Evolutionary and biological
Love, at its most primal level, supports reproductive success. A strong connection leads to long-term relationships, which increases the likelihood of a couple having children. According to a study, love works as a “commitment device” that encourages couples to stay together while raising children. Since child rearing requires a lot of investment, a highly bonded couple will be more willing to put in the work needed to jointly raise healthy and well-developed children.
There’s an explanation for the dizziness, sweaty palms, butterflies in your tummy, and warm fuzzies when you’re in love. According to researcher, Dr. Helen Fisher, our experience of falling in love is simply a response to the biochemicals that cause us to experience pleasure, excitement, and arousal. When we fall head over heels for someone, our bodies release a cocktail of hormones that trigger those feelings. According to Fisher, romantic love can be broken down to three types: lust, attraction, and attachment. Our bodies release a different set of hormones for each category.
3. Social and cultural
Falling in love, in most cultures, is a rite of passage that leads to marriage. Social norms influence us to seek partners within a certain age range and start a family. We tend to be attracted to those who are “socially acceptable” and who have a similar life situation as we do when it comes to age, social class, religion, race, spiritual beliefs, and education.
According to the social exchange theory, we search for mates who offer the greatest rewards at the lowest cost. The theory suggests that intimate relationships often arise from opportunistic motives to level up in society by coupling with those partners who possess power; financial, social, dominant personality traits, among others.
Several psychological processes impact our choice of romantic partners. Most of these happen on a subconscious level with deep roots in our upbringing and parental relationships. Here are eight attributes that generate romantic attraction toward another person.
1. Reciprocal liking: When another person is attracted to you and likes you back, it can increase your own liking for them.
2. Relationship readiness: If you’re at a stage in your life when you feel ready to be in a committed partnership, you’re more likely to fall in love with someone. A person who does not feel stable in their career, or who just ended a relationship, would be less inclined to go all in.
3. Similarity: Having similar interests, beliefs, and lifestyles increases compatibility and makes us feel more at ease with someone. This sense of feeling “at home” and not having to change too much about yourself to make a relationship work boosts attraction.
4. Fulfilling needs: If we perceive that a person meets our basic need for love, companionship, and physical intimacy, there’s a higher chance that we will fall in love with them. Besides intimate needs, we may also look for someone who can give us a leg up in other areas of life.
5. Proximity and propinquity: Familiarity increases attraction which is why we are more likely to fall for someone who we see regularly and with whom we can spend more one-to-one time. This is often someone who lives or works close to us because it’s easier to build intimacy.
6. Mystery: We’re often drawn to those who seem mysterious. We may find them intriguing because they don’t reveal too much about themselves, they come from a different background, or have quirky attributes and hobbies that we find interesting.
7. Desirable traits: Many of us have a “type” with certain characteristics that we find particularly attractive. This can include physical attributes like shapely, toned arms and piercing blue eyes. It could also be personality traits like a sense of humor or creativity.
8. Arousal situations: Studies show that spending time with someone in stressful, exciting, and dangerous situations pumps our adrenaline and creates powerful bonding experiences that can lead to love.
The next time you find yourself falling for someone, take a step back and ask yourself what forces are at play. Is your attraction to them based on true compatibility, or is it solely driven by social norms and a hormone-induced infatuation?
Knowing what’s influencing your love choices ultimately paves the way for the kind of love that’s magical and genuine, within a crucible of safety, longevity, and trust.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What has your experience of being in love been like? What were the factors that drove your attraction?
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