Why Do We Fall in Love?

(I tried to write this excerpt from a purely observational standpoint…I don’t know if I pulled it off or not, but let me know what you guys think!)

What is is that makes people fall in love?

There are so many variables that can factor into if we even like someone, let alone love them. Perhaps that’s a better place to start…what makes us like someone enough to strike up a conversation with them—is it the way that they look, the way they smile or the way they walk, something in their eyes that makes you think there is something deeper there, something that intrigues you enough to want to know more? Is it the energy that a person puts off when they first shake your hand, or lean in for that awkward “nice to meet you” hug, that makes you feel like perhaps the two of you will have something in common?

And from there…how does a relationship with this person bloom? You ask each other questions about your separate lives, hobbies, work, and experiences. You ask when their birthday is, what their favorite color is, and whether or not they like sushi. How do you know what questions to ask? Some people will ask questions because it’s the polite thing to ask: “What do you do for work? Do you have any pets? Do you have any food allergies? Because I thought we’d go to a Thai place where everything is covered in peanuts, and I don’t want to be responsible for your untimely demise.”

Some people ask questions because they’re genuinely curious. “Do you enjoy what you do for a living? Are you more of a dog person or a cat person? If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be, and do you think you’d ever get so tired of eating one thing that you’d fast yourself to death?” And still some other people don’t even get to the question part of this social interaction that we call getting to know someone, either because they’re far too nervous or far too self-indulgent to really understand how it works. “I uh…I like your outfit.” “I hope you’re hungry…this Thai place down the street is amazing! Thai food is my absolute favorite, followed closely by Italian food. I know a lot more good Thai restaurants though than Italian ones, and this one has a dinner special going on until 9pm! There was this one time that I went there…”

During this initial interaction, when you quiz each other (or, talk endlessly about yourself or listen to someone else do it), the goal is to try to find mutual ground. You like sushi? Me too! One of your favorite bands is Rise Against? Me too, I’ve seen them in concert twice! You just saw them in concert recently? That’s awesome! The goal is to find mutual reactions…mutual facial expressions prompted by the same outside stimuli, mutual excitement or disgust for certain foods, places, people, and things, mutual ways of speaking to each other and to others. We seek to find someone who we feel understands us, and the best way to feel understood is to know that whoever you’re talking to has similar views on things as you do, no matter how trivial the things are to the bigger picture. And this makes us feel happy. We enjoy spending time with this person because we feel that this person understands and validates our perception of the enormous world around us, and it’s so much more fun to enjoy the world with someone else who sees it similarly.

We begin to associate this good feeling with this person, and we begin to crave time or interaction with them because we want to know more and continue feeling that good feeling. What else do we see that’s the same? I wonder what our differences are? We love the way that we feel validated in this person’s company, when they laugh at our jokes, or when we talk with them about our favorite things and they start to appreciate those things because we told them our perspective of it. We love learning about new things because someone who shares other traits with us has told us about them.

And then a friendship is formed. We want to learn more about this person, even if the things we learn from them are contradictory to how we see things; now we aren’t just curious so we can form an alliance with them, because we already have, but now we wish to strengthen that alliance with them. We can do this by accepting the other person’s differing views and taking interest in them regardless, showing them that even though they are not us, we still value them. We can do this by spending our time with this person, talking about ideas and coming to completely new conclusions. We can do this by enjoying activities with the person and creating new memories that make us feel content with ourselves, which makes both the memories and the person valuable. And we want to strengthen our alliance because we want to know that in this big world, with all its variables and craziness, that we aren’t alone, that we have people to share it with.

Romantic relationships take this a step further and add a physical, chemical attraction to the mix, along with a slew of other questions that are answered in one way or another as the relationship deepens and we learn about the person we are beginning to value. Does this person find me physically attractive also? Is he/she dependable and honest? If I decided to go long-term with this and I found myself relying on this person for emotional, financial, or other support, do their actions indicate that they could fill the role? Biologically, do they have traits desirable to pass on to offspring if it were to happen? Would they be good mother/father material? Do they have similar long-term goals as I do, and could we help each other fulfill those goals?

When we value a person, and we see that they value us as well, we become attached to them emotionally. The feeling we get from being around this person because of the effect they have on the chemicals in our brain, both consciously and subconsciously activated, is addicting! We don’t really fall in love with a person as much as we fall in love with the way that the person makes us feel about ourselves, and the way we feel because of their influence. They make us feel understood, validated, appreciated, important, secure, and safe. We feel at ease, like we can be ourselves without the fear of judgement or rejection. In a romantic situation, our physical needs of intimacy and bonding are also fulfilled. These feelings of emotional and physical satisfaction, accompanied by the flooding of chemicals in our heads, make us believe that we cannot live without this person because they help us satisfy so many of the needs that, when met, make us feel whole.

The relationship deepens. A physical connection has been maintained, as well as emotional, and we’re compatible with them on both levels. The feelings of security and safety deepen as we not only expose more of our personal thoughts that, if attacked, would threaten our ego the most, but we’ve also exposed our bodies in their most vulnerable state, and no one has tried to kill us (or tell us we’re unattractive!). As we reveal thought after thought, idea after idea, without being rejected, we begin to trust. This person’s thoughts and ideas have influenced us, and we begin to believe that the value we’ve gained from our experiences with this person are priceless. With their assurance and guidance, we’ve thought about and done things that we would never have thought about or done without the influence of this person. This person, who has consistently given us feelings of value and validation, has now gone overtime to actually invest their time and energy into enriching our lives, with the mutual benefit that your happiness makes them feel good. And you feel the same! Their happiness makes you feel good. If the person that makes you feel so great about yourself and who makes you feel so valued feels good, then so do you! You feed off of each other’s happiness, and you’re willing to make personal sacrifices now for the long-term goal of the continuation of this mutual happiness, because the way that they make you feel is irreplaceable in your mind. Many things, at this point, become worth compromising in order to preserve that feeling, a feeling whose biggest contributor is the happiness and well-being of a person whose effect on you can only be described as love.

But all the variables that go into making this chain of events possible…what if the right questions weren’t asked in the very, very beginning, and so you never found that small shred of common ground that was strong enough to link the two of you together for future interaction? What if the chemical flood in the brain didn’t happen, i.e. you weren’t attracted to them or vice versa, and so the physical bond was never created to deepen the relationship and satisfy a primary need? What if the timing in your lives was too crazy—he/she works too much, or works an opposite schedule, lives too far away, or loses reliable transportation—and so the two of you never spent enough quality time together to really create feelings of value and appreciation? What if this person was not in a good mood, from external stimuli, when you confessed one of your deepest secrets, and so they reacted in a way that made you feel rejected, threatening the strength of your existing bond and actually jeopardizing its future strength?

Humans are only human, after all—people make mistakes. They say the wrong things, do the wrong things, show their love in well-meaning but damaging ways, or are too afraid to show it at all. So many things can happen during the slow and gentle building stages of a relationship that can cause it to collapse at any moment that it’s a wonder any of us make it to that stage at all! Many people aren’t even sure how to try, and so they stay stuck in the shallow pools of the relationship-building stages, never moving on to something bigger and better that is truly enriching, either out of fear, inexperience, or poor judgement of how a person is affecting our feelings towards ourselves. Sometimes they get stuck on the chemical reaction a person has without examining the quality of the emotional reaction—and who could blame them? Chemicals are a very strong thing, and they often take over in romantic relationships for quite some time before we can examine the emotional value of a relationship! Infatuation, anyone? And sometimes, our mental states are not in healthy enough to correctly judge positive value, and so we choose relationships that are inherently negative, simply because we think that is the experience that will fulfill us best at the time.

There are so many things that go into the feeling that we call love that it’s no wonder humans have spent hours obsessing over it, writing about it, singing about it and becoming inspired to create beautiful art, music, and poetry because of it for thousands of years. The feeling we get when we are in a mutually loving relationship is so brilliant, so sought-after because of its effect on our brains, and so addicting that most people spend the vast majority of their lives seeking out a person who can create this feeling inside of them. But if we are lucky to find truly mutual love with another human being…no explanation can adequately describe it.

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