Life: What exactly makes people to fall in love? by Dr. Chris Hart

Have you ever been passionately in love? It’s such a strange feeling. So intense. An all-consuming longing for your lover. You idealize your partner and think about them all the time. Wanting to know everything about them; to please them and understand their feelings. To be close to them. And you experience such a roller coaster of emotions: joy, happiness, serenity, anxiety, panic and despair.
Passionate love’s driven by hope, loneliness and jealousy. A mixture of pain and pleasure. It can be a bitter sweet experience. For some so painful they hope never to fall in love again.

Everyone thinks women are romantic. But actually it’s men who fall in love more easily! Women are much more likely to be sensible and practical. Even so, men and women of all ages and every ethnic and socio-economic group fall in love. Passion’s part of being human-all over the world. Anthropologists have studied love portions, folklore, tales about lovers and advice to them just about everywhere.

They find romance in every corner of the globe. Although it takes different shapes in different places. Film makers, novelists and song writers of course tend to present a western ideal of passionate love. An inevitable progression from flirting to marriage, elsewhere it’s often more elusive.
But everywhere lovers do the same things. Like running off together in defiance of family or tradition, pinning for each other and writing soppy poems. Why do we fall in love? Well, it’s often not what you think. For example, couples are much more likely to fall in love if they meet when they’re anxious or afraid. A very famous experiment arranged for an attractive woman to speak to young men just after they’d crossed a really scary, rickety and high suspension bridge. She spoke to others after they’d crossed another very ordinary bridge.

She asked each man if he’d help her by completing a questionnaire. After which she gave him a telephone number, saying she’d be happy to explain her ‘project’ to him in greater detail. Far more of the men who’d crossed the suspension bridge called her compared to the men who crossed the other one.

OK, it’s possible they were just interested in her project-but it’s much more likely that the excitement of crossing the dangerous bridge made them feel more amorous. Not surprisingly, there are many other things that affect whether we fall in love. For example whether you find the other person attractive, whether they seem to like you too, whether you have a lot in common, whether you live or work close together, specifics like hair color, eyes and face shape, social status, whether you’re ready for a relationship and whether or not you’re lonely.

Inevitably, good looks and personality turn out to be very important-but love’s always a two way thing. The feelings that the other person finds you attractive seems to be critical. Mutual liking is a universal trigger-across all cultures and for both men and women.

Many aspects of being in love are similar to commitment. The importance of friendship, trust, caring, respect, honesty and contentment, for example. What’s unique about love is the importance of intimacy, happiness and being together. Surprisingly although men tend to rate sex more highly than women, both rate romance, touching and passionate sex less important than support and mutual warmth. Lovers also give high ratings to self disclosure. Talking about personal matters and agreeing on important topics. Telling each other how they enjoy being together. And how they miss one another when apart.

Men and women agree-roughly-on what’s romantic. For women: flowers, kisses, candle lit dinners and cuddling. Showing a woman that you love her rates higher than saying “I love you”. So say it with flowers instead!

Men also rate kissing and candle-lit dinners-and prefer demonstrations of love to saying “I love you” even more than women. Hearing and saying ‘I love you’ just doesn’t work for men! Nor does dancing or surprise gifts, although all three are on women’s top-ten list. Men also like three activities women never even mention: holding hands, making love-and sitting together. But for both sexes, love is more tender than most of us imagine.

That’s not to say that when we’re in love we all behave alike. Each of us has a style that colors what we do. And yours may match your partner’s-so you’d best understand their approach, because it determines how your partner’s likely to treat you!

There are six basic styles-although you can have more than one, and changes with time and events. So at college you might be passionate and quick to get involved, biased towards physical attraction and sexual satisfaction. Later you may find yourself valuing love based on friendship with a partner with like values.

Other lovers are game players who like to have several partners at once. Their partners may be different from one another, because such lovers don’t act on romantic ideals. Some lovers experience great emotional highs and lows. They’re very possessive, often jealous and are forever doubting their partner’s sincerity.

Others are more pragmatic. They prefer someone who fills their needs. They’re happy to trade drama and excitement for a partner they can build their life with. Yet others form relationships because of what they can give their partner. Even sex is no big issue to them. They function on a more spiritual level.

Love styles show some gender differences. Men are more game playing. Women tend to value friendship, be more pragmatic-and experience more highs and lows. But on the whole, the sexes are more similar than different. And it’s noticeable that couples who stay together tend to be more passionate and less game-playing than couples who break up.

Your love style- and therefore how you treat your partner-may reflect the relationship you had with your mother. Those whose mothers were unavailable or unresponsive tend to grow up to be detached, unresponsive, and to avoid intimacy. They rarely find love. Those who could not rely on their mothers-because they were sometimes responsive, sometimes not-usually have a more anxious and ambivalent approach to relationships. They tend to be dependent and to demand commitment. Their love lives are full of emotional highs and lows, and they’re possessive and jealous. But children who had consistently responsive care become trusting and confident lovers. They form stable, happy and long lasting relationships.

But what really matters is that when it comes to love men and women are more alike than different. For all their quarrels, they share very similar attitudes-and are happiest together.

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