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Why people often fall in and out of love

Updated on March 4, 2009

Monogamy in Nature -- hawks aren't human!

What makes people fall in love...

 What makes people fall in love is chemistry. Pheromones play a large part in it. That may be something adaptive and biological, it could be a first line of screening for genetic incompatibility. Also, healthy people's pheromones will possibly trigger a stronger reaction than someone who's sick.

But human beings aren't animals. The gut emotion may happen on a subliminal pheromone cue but it's also programmed by expectations of culture. Especially by perceiving one's parents' relationships and other adults when you're small. What's normal is what you grew up with.

So is what's exciting.

People fall in love because some cue that is deep in the unconscious gets fulfilled. It may be something they said or a color they're wearing. It may be some filter like recognizing this person shares a religious view or a social-cultural outlook. The reasons for that attraction are often ephemeral -- it could be as specific as whether a woman happens to have large breasts or a man wears the same cologne as the woman's father had. They're presentation.

Presentation doesn't always have a lot to do with reality.

Many of the cues are verbal and behavioral. Someone who behaves like a parent is going to be attractive even to someone who was abused -- that stupid old song "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad" comes true for almost everyone who was abused as a child because the abuser's behavior becomes a romantic trigger. That can lead to a series of bitter abusive relationships that break up for the same reasons every time -- when the abuser's in a good mood and courting it seems like it's going great, but all the warning signs are ignored because those are exactly what's sexy about the new rotter.

It's very hard to break that programming for anyone who came from a dysfunctional family. Abuse does not need to be at a physically violent level to be devastating to relationships.

It's also bitterly common in present day America because depression with its abusive behaviors strikes fully a quarter of the people -- the odds of growing up without a depressed person in your immediate family are pretty low, extend that to close friends of the family and regular adults in a child's life and it's extremely unlikely someone was lucky enough to grow up without the abuse pattern coming into life somewhere.

One in four people means there's only a fifty-fifty chance your parents weren't depressed at some point or had other serious problems.

But getting past that, the patterns of codependence and its formation around someone who's depressed, alcoholic, mentally ill or addicted to something are something that doesn't come along overnight. The process is gradual.

So you have people responding naturally to the immediate rush of someone who seems like just the right person -- there's a deep instinct feeling. It's not uncommon for someone to say "I'm going to marry that guy/gal" on first meeting and then go to the effort of a serious courtship to ensure that happens. Courtship involves putting it on, being at your best, doing everything you can to sell yourself to the loved one.

When you actually get that lover all that extra effort turns out to be extra effort. Not part of everyday life, nor should it be. No one can sustain peak effort all the time or they wind up physically and emotionally exhausted. What's left in successful relationships is real compatibility.

Sometimes the reasons people fall in love aren't that numinous. Sometimes they're practical -- it may seem romantic to fall in love with someone who's self employed and works at home, but the result is that your lover's always there, always home, usually too busy at work to stop and socialize and you can't wind up separating work and home life the way other people with jobs do. Or count on being the first priority in your lover's life at all times when you are with that lover. You wind up having to accept sometimes the job is the priority.

That leads to another type of conflict that crashes relationships fast -- unrealistic expectations. Leave aside the whole codependent-abuse pattern, let's say these are two lucky people who didn't have that kind of cruelty in either of their backgrounds, both of them grew up expecting marriage to be considerate and loving with a lot of affection all the time.

What happens there is that Romantic Love as a concept cuts in and a lot of good things in life that are not the peak drama of winning a courtship get ignored because they are not the fireworks of spotting, striving and winning the beloved. It's more real and more sound a basis to be considerate and treat your beloved better and kinder than you do other people -- thank them for little things they do, appreciate their accomplishments, care about their concerns -- but that takes work as opposed to just taking it all for granted or even as many people do, saving up all their stresses to take it out on those they live with.

Infidelity in human beings is so common that it happens worldwide in any culture that has any form of marital agreement. Yet when it happens that's a big deal and it's often unforgivable, jealousy and possessiveness lay unrealistic expectations on a partner. Those can kill love so fast.

Would you really want to live with someone who checks up on you whenever you leave the house? Calls to make sure you went where you said you did? Won't let you visit friends of the opposite sex or even friends of the same sex? Limits your life so bitterly that you have no separate life?

People put up with that kind of treatment to varying degree -- but it is taken for granted sometimes as being normal if they grew up with it in a parental pattern. When one person has that as an expectation and the other doesn't -- well, the person being supervised that way has every good reason to just walk out.

Violating the assumptions of the other person is what kills quick romances. Most of them aren't even stated. They get exaggerated in fiction and television, they get held up as something everyone should have. One of the ugliest is that your first love is your only love.

Give up on that one. Telling people that kills way too many teenagers in suicide because they don't believe they can ever find love again after a heartbreak.

I look at "falling in love" which feels the same whether it's going to be a weekend that ends that fast or a long relationship of years as the seed of love. It will only grow into longlasting love if it's tended and it's grown in a place where it can flourish.

Real logistic reasons can break it up. Long absences like one lover going off to college in a different place can break up otherwise good relationships, without a lot of contact it has very little chance. Those lovers that succeed in staying together through long absences do so by writing, calling and connecting constantly to remind each other that they're still in love.

It takes two to do that. If one is less attached -- it will drift apart no matter how attached the other one is. There is no way to make someone love you if they don't. Even if you lie through your teeth and live the lie, that isn't you they love -- it's the lie, and it's one of the cruelest lies there is to do that and hide some important part of yourself for the sake of the all-important romantic myth.

There's no physical or emotional difference between "infatuation" and deep permanent love other than how it's defined socially. You can call it infatuation afterward if it didn't work out for some reason of incompatibility that isn't anyone's fault but just a cultural pattern.

The real moral of this is to take your time with the courtship and don't beat yourself if it takes many times falling in love and out of it before you find someone you can live with. Human courtship is complex and even when it works the way it's supposed to, people change. A couple who was very compatible can break up if one of them becomes a born again fundie and expects the other to completely change everything in life and center it around a church neither of them belonged to when they got together.

Love is a risk but it has deep, real rewards. Accepting that it starts with a grand rush but ends if life isn't livable is the best way to deal with it -- and following the grand rush with a long slow period of getting to know you while being willing to walk away if there's something unlivable about the arrangement. If you take your time before settling down, the chances of staying together afterward are a lot higher.

That and don't fall into the common custom of treating your family worse than you do acquaintances at work. I don't know where that one developed but it's a sure fire way to destroy any relationship you're in -- or condemn everyone in your family to a permanently miserable situation if their ethics demand they stick around no matter what you do. It can also teach your kids that life's that rotten and they shouldn't expect anything better.

So this is real, there are many reasons for it and the biggest is that romantic love does not happen the way a lot of stories say it does. It feels that way, but that feeling will pass. In a good relationship every few years there's a renewal where the bonding happens all over again, richer and deeper... when you reach one of those renewals, you know you've succeeded in love. But don't rest on your laurels because getting along in between is a matter of consideration and friendship.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      jokes from emails, cikeoos left over from a meeting or a blog post of family photos.a0 When Melissa called Lesley over to check out the photos of her family in Felicita Park, Lesley couldn't

    • profile image

      Sunday Izu Jangado 

      6 years ago

      Love is a game that need to be play carefully, because, oftentimes people sacrifice for the one the love but at the end of it dissappointment. So, the game of love is for the top minded people.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America


    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      You have a point with how people treat their relatives. The family patterns emerge. Someone who's recovered from abuse can be easier to get on with than someone never touched by it, but the way to see that is in how they respond to those relatives when they behave in unacceptable ways. Someone who can detach and back off and let it go is able to do that in dealing with conflicts at home too.

      I like your metaphor of different environments -- put a desert plant into the rainforest and it will die of overwatering.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      Thank you. Taking it slow and knowing what we were getting into (as much as possible) has been a great part of not being too shocked when new things arise.

      Love is a risk, but worth it. Taking one's time is well worth the wait. Careful analysis of the others behavior toward their family members will help you to know the true person quicker (abusive behaviors can be seen in meanness toward siblings and defiance toward parents). Even if the person comes from a healthy background their idea of marriage will be different from yours. What you said about a relationship without life being unlivable reminds me of gardening. Every plant requires certain conditions to grow and thrive. You can't expect a tropical plant to thrive outdoors in Alaska. Know what you are getting and how to care for it!

      Wishing you the best.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Christa, thanks for posting from a successful viewpoint! That is exactly what I was trying to say -- that falling in love is a tide and it goes in and out. When you're still together at the ebb tide and still happier than you would be apart that is what lasts -- and it takes patience, consideration and fidelity even when things are tough. That you went in and out of love before you even married sounds like you two had a lot of sense about it.

      Yep. Act loving and the feelings follow. They're inspired by being treated well.

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 

      9 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      A long lasting relationship is also a commitment that two people make to one another. A commitment of patients, perseverance and fidelity even when thing are tough. Consideration and friendship are what make the commitment worth keeping.

      I say this because my husband and I "fell in love and out of love" before we ever married. We knew we had a friendship that would last, and a commitment to love, honor and respect each other, beyond feelings and infatuation. Even when we don't feel loving we act loving, and the feelings follow. Our marriage is not perfect, but it is growing.


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