Lateral thinking: What makes you fall in love?

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 18 2021
Columns Lateral thinking: What makes you fall in love?

By R.S. Karunaratne

Love maketh not itself to please,

Nor for itself hath any care;

But for another gives its ease,

And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.

William Blake

It is a fact that men are almost heartbreakingly susceptible to love, much more than women. If you wish to find evidence for it, look at the lyrics of popular songs sung in praise of women. It is very rarely that you come across a song sung by a woman in praise of a man. We have heard of lovesickness which afflicts men and women. But a man falls head over heels into a raging romance. History records very few women who were madly in love with men. Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, was one such woman who fell head over heels in love with Mark Antony.

There seems to be a difference between men and women when they fall in love. Loving and being in love are two different aspects of romance. Being in love is the first stage of a romantic relationship. Sometimes you are in love with a girl without her knowledge. That is love in the second stage of love. Being in love can be a fleeting emotion and it may not be genuine. However, when you are in love, it will last a lifetime. 

Most of us experience our romantic love in our teens. We fall in and out of love with several partners until we find the right person. Sometimes you may not find the ideal lover. It all depends on how you nurture your romantic relationship. This kind of romantic love is something new. In the Middle Ages brave Knights dedicated their swords and hearts to beautiful women. It appears that only males indulged in love in the past. Women remained at the receiving end. Richard de Fournival who lived in the 13th century wrote, “Love is a folly of the mind, an unquenchable fire, a hunger without surfeit.” He also said, “Love is a sweet delight, a pleasing madness, a labour without repose and a repose without labour.”

Starved for love 

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Today men and women are starved for love. They watch endless numbers of films and read numerous novels about happy and not-so-happy love stories. What is more, they listen to thousands of songs about love. But we really do not know whether there is anything more to learn about love.

Studies indicate that people have no desire to define or learn more about love. Today romantic love is widespread throughout the world. If you spoke to some grandfathers and grandmothers, they would say they never fell in love. They simply compared their horoscopes and got married. Most of such marriages have succeeded. In a study male students were asked whether they would marry someone they had never seen or loved before. Sixty per cent of the students said no. The study was done in 1959 in the United States. After 20 years they posed the same question to another group of students. Eighty-six per cent of male students gave a thumbs-down answer. 

Our knowledge of what makes people love is more limited in scope and recently acquired. Many social psychologists believe that love is too difficult to observe and study in a controlled, scientific way.  However, love remains a central issue in our lives. Therefore, social psychologists cannot resist its allure. Researchers tried to identify the characteristics between mere liking and full-blown love. They found that love is not a greater quantity of liking, but a qualitatively different psychological state. In its early stages, love includes intense physiological arousal. The lover begins to fantasize about his girlfriend. They begin to have rapid swings of emotions. The difficulty in understanding love is due to its close connection with passion, closeness, fascination, exclusiveness, sexual desire and intense caring. When in love we exaggerate our partner’s good qualities and minimize their imperfections.


Because of the mysteries found in love, researchers say it has a distinct physical syndrome. Romantic love increases the palpitations of the heart, flushing of the face, breathing and a slight tremor of the hands or fingers. But a person can get the same cluster of reactions if he gets an injection of adrenalin. There is no need to get an injection when you can enjoy the strong feelings in a more natural way. Sometimes people wonder whether romantic love ends when once they get married. It may not be so. Houdini, the well-known magician, kept up the romance of his marriage till the very end. He always found time to write a love letter to his wife, and from 1913 till his death he left not a day pass without writing one such letter.

Who begins a romantic love affair? According to research, a man usually takes the initiative. However, he may not write the first love letter. Whatever that may be, more men fall in love than women. In a recent research more than a quarter of 250 eligible bachelors fell in love. But only 15 per cent out of 429 women fell in love. The research indicated that men do not waste time in falling in love but women need more time to decide. This shows that men are less discriminating than women. In other words, men are usually carried away by the looks and charms of women. So a man needs only a few seconds to fall in love. A woman, on the other hand, thinks of love in terms of marriage. They are more concerned with the economics.

This does not mean that women are not subject to strong emotions. In passionate love their hearts also palpitate, their faces flush, they breathe fast, and they also experience a slight tremor of the hands and fingers. But unlike men, women allow their heads to control their hearts.

Passionate love 

Psychologists have identified two types of love: Passionate love and companionate love. Passionate or romantic love represents a state of intense absorption in someone. It includes intense physiological arousal, psychological interest and caring for the needs of another. Companionate love is a strong affection we have for those with whom our lives are deeply involved. It includes love for our parents, family members, and close friends. In companionate love we do not experience strong emotions.

Despite the intensity of our love for each other, we cannot maintain the degree of romantic love forever. If there is nothing to build on, the initial intensity can evaporate ending the relationship. This will usually lead to depression, loneliness, illness or even suicide. Most married couples, however, manage to survive the loss of first-stage love and settle into the second-stage love or conjugal love. If you wish to know more about it, you may read Alberto Moravia’s fascinating novel “Conjugal Love.”

In conjugal love, you may not experience bouts of intense emotions. Most husbands and wives begin to expand their horizons and become closer to each other. After years of living together they become almost inseparable. They will disagree, argue and quarrel with each other but the solid core of love will remain stable. A man who had been married for 57 years said he loved his wife more than anyone else in the world. He could not live without her. That is the power of conjugal love.

Erich Fromm who took a stimulating and thoughtful look at the theory and practice of love in “The Art of Loving” says, “ … to speak of love is not preaching; for the simple reason that it means to speak of the ultimate and real need in every human being.”

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By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 18 2021

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