Psychological Notes: What happens when we fall in love?

MOST WESTERN people fall in love between once and several dozen times. It is so commonplace an event the rest of the world hardly notices. But to the lovers, happy or unhappy, the event can be cataclysmic, marking their lives indelibly. But not always. The variety of love is so vast that falling into it may involve only a modest tumble, and the lover hardly knows it this is love at all.

If all goes well, any adventure into love, headlong or hesitant, may seem an obvious and simple matter. Yet it is not simple at all, for it is entangled with all the greatest influences that bear on humanity. The vast network of social and cultural pressures under which we live our lives; depth-psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology; the driving forces of our evolutionary ancestry; the physiological urges of our sexual bodies - all contribute to what may often seem to be an exciting but uncomplicated event.

The relationships of these pressures is a matter of hot controversy, between (at one extreme) those who believe we are born not made, and who see failing in love as a "natural" innate behaviour; and those (at the other extreme) who believe we make our own destiny, and regard love as a cultural construct, varying in nature and significance at different periods. There are some who assert that love would not exist at all if we did not name it so. All that is agreed is that falling in love is intense, absorbing, ecstatic - and brief.

Whatever the answers - which must surely lie in a combination of these views - love continues to fascinate us, and the emotion, time and ink expended on it has changed little in at least 3,000 years. For this is an ancient experience, and those who assert it was created by the 12th- and 13th-century troubadours of Provence are looking not at a new experience but at the intensification of an old one, fraught with a new inward significance.

As to what is happening when we fall in love, explanations are as various as the experience itself. Are we simply responding to sexual urges suffused in romance? Are we engaged in reconstructing our infant experience? Or are we only following the expectations of our culture? Could it be that we are simply repeating the "imprinting" of infant birds and many mammals? Or are we irresistibly impelled by the archetypes and "love-maps" lurking in the unconscious?

As to why this experience should ever have evolved, when it appears nowhere else in the animal kingdom, we have to decide if it arose chiefly to provide a close parental bond for the rearing of the remarkably helpless human infant; or as an attempt to combat human loneliness, isolation, anomie; or as a device of patriarchy to encourage the control of women and ensure the proper descent of wealth. Or as a combination of these and possibly other pressures. There are no easy answers. Although we surmise endlessly, we still know very little of our wondrously intricate minds and brains.

It is still customary to seek and celebrate and extol the raptures of failing in love - but not everyone approves it. No one could question that it can produce agonies and treacheries and entrapments every bit as consuming as its joys and loyalties and freedoms, and there is strong opposition stirring against love's slavery selfishness, blindness, and a growing conviction that its excesses could be tamed, by knowledge and reason, into a new alignment of sex, honesty, and companionship.

For those who see our basic emotions as ancient, intractable stuff, this may seem an over-optimistic view - yet perhaps we are not helpless. The unravelling of confusion offers a chance of deeper understanding, and through that it should be possible to find attitudes to love more aware, more alert, more ironic.

Sheila Sullivan is the author of `Falling in Love' (Macmillan, pounds 14.99)

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?