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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas