“It is better to have loft and lost than to never have loft at all.” — Groucho Marx
Falling in love is a magical experience that happens between two people. So why do people fall in love? Professor Arthur Aron from State University of New York at Stonybrook has been exploring the dynamics of what happens when two people are falling in love:
Q: What motivates people to seek out love?
A: Our primary motivation as human beings is to expand the self and to increase our abilities and our effectiveness. One of the ways we accomplish this is through our relationships with other people. We have learned in our research that it is important to feel that you have the ability to be an effective person, especially in our relationships.
Q: How does this theory of self-expansion explain the process of falling in love?
A: Usually, we fall in love with a person that we find attractive and appropriate for us, but also someone who demonstrates that they are attracted to us. This creates a situation where a great opportunity is open to us for self-expansion. The fact that they are attracted to us offers a significant opportunity — when we perceive this, we feel a surge of exhilaration!
Q: Does it always work this way?
A: No, an interesting exception to this occurs if we feel badly about ourselves. The process gets thrown off if we can’t believe that another persons finds us attractive — like the Groucho Marx joke where we don’t want to belong to a club that would have us for a member. We tend to miss out on opportunities for falling in love if we don’t feel good about ourselves.
Q: What conditions are best for meeting someone and falling in love?
A: When you meet someone under conditions that are highly arousing — a political demonstration, turbulence on a plane, a stimulating performance — a time when the body is stirred up and excited, we tend to experience attraction at a heightened level. This effect is well documented but the explanations for it are very controversial. I tend to believe that we come to associate the arousal of the situation with this person and our own self-expansion.
Q: When do we fall in love?
A: Contrary to what most people think, the statistics show that most people fall in love with someone that they have known for a while. People only report falling in love quickly about 1/3 to 40 percent of the time. Of course, this varies from culture to culture. Falling in love happens differently between cultures but it does occur in most cultures.
Q: How does our appearance factor into the equation of falling in love?
A: This is interesting; we have found that if you are very unattractive, it can hurt you a lot in forming romantic relationships. However, being attractive doesn’t help that much.
Q: How do you explain that?
A: We have found that two important characteristics, kindness and intelligence, are extremely important in the process of falling in love. And attractiveness is not connected to these things. These two attributes are things that people learn about someone from knowing them over time. Intelligence is important in all aspects of life, especially in love. But kindness is the strongest indicator for a successful long-term relationship.