How Do People Come to Love Each Other?

By | 22/02/2016

Even these days, many people like to think that love happens by magic, as if lovers had truly been victims of Cupid’s random arrows, but that is not how I see it.

Since 1976, I have been trying to understand the components that determine how romantic partners are chosen. It is not an easy task, because several elements are at play—which is why people often focus on a few and forget others that are equally important.

I believe there are at least three very relevant ingredients in romantic choices: a degree of sexual attraction, specific personality traits, and clearly rational admiration.

Each one of these elements carries its own importance and all are part of the apparently magic phenomenon that makes person who had until then been neutral become, in a short time, indispensible, unique, and essential to life.

Many believe the sexual aspect matters more than anything else; when a man strongly desires a woman, he tends to confuse it with love—especially since in our culture, the Freudian idea that “all love is sexual” still prevails. When a women notices she’s desired and gets excited, she ascribes it to the fact that he might be the “prince” she’s been waiting for.

Sexual desire is not always a good counselor, as it very often materializes in the ways some women flaunt themselves, and pushy men who express their desire in bold and sometimes inappropriate ways.

Although its importance shouldn’t be overlooked, I believe sexual attraction has to analyzed in depth, along with the other elements that create a romantic connection.

Beside sex, there is another peculiar element that can awaken almost immediate romantic interest, or love at first sight: personality quirks, that may charm some, but not others—the tone of a voice, a walk, a smile, social poise and gestures, not to mention physical details that might bring to memory important people from the past. This element is the “x factor,” indefinite yet personal, and it impacts us more than we think.

The third ingredient for love is admiration, the rational element that springs from each person’s own criteria and self-esteem. People with low self-esteem tend to admire their opposites—shy people admire the extroverted; the calm value the aggressive. Thinking only of this aspect for a moment, it becomes clear why so often people who are polar opposites are attracted to each other, just as it is evident that this is a pattern they tend to repeat, always choosing partners with similar characteristics, who are not their best matches.

Those who are braver and have higher self-esteem tend to be attracted by people like themselves. I mentioned courage because it is an essential part of the process; when two people who are alike fall in love, it tends to be more intense. This intensity gives the lovers the alarming feeling that they’ll soon meld into one and become “one flesh,” threatening their sense of individuality. At the same time, they become strongly dependent and terrified of the pain of losing each other if they break up. Then, a third concern, which is a result of the happiness itself, shows up: the fear of attracting “bad vibes” from people who are not as happy as they are. This fear is not reasonable, yet it can be seen in some of common, everyday expressions, such as  “This is too good to be true!” “I’m so happy, I could die!” This is an important subject and we’ll certainly get back to it.

Our culture, notably, always privileged the “opposites attract” approach, so a relationship between two people who have too much in common is still seen as lacking and boring by many people who believe in the traditional manifestations of love. They seem to think so because such a couple will have no reason to fight, bicker or argue, which they believe is desirable. But the truth is that most couples always fight for the same reasons; if anything is monotonous and repetitive, it’s this kind of argument.

This is what I think: a relationship is only boring if the people in the couple are boring!

Tradução: Amanda Morris