The Logic of Falling in Love


Falling in love is passion; irrational; uncontrolled; wild. That falling in love could follow a logical path seems impossible. Yet Hetty Rombouts, a Dutch researcher, interviewed students and found that there are five steps of falling in love. These steps seem to be invariant for most people. First, a person who meets another person has to be willing to fall in love. A settled man, a woman with a newborn baby, or a disappointed lover may not be willing to fall in love, and their journey ends here.

When this person, let us call her Emily, is ready to fall in love, she needs to meet a person who attracts her attention. This could be because the other person is attractive but sometimes, it is just enough that the other person “is there”. This person becomes the target of her desire.

Third, Emily needs a minimal sign of interest from her target person, such as a smile or a nod of approval when she expresses an opinion.
We now can proceed to Step 4 where we leave Emily alone for some hours or even days so that her imagination and dreams can blossom.

Now, Emily is ready to meet the target of her desire again. At this final step, the person only has to provide another sign of apparent interest, for example a smile, and Emily’s love is blooming.

What can we learn from this study for critical feeling? Falling in love helps maintain a relationship in the beginning. Love is at first mainly based on passion; intimacy has to develop, and commitment to be strengthened, in order to replace passion that in most loving relationships fades over time.

This study yields an unexpected insight. While people in love think that he or she is “the only one”, it could in fact be another one. When we are ready to fall in love, we may not be too choosy. This changes with time: commitment and intimacy grow as passion declines. Research shows that in some cases, even divorced couples miss each other despite having lived through an unrewarding marriage. When passion wanes and we notice that our partner is not as exceptional as we once thought, we might nevertheless realize intimacy and commitment have prospered to a degree that our beloved one has become the only one.

This entry is based on materials from:

Reber, R. (2016). Critical feeling. How to use feelings strategically. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.