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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Romantic Love's Deception

"Falling in love is not the most stupid thing that people do
but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it."
~Albert Einstein

Have you ever fallen in love in the past and wondered why it didn't last? You thought about the reasons for its failure: Perhaps you were worlds apart. You were more intelligent than the other person. He drunk too much. She was the gold-digger type. He womanized behind your back. She was a shopaholic. He was irresponsible. She was a nagger. And the list could go on.

This "falling in love" experience, which is the early stage of romantic love, happens not just to young people but to middle-agers as well. No one is immune to the magic of this type of love, which has many aliases, including "romantic love," "passionate love," "erotic love," and "obsessive love".

Falling in love is like an accidental tumble which you have little control of. Yet you feel so sure that he/she is the only one for you. You pledge your undying love. You cannot live without this person who has become the center of your world. Your world expands to allow this person to become an inner dweller and the rest of the world recedes when you are with this person. He/she is the only one that matters.

Theories of romantic love link it to sensual feelings, sexual desire, and attraction. Helen Fisher, whose research on romantic love is focused on the brain using a functional NMR brain scanner, has characterized romantic love as an intense craving, an "intolerable neural itch". She found out that those who are madly in love are obsessed, they lose their sense of self, and  it's like "somebody is camping on your head."

In her book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Helen Fisher describes romantic love as lust and attachment. When you are romantically in love, your brain releases dopamine (the liquor of romance) which in turn stimulates the release of testosterone (the hormone of sexual desire). Novel experiences increase levels of dopamine in your brain that triggers the chemistry of lust. This explains why a new relationship can feel so wonderful and you feel giddy with happiness and desire.

However, romantic love has a time limit. You cannot always be sexually excited and passionate. As time goes by (a few months, a year or more), predictability grows, erotic satisfaction becomes readily available, and the sexual stupor, characteristic of falling in love, wanes. For instance, studies show that sexual activity in married couples declines with the partners' age and length of marriage (see Berscheid, 2010).

It is no wonder that some married people engage in extramarital affairs. They think that because their relationship no longer brings excitement and unabashed sexuality that they have "fallen out of love" and that the whole thing was a mistake. Enters the new person in the extramarital affair who brings novelty and excitement. Again, the same thing happens--they fall in love. However, if they live with their lover for some time, the same thing happens afterwards--love wanes. The newness disappears and in it familiarity sets in. The falling out of love happens again.

Romantic love's deception gives us a false perception of eternal love. This perception of eternal love is really clothed in temporality. Romantic love gives us a false sense of security, and a flawed belief that the other person is the only one.

Perhaps romantic love is necessary for the propagation of the species. Or to make us feel intensely about another human being, knowing that we can die sooner or later. If it were not for death, we would not have hungered for love, even the romantic kind.

What to do to evade romantic love's deception? Or how do you go beyond the "falling in love" stage into the "standing in love" level?

That is my next article. Watch for it.

Meanwhile, I am inviting readers to participate by sharing their ideas or stories about their experience of romantic love. You can now post your comments below without awaiting moderation from me.


Bercheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual Reviews of Psychology, 61, 1-25.


  1. This article is indeed timely. Change and evolution is everywhere, and I see the changes occuring in which romatic love can be applied. I believe that romantic love can also happen between a person and his/her job, a career, among friendships, to a valued possession or property and to some other things which brings us a sense of loving passion depending on the priorities we set forth for ourselves. I see people whose love is not directed towards the opposite sex but rather to their hobbies and others. Say for example, I fell in love to a new job that I readilly became obsessed about and had been in the cycle of multiplying all efforts to do good for it and in return gave me that ecstatic sensual feeling. All good, in cloud nine, able to rise above the rest. And once in a while I grew familiar with it and find no sense of happiness and fullfillment that I begin to resent even at small things. Then I start to look for another opportunity to feel that same excitement again I once had during my first day. Recalling the past I once said, I love this job, and seeing things now I say another.

    This article gave me an idea why such things happen. If I try modifying the equation to which romantic love is defined I say we add another variable to it, say Z, which will refer to the variability constant that we will use to represent the object to which romantic love is directed.

    How to cope up with it? Let's watch out for the next post of Professor Amy.


  2. Dear Sef,

    Thank you for your comments. I am glad you found time to reflect and post this in my website.

    It is true that we can "love" our job but this term has been applied to other things: I "love" ice cream, I "love" my garden, or "I love" the sunset. Notice that this term has been diluted to refer to things and experiences.

    Loving your job refers to "doing" while loving another person refers to "being". That is why we have the phrase "being in love". The former is associated primarily with economic gains while the latter is inherent and is part of human nature.

    I am curious if the same brain activities found in people who are in love can be said of those people who love their job. I am not aware of any research that use fNMR to show this.

    Every relationship can be characterized by permanence and novelty. We want the familiar and yet we also want newness. In a love relationship, we want security and novelty. Without this element of newness the relationship could become dull and stale. That's why it's important to go out once in a while, to take vacation together, and to experiment.

    As to another variable you mentioned (i.e., variable Z), which could also explain the motivation of romantic love, yes, there are other variables but it would take another article to explain this.

    Let me know if you have other questions or reflections.

    Thanks, Sef.

    I welcome other ideas and comments to Sef's reflection.

  3. dearest maam amy,

    i love your article, it urges me to look inside and brings me back to the time when i started asking myself if i still love my husband.In my mind i know he is incomparable because he almost have everything i wanted for a lifetime partner but after 12 years, i started to question my feeling. everytime we make love i try to capture the moment where there is the magical feeling of love but to no avail although sex is enjoyable in itself. You have enlightened me and you have reinforced my decision to continually choose my husband despite the missing feeling. Maybe, love has taken another face in our lives... that remains to be explored.

  4. I am glad this article has enlightened you. A loving relationship needs to be understood as it changes from time to time.

    Yes, beyond the thrill of romance is a deeper kind of love. This is one of the articles I will be writing about.

    It is wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for your honesty.

  5. Hi Amy,

    Thanks for writing about this, and all other topics on love. Matters of the heart can sometimes be so difficult to comprehend. So, I really appreciate the academic and scientific perspective you bring.

    Looking forward to browsing through your archives and keeping apprised of future blogs!



  6. Thanks, Richard! You can subscribe if you want by email (see below).