What makes us fall in love, and does it have an expiration date?

Love is usually a positive emotion, but it can be painful and shake us up. Despite hardships, why do people still choose to look for someone to love, and does it even pay to love?

 What is it that makes people fall in love? (photo credit: PEXELS)
What is it that makes people fall in love?
(photo credit: PEXELS)

People tend to draw a clear line between logic and emotion as it’s exciting to fall for someone although there are signs the person may be problematic. 

Love can feel like an emotion that upsets our stomachs and turns off the voice of reason. In practice, from when humanity started, people began to understand this deceptive emotion which, according to many researchers, makes much more sense than we think.

Love is a common and familiar emotion that numerous people experience worldwide. It crosses cultures and languages, connects people who might not have met, and is a powerful inspiration for art, hard work and even wars and killing. 

Like other human characteristics, love developed out of an evolutionary need. A good analogy is something unromantic: signing a lease.

Benjamin KaveladzeI is a doctoral student in psychology who investigated in depth the evolutionary mechanism behind love. In an article in The Conversation, he explained his findings.

 Illustration of tic-tac-toe board with love hearts. (credit: PEXELS) Illustration of tic-tac-toe board with love hearts. (credit: PEXELS)

He says that when you sign a rental contract, the tenant can always find a better apartment and the landlord can find tenants who will pay more, but the process is so annoying, expensive and tedious for both parties that they prefer a long-term commitment, within an agreement that’s not perfect, but satisfactory. 

The signed contract provides the necessary guarantee that will prevent temptations and other suggestions from destroying this useful arrangement. Love, he explains, is nothing more than a "useful arrangement" from an evolutionary point of view.

A study published in the journal Nature shows that people evolved to prefer monogamous relationships for a period of time sufficient to have kids. This is an evolutionary advantage that contributed to the survival and prosperity of the human race although committing to one partner isn’t easy as there might be better options. 

Yet searching for an ideal partner is also a difficult and complex task in the modern era, and also tens of thousands of years ago.

To solve the problem of commitment and successfully pass on the genes of humans to future generations, evolution may have created love as a "biological lease agreement." It's an emotion that solves the difficulty of committing and also provides an especially valuable reward in return.

Not only be fruitful and multiply

Everyone knows that if there was no love in the world, couples probably wouldn't tolerate each other so much. Yet there are scientists who believe that love didn’t evolve just to support sexual reproduction and the continuation of the lineage.

Scientists studying the evolution of attraction among same-sex couples have found that romantic relationships can provide clear survival advantages even without producing offspring. Throughout human history, those who experienced love and followed it enjoyed higher chances of survival whether they had kids or not.

Romantic relationships can provide clear survival advantages even without producing offspring. (credit: PEXELS)Romantic relationships can provide clear survival advantages even without producing offspring. (credit: PEXELS)

When we’re in love, this greatly affects how we perceive others around us. A study found that when people are in love, they perceive other people as less attractive than they really are. This is another evolutionary aspect of falling in love that helped prevent partners from looking around for warmth and love elsewhere.

Yet love also produces other emotions that should be avoided such as jealousy, obsession and spite. It’s said that only people we really love can hurt us and drive us crazy, but studies that claim that all these complex emotions also carry benefits that helped our ancestors stay loyal and protect their relationship from external threats. So we’re here today because our ancestors were jealous, obsessive and possessive.

An improbable connection that becomes plausible by its very presence

If you feel that love blinds you and makes you make less wise decisions, you may be surprised to find out that it’s recommended to continue this way. 

Studies show that people who love and see the magic in it are more likely to enjoy long and beneficial relationships. KaveladzeI says that although a magical belief in love and destiny is almost certainly false in terms of objective data, it helps establish commitment long-term for a good partner and therefore is considered a rational and wise tendency. 

The advantage of love sometimes comes at the expense of our personal happiness, or even a healthy perception of reality. Many people who fall in love feel that they have difficulty thinking clearly, that they see things differently and sometimes also experience more suffering than pleasure.  

This is true in separation, which psychologists say feels like dealing with death and bereavement.

When love produces difficult emotions and challenges, remember that behind the clichéd advice to "go with your heart", there’s a clear evolutionary logic that allows humanity to thrive and grow for so many years.

The fact that love is "blind" is exactly what makes people believe in miracles and keep looking for it, even after countless disappointments. 

Failures and breakups hurt. Only those who truly believe in this "magic" will be able to maintain the motivation to act to find a relationship that might make their lives healthier, more balanced and happier later in life.