The Weird, Hard Psychological Truth About Why We Fall in Love

There's no magic.


Remember being a kid and realizing for the first time that the person you had a giant, heart-thumping crush on didn’t feel the same way? It’s the definitive heartbreak — one you may have experienced again, in harsher form, as an adult. And let’s be real: If you’re reading this, you have.

That feeling might be why there’s a massive trove of real and fantastical ways to shift the balance in your favor, like love potions, body odor-based dating, and psychological hacks for keeping you and your beau hooked.

But despite our advancements in neuroscience and the biology of human hormones, scientists still aren’t exactly sure why and how people fall in love. But there’s been a lot of research — some of it better than others — into what people in love tend to share (hey, scientists experience heartbreak, too), and if you comb through the studies individually, they can read almost like a scientific to-do list.

Share a thrilling experience

One somewhat bizarre study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that men were more likely to demonstrate sexual attraction to an “attractive female” in the room if they were afraid of an imminent electric shock. If you do something that makes you anxious, like jumping out of an airplane, this study suggests it will provide that extra thrill to get the juices flowing.

Keep an open posture

A somewhat more robust study published in PNAS in 2015 found that across lines of gender, test subjects were more likely to select people who keep broad, expansive postures — manspreading, anyone? — as a “potential mate.”

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Listen to the body’s clock

Research published in 2011 in Current Directions in Psychological Science suggests that men might subconsciously detect women’s ovulation cycles and respond by behaving more sexually and becoming more attracted to them.

It’s important, of course, to realize that none of these papers examine love. They examine the initial zhuzh of attraction between strangers, but mostly they acknowledge that that attraction emerges from factors we really don’t understand and have little control over — like the age of your partner’s parents.

The most compelling research into the kind of attraction that lasts amounts to common sense: Be friendly, be open, be honest, and get lucky on a number of biological levels that you have no control over, like attractiveness, BMI, height, and age. Most of all, share a set of values and experiences with your partner, engage with them, and be willing to do the work.

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