You might be surprised to learn that until quite recently, scientists tended to think of romantic love as something that was unique to Western society — a quirk of our civilization.
But more recent research has demonstrated that romantic love exists in almost every culture in the world. In other words, it’s something common to the human condition, something scientists would call a “species typical trait”.
Even so, we all know there are differences in the way each of us loves someone else. But why is that? Is it something to do with the man or women who’s falling in love, or is something to do with the object of their love?
Jankowiak and Fischer set out to investigate this question, and their work tells us something interesting about the way in which men and women fall in love.
What is the purpose of love?
Scientists have proposed many possible functions for romantic love.
But in the end you have to assume that love evolved because it offers a biological advantage for the human race. Perhaps it acts as a signal of fidelity to a prospective partner, or perhaps it encourages long term relationships. And that in turn would give children a better chance of survival, because parents in who stayed together would be able to give more care and attention to the children, thereby increasing their chances of survival.
This is the idea that love is a commitment device.
In other words, that love is simply a mechanism designed to make one individual focus exclusively on a particular partner, and thereby prevent him or her from pursuing alternative partners.
As you can see, this could ensure a couple stays together and remains monogamous for quite a long period of time. (Useful to know when you want a man to fall in love with you and stay with you forever!)
And there’s no doubt that monogamy is a very adaptive human condition, because human children have an extended maturation period which really requires both parents to be present.
But if the theory of love as a commitment device is to hold water, it has to explain other behaviors involved in love: for example, the investment of time, money and energy which one partner makes towards another one. Just why do men spend so much time and money on a woman they love? And what do you as a woman need to do to make a man fall in love with you?
In biological terms these investments are costly – they take resources which people could use for finding food or shelter (or, more accurately, they would have during the period of our evolution).
Yet, as we all know, people who are in love do indeed spend a lot of time, money, and resources demonstrating their love and trust.
For example, men will buy gifts for women and devote considerable amounts of time seducing, wooing and pursuing them. And we also know that men and women alike behave very differently when they’re in love, spending a lot of time dreaming about the partner, thinking about them, wanting to be with them. That attention certainly reinforces the sense of being in love, but does it help someone to fall in love?
So here’s the thing: any resources invested in one partner are simply not available to another prospective partner. And time and resources which cannot be given to another mate form what scientists call “an honest signal” – a true indicator of love and fidelity.
In other words, it looks like love does indeed signal commitment, because things which signify love, such as time and money, when given to the person you love, cannot easily be faked.
Video – How to make a man fall in love with you
Love and Commitment
There is some evidence that love is indeed a commitment mechanism. For example, when you ask people who are in a committed relationship to recall an episode of love that they experienced for their partner, they are much less likely to notice or pay attention to someone else of the other sex.
This kind of research has helped scientists come up with a theory of why men and women fall in love in a different way.
I think we’d all agree that while both men and women value commitment from their partners, men are more inclined than women to look for sexual opportunities with other partners, and this tends to make women slightly skeptical about men’s commitment.
Since women have a much higher level of investment in any children a relationship may produce- nine months’ pregnancy being only the start of that investment – it’s not surprising that in any society where women depended on men to provide food and shelter and to assist with raising the children, there would be an advantage for women in being able to “test” men’s commitment to an exclusive one to one pair bond.
And it goes without saying that the very high resource commitment which women make in pregnancy means there is a strong biological pressure for women to find out whether or not a man is truly committed to a relationship for the long term.
And in turn, this may mean that during courtship, there’s a lot of pressure on men to show women they are committed.
Do men really fall in love more easily than women ?
Quite a bit of research has been done on this question, and the evidence is pretty clear. In one study from the 1970s, men were found to be much more likely than women to report feelings of love early in a relationship.
In the 1980s, psychologists looked at 231 undergraduate couples and found that men seem to believe much more than women in the concept of “love at first sight” and the ability of love to overcome social, psychological, and economic obstacles, much more than women do.
Interestingly enough, quite a few of the men also said that one of the reasons they wanted a relationship in the first place was because of their desire to fall in love.
Is this research reliable, and does it
This research did indeed seem to show that men fall in love more easily than women.
And confirmation has come from many other pieces of research. For example, when you ask men how many times they have fallen in love, and compare their answers with the number of times women say they have fallen in love, you find men claim more experiences of being in love.
And you also find that men overestimate women’s interest in them. That makes perfect sense in biological terms, because there’s definitely some kind of sexual selection advantage for men in seeking sexual opportunities with as many female partners as possible.
(To explain: for men, from a biological point of view – which is concerned with nothing more than reproductive success- reproducing with a lot of women might be a better strategy than pairing up with one woman for the long term. This is because with a promiscuous approach, the chance of survival of each individual offspring is smaller, but that reduction is more than compensated for by the increased number of offspring a man would produce.)
However, a man would have faced the challenge of identifying whether or not a woman was sexually interested in them. Nature seems to have decreed that one solution was to err on the optimistic side here – we know men tend to overestimate a woman’s sexual interest! And such an approach would have had a reproductive advantage. After all, the more you try, the more you succeed…..
Unsurprisingly, therefore, when men and women are questioned about how much interest a member of the opposite sex has in their sexual approaches, the men always believe the sexual interest of the women is greater than it really is. And, as you would also expect, women say that men overestimate women’s sexual interest in them.
This is a male bias which might explain why men fall in love more easily than women.
When a man thinks a woman is more interested in him than she actually is, he will feel more attracted to her than he otherwise might.
And interestingly enough, women respond to this sense of greater attraction with higher levels of reciprocal attraction.
Physical Appearance and Love
One of the most obvious and easily assessed traits involved with sexual attraction and perhaps also falling in love is physical appearance. Think about this for a moment. When you – as a woman – want to make a man fall in love with you, how important is his physical appearance?
Appearance is easily observed in individuals of either sex, so both men and women who think appearance is important can quickly assess whether a partner is attractive to them or not.
However, men seem to believe their physical attractiveness is more important to a woman than it really is.
There seems to be some evidence that people who regard physical appearance as very important in finding a mate report more instances of falling in love at first sight. (They also find more attractive partners, presumably because they themselves were attractive.)
To sum this up, individuals who value physical attractiveness will report more experiences of love in their lifetime, more experiences of love at first sight, and are more likely to have quickly fallen in love with their most recent partner.
Sex And Love
Another important factor involved with falling in love is a person’s sex drive.
We know that people with a higher sex drive spend more time displaying behavior related to sexual interest and sexual approach. We also know there is at least some overlap between sexual desire and feelings of love.
Although it’s not entirely clear to psychologists how closely connected sex drive and love are (i.e. if you have a stronger sex drive do you fall in love more quickly and deeply?), even a slight overlap would suggest that people with a stronger sex drive might be more alert to the possibility of romantic love, and therefore stand a greater chance of falling in love. And of course this works both ways – women with a high sex drive might also be more prone to falling in love.
Scientists asked a number of sexually active couples over the age of 18 some questions about their relationships so they could investigate the experience of falling in love and being in love.
The researchers defined love as “a very powerful emotional experience that might include excitement and anxiety, tender feelings of physical attraction, toward a particular person, constant source of the person, and an intense desire to be around the person.”
Their questions were specifically designed to investigate how and why men and women fell in love.
Their findings demonstrated some well-known and well-established sex differences: for example, men tended to score much more highly than women on the importance of physical attractiveness. And the idea that men tend to fall in love more easily than women was clearly supported by the results. Yes, and another thing too: men with a high sex drive, and men who overestimated the degree of sexual interest of a potential partner, also fell in love more easily.
Why are men so prone to love? Perhaps because when a man finds a woman sexually attractive, his feelings towards her will produce a sense of reciprocal liking on her part. Even so, for a woman, simply perceiving that a man is attracted to her isn’t enough to induce feelings of love. He has to show her he loves her – until the time comes when she believes him.