Rolf Reber Ph.D.

Critical Feeling


The 5 Universal Steps of Falling in Love

1. You can only fall in love when you're ready to fall in love.

Posted Apr 10, 2016

Source: racorn/Shutterstock

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—and that these steps seem to be invariant for most people:

  1. 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.
  2. When this person—we'll call her "Emily," but it could as easily be a man—is ready to fall in love, she needs to meet a person who attracts her attention. This could happen 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.
  3. Third, Emily needs a minimal sign of interest from her romantic target—such as a smile or a nod of approval when she expresses an opinion.
  4. We now can proceed to Step Four, in which we leave Emily alone for some hours or even days so that her imagination and dreams can blossom.
  5. 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 blooms.

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 strengthen, in order to replace the passion which, in most loving relationships, fades over time.

 Lovers. Public domain {{pd-1923}}
Source: Auguste Renoir: Lovers. Public domain {{pd-1923}}

This study yields an unexpected insight: While people in love think that their partner is “the only one,” it could in fact have been 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 that intimacy and commitment have prospered to a degree that our beloved one has become the only one for us.

This entry is based on materials from:

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

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