Love at First Sight
The Four Stages of Falling in Love
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 2011 (edited November 30, 2021)
Love at first sight is a fairy tale. The first look may knock our socks off; But real love takes work.
We are romantics. We cry during sentimental love stories on the silver screen. We cheer when the boy finally gets the girl. We love romance—not science. Scientific studies, evolutionary biology, and brain science fail to convey the power captured by poets and musicians. But does the Cinderella dreams produce healthy relationships or disappoint us with the humdrums of reality—the intimacy we experience here on planet earth.
A quick glance through a grocery store tabloid exposes the weakness of the relationships of the glamorous music and movie stars. Life in the strobe lights doesn’t bode well for secure and lasting relationships. In the daily drabness of connection, we long for a love story--love at first sight, soulmates and happily ever after. Perhaps in the solitude of our hearts, far away from the sparkle of Hollywood, we may experience true love.
Relationships and Discomfort
Pain, betrayal, and loss sharply contrast with the youthful dreams of romance; we envision a love resembling the beautiful prose of poets. But real connection includes some disquieting emotions. As children—even from broken families, we visualize future loving connections; in adulthood, we imagine, will bring a Disney ending to our troubled soul—happily ever after. But the childhood brokenness fails to impart the necessary wisdom. We are left to build a house with the fragment of bricks we have been given. We know happiness exists but don’t know how to secure it for ourselves.
In misguided development, with attachments in disrepair, we wrongly suppose relationship strength solely depends on finding the right partner—. When our relationship encounters difficulties (as all relationships do), we suspect the cause to be our partner, we should have chosen better. Inexplicably, we never consider examining our weakness in the development of the bond.
We have influence on the future. We do and say things that contribute to the formation of what will be. However, future is also contingent on many unknown factors. Our predictions are simply educated guesses based on known factors. We just don’t know how a relationship will develop at first glance. What we feel in the moment and what eventually develops depends on many factors.
Throughout the decades, I had strong feelings that I was certain were prophetic, time proved they were not--drama ensued. Some relationships seem perfect but deteriorate; others jump from attraction to chaos; and others slowly develop. Sometimes what we just know—just isn’t.
Idealistic Hopes and Disappointment
Because of our idealistic hopes of harmony, when discord occurs, the conflict appears as failure. We seek a cause to explain the failure; psychological disorders, personal inadequacies, childhood attachment issues, or societal influences. But perhaps, the discord is simply the growing pains of two different people establishing a life together. The disaster—isn’t. But when we interpret it as a disaster, drifting from the imagined fairy tale, we panic, not knowing how to respond to the relationship differences; our deprived childhood never introduced us to healthy relationship resolutions. We got to figure it out on our own.
The universe doesn’t bestow stable relationships. Nature is more concerned with propagation than intimacy. Happiness is not a gift; but a mixture of attitude, choice, and luck. A struggling man once complained about the unfairness of love. He confided, he suffered from numerous addictions; couch hopping between friend’s houses until they tired of him and kicked him out; he had no assets, no job and no immediate plans to change his broken life. He claimed victimhood. “Women,” he continued, “are judgmental; they should accept me as I am.” This idealistic sentiment is false.
We have friends because we are friendly. We enjoy intimacy because we bring trust and resources to the commitment. If our life is in chaos, no one has the noble responsibility to sacrifice their hopes and dreams to give order to our disaster.
The universe doesn’t bestow stable relationships. Nature is more concerned with propagation than intimacy. Happiness is not a gift; but a mixture of attitude, choice, and luck.
When seeking partners, we will be scrutinized—and rightfully judged. Partners become a part of our lives, influencing major decisions, and impacting joys and sorrows. These choices must not be blind.
Most women prefer more than a stinky couch pillow who demands acceptance without giving anything in return.
We want unconditional love. But love completely disconnected from characteristics, habits and resources conflicts with evolutionary drives. Humans have more equity in mating choices then most mammals. In nature, usually only the most dominate males contribute to the gene pool. We want love; we must work on being lovable. We want intimacy; we must act in ways that create intimacy.
A happy and stable relationship naturally flowing from the first glances may happen but is not the norm. (Untended) relationships reach a high point of joy and then slowly deteriorate. The early attractions fade. We adapt. We get used to a partner; the initial spikes of joy start to level. The relationship’s health then depends upon the skill of two concerned partners to keep love alive.
Attraction and Love
We easily confuse strong first attractions with future relationship durability; discovering another person requires years of attentive interactions. We struggle to know our selves; learning the intimate details of someone else’s life doesn’t magically happen over a cup of coffee—no matter how engaging the conversation.
We must invest energy to building the bond. During the early phases, we’re motivated, each day bathing us in excitement. But as commitment forms, emotions change, we fear and manipulate or complacently believe we earned unconditional love. But we are wrong.
Mutual attraction is an important part of creating intimacy, building the bonds of a stable and happy relationships. Judson Mills and Margaret Clark wrote several papers on communal relationships. They wrote that "close romantic relationships are generally formed on the basis of a strong mutual attraction between the two individuals." They explain that the strong mutual attraction motivates them to want to please the other person, concerned about the other's welfare (Mills & Clark, 2001, p. 15).
Strong mutual attraction is the love at first sight phenomenon. The mutual attraction motivates loving behaviors, and, when all goes well, develops into a stable and loving relationship. Mills and Clark warn that as the relationship becomes established the mutual attraction "will probably not be the sole motivation for following the communal rule in the relationship" (p 16).
Successful relationships must continue to employ relationship bonding behaviors through the changing motivations.
Four Stages of Falling in Love
In the book Falling in Love, Ayala Malach Pines suggests that falling in love involves emotional, behavioral, mental, and social components. These can be represented in a four-stage model of falling in love.
Relationship development can stall in any phase along the way, even when the initial attraction is explosive.
Painfully one partner discovers they want more; they want connection; they want intimacy. The current lover fails to satisfy these needs. Seasoned relationships expose undesirable character traits that earlier we conveniently ignored with willing blindness.
We must choose between chasing idealistic dream partners (who we will never find) or work to establish connection with the imperfect partner we are with. And hope the person we are with also chooses to work with their imperfect partner.
Our choices (oversimplified) are: Move forward by strengthening connection and working through differences; leave and seek someone better; or grumpily complain about the relationship and live unhappily ever after.
Sometimes leaving is essential for well-being; other times working through differences is. Every situation varies. Our insecurities, attachment patterns, the amount of time invested, the commitment (children involved?), the severity of imperfections (cheating?), our partner’s willingness, and even our personal skills to establish a new relationship all factor in to the decision to leave or stay.
On-line self-ordained therapist often flippantly advise divorce as the answer to every discontent partner—foolishness. We leave a relationship, fall in love, and two years later find ourselves living out the same disappointing pattern; except five years older.
Attraction is Not Love
Strong attraction, a biological inheritance, motivates sexual and emotional connections. We seek connection—human nature. The particulars of creating connection are developmentally learned, abiding by social and individual norms—our propensities and experiences play into the equation. Being attracted doesn’t signal relationship success, the drive simply reminds of our biological needs. Strong attraction pushes action that may eventually build a successful connection. But no matter the strength of attraction, if partners fail to honor commitments, trust fails and the relationship bond deteriorates. We build healthy relationships with behaviors—not attraction.
Healthy relationship behaviors—acts of love; include respect, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, encouragement, and support. These behaviors strengthen bonds, encouraging growth in both partners and the relationship. A healthy interdependence based on trust forms. Each partner contributes to the physical, psychological, and spiritual health of the other.
Strong attraction coupled with insecurity creates fear; strong attraction coupled with narcissism creates manipulation; strong attraction coupled with shyness creates awkwardness. We possess strengths and weaknesses that lead to healthy relationships or endless dramas. We all have personality differences that affect connection in various ways. Connection demands we work through these. Attraction coupled with two skilled and compassionate partners discover the blessings and challenges of their relationship, creatively enjoy and work together, creating strong bonds to bless both their lives.
The initial attraction excites; a beautiful part of relationship experience. Attraction sets connection in motion. For connections to form intimacy, partners build the bonds through loving behaviors. New partner’s true natures, our relationships skills, and compatibility take time to discover. If the relationship limits growth and stubbornly refuses to change, quit chasing the lost investment, seek help and make the difficult life changing decisions necessary. If our partner is sincere, we can work to create intimacy through freely giving and expressing loving behaviors.
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Mills, J., Clark, M.S. (2001). Viewing Close relationships as Communal Relationships: Implications for Maintenance and Enhancement. In Editor #1 John H. Harvey, & Editor #2 Amy Wenzel (Eds.),Close Romantic Relationships: Maintenance and Enhancement. Psychology Press; 1st edition
Pines, A. M. (2005). Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose. Routledge; 2nd edition