Attraction and Appraisal: Looking for Love in the Modern Age
It seems that everyone’s looking for love these days. Reality TV shows try to pair the perfect couple, online dating sites give you facts and figures about those with whom you may have romantic chemistry, and social events are intended to help people meet people. But love, which so often pulls on the heart and clouds the brain, is much too complex to always blossom in contrived circumstances. Love is a multi-faceted feeling that still isn't completely understood.
Researchers believe that falling in love is actually a biologic event, and MRI tests prove that the brain undergoes physiological changes during the early stages of love. These changes produce a period referred to as limerance - that initial part of a relationship where we can barely function normally because we have become so preoccupied with our partner. We tend to ignore some of the most important parts of our lives during this period in order to spend as much time as possible with the person we love.
Limerance usually lasts about two to three years (if the relationship lasts that long), so we can actually get on with our lives one the initial infatuation has begun to fade. At that point, many think they have fallen out of love, which explains why relationships often end at this junction. But, in fact, the relationship has simply changed from passionate, exciting, mysterious, and dangerous to one of stable commitment. A partner’s flaws become more obvious, not everything they say is quite so brilliant, and their bad habits come to light. This is the time when a couple needs to realize that being in love and loving somebody does not end just because the limerance period is finished. Limerance may be over, but the relationship doesn't have to be.
Attraction and Appraisal
To get to limerance in the first place, two basic patterns must be present to produce the feelings of romantic love. Those patterns are physical and personal attraction, successful romantic relationships depend on both factors - limerance relies on your partner's personality as well as their physicality. In fact, physical attractiveness can even disguise a poor personality, a phenomenon known as the “attractiveness halo.”
It is important to note that romantic love and sexual desire are two very different things. The latter only requires physical attraction, whereas the former is a combination of the two factors listed above. Attraction is sexual in nature, but romance is built on intimacy.
A Biological Motivation
In light of all this complexity, it’s safe to ask why people bother seeking love in the first place. The answer is rooted in our biology. As primal creatures we have an intrinsic desire to evolve and expand. The single most effective way for us, as social beings, to do this is by creating transcendent romantic relationships.