The Origins Of Romantic Love (Part 1)

Although romantic love inundates much of popular media, historically the origins of romantic love can be traced back 3,000 years to Egypt, and the love story between Isis and Osiris. 

But what is love? D. Tennov researched the characteristics of being in love, and called it “limerence.”

Limerence begins the moment another person takes on a “special meaning” for one person. It may be a complete stranger and for others it may be an old friend who is suddenly seen in a new light. The infatuation stage often begins with intrusive thinking. And as the fixation grows a person begins to spend between 85 to 100 percent of waking hours thinking of their new love. During this stage the focus is on the positive aspects of their new partner and not their faults. Particularly thinking is focused upon their physical features and personality. 


From an early age we begin to develop an unconscious mental template, or ‘love map,’ this is a group of physical, psychological, and behavioural traits that one is attracted to in a partner. A love map is developed from our early childhood experiences. Specific likes and dislikes are developed in response to our family, friends, and chance associations. Importantly people fall in love when they are ready. And barriers enhance infatuation for both men and women. For instance ‘the chase’ is stimulating when we find someone mysterious.

Although culture plays a crucial role in who we find attractive, for example where and when we date, and how we pursue a potential partner. But nothing can teach us about how we feel as we fall in love. Like the other emotions of fear, anger, and jealousy the love response appears to be generated by brain/body physiology. M. Liebowitz suggests that limerence is when our limbic system becomes either saturated or sensitised to natural amphetamines. 

Eventually attraction wanes and attachment grows. The development of attachment is when new chemicals take over which leads to the feelings of safety, stability, tranquillity, and peace. This is generally interpreted as the development of companion love. The approximate time from the beginning of limerence to the development of companion love varies between eighteen months and three years. Liebowitz suggests the end of limerence is due to the brain becoming habituated to the natural amphetamine. But not all individuals go on to develop companion love. Some begin to detach from the relationship. Research suggests that this may be due to becoming desensitised or overloaded with attachment hormones and the attachment begins to wane.

Part 2

Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand