Why Does Love Feel Magical? Science Reveals an Evolutionary Advantage

Loving Couple

Evolutionary psychology may explain why magical thinking is so central to love.

In our current age of science, many people see supernatural forces as illusions rooted in wishful thinking. However, love remains a profound exception to humanity’s trend toward rationality.

People are used to seeing romantic love presented as a force cosmically bound to one’s destiny, as it is on the reality show “The Bachelor.” It’s an idea that is at the same time laughable and uncannily relatable for anyone who has been in love and felt their pairing compellingly “meant to be.” Our research suggests that these magical notions of fated love and unique soulmates are very common and deeply felt.

As psychology researchers curious about why human beings think, feel, and behave in the ways they do, we ask a fundamental question: Why does love feel magical? We hope that answering this question might shed some light on the quandaries that have long plagued people in love. Should you blindly trust your heart to lead you to happiness, despite the chaos that’s as much a part of love as bliss is? Or should you instead skeptically regard the tendency to magical thinking about love, striving for rationality in the search for a fulfilling relationship?

Couple Sunset Love

Romantic love can be all-consuming – and seems to be a human universal across time and societies.

What is love and what does it want from me?

Far from a recent invention of poets or reality TV producers, romantic love has been a part of human nature for many thousands of years. In fact, love letters written 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia are remarkably similar to those written today. Although cultures differ in their stories and expectations about romantic love, the phenomenon appears to be virtually universal. Furthermore, our research suggests that magical notions of fated love and soulmates are very common and deeply felt.

But why is love a natural part of the human mind? Our research explores this question through the lens of evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology is based on the idea that people think and act the way they do today because, over hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors with traits that made them think and act that way were more likely to survive and reproduce, therefore passing those helpful, or “adaptive,” traits on to the next generation. Through this process, the human mind evolved to prioritize things that contributed to survival and reproduction, such as highly nutritious foods and potential mates likely to raise healthy offspring.

From this perspective, how could the dizzying feeling of falling in love and the illogical belief that one’s relationship is “meant to be” have helped our ancestors to survive or reproduce? According to one explanation, the key to love’s ancient purpose lies in the apartment lease agreement.

Love is like signing a lease

Why do people agree to long-term leases for apartments? After all, the tenant could soon find a better apartment and the landlord might find a better tenant.

The simple answer is that searching for the perfect apartment or tenant is such an annoying and costly process that both parties are better off making a long-term commitment to an imperfect but sufficient lease. The signed-lease agreement provides the crucial bond, which keeps the temptation of other options from ruining their useful arrangement.

When it comes to choosing partners, people face a nearly identical commitment problem. Humans likely evolved to primarily favor monogamous relationships that last at least long enough to co-parent children. Given the magnitude of this commitment, there’s plenty of motivation to get it right by finding the best possible partner.

However, searching for an ideal partner is resource intensive and challenging. In other words, dating sucks. To solve the commitment problem and successfully pass down your genes, it is generally better to not endlessly chase perfection, but instead to commit to a good enough partner. Therefore, evolution may have created love as a biological lease agreement, both solving the commitment problem and providing an “intoxicating reward” for this solution.

Although love may have primarily evolved because it supports sexual reproduction, love is of course still very much a part of life for gay, asexual, and other people who do not sexually reproduce. Scientists who’ve studied the evolution of same-sex attraction have argued that romantic relationships can provide adaptive advantages even without sexual reproduction. Importantly, variation is the engine of evolution – from a strictly evolutionary perspective, there is no single “normal” or “ideal” way of being.

Love keeps you committed

After you’re through the breathtaking phase of falling for a partner, love helps to ensure commitment in several ways.

First, it makes other potential mates seem relatively lackluster. Compared to single people, individuals in satisfying relationships rate other good-looking people as less attractive. This perceptual shift makes one’s partner seem like more of a catch in comparison and thus discourages partnered people from pursuing other romantic options.

Second, love causes jealousy, a “mate guarding” adaptation that motivates vigilance and defensiveness toward those who might threaten your relationship. Even though jealousy is a burden with horrible consequences at its extreme, evolutionary psychologists argue it could help prevent infidelity and attempts by others to steal your partner.

And finally, as our team investigates in ongoing research, the supernatural “meant to be” stories people tell about love might increase their confidence in the value of their relationship.

Happy Senior Couple Love

The magic of love is part of what can keep a couple committed for the long term.

Why magical beliefs about love may be useful

Our work investigates how magical thinking can be adaptive despite being based on fantasy. Unlike a lease agreement, emotions are often turbulent and unpredictable. More than just a feeling of connection, believing in a narrative that suggests your relationship is magically “meant to be” could provide a consistent reason to stick together for the long haul.

Although a magical belief in fated love is almost certainly objectively false, if it helps to cement a long-term commitment to a good partner, it fulfills an adaptive purpose and can therefore be considered “deeply rational.” As neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth put it, love is an “unreasonable bond that becomes reasonable by virtue of its own existence.”

So even if magical love doesn’t make logical sense, it makes sense for love to feel magical. Our reading of the research suggests that love’s magic helps people make the enormous commitment required to successfully pass their genes down.

Don’t overthink it

But what are you to do with the knowledge that love’s magic exists to fulfill evolution’s bluntly practical aim of passing your genes on to future generations, rather than to lead to happiness or even an accurate perception of reality? We can surely improve on the advice of so many contestants on “The Bachelor” to “follow your heart,” blindly trusting that you will find meaning in the pursuit of a biological imperative.

Yet, there is a grain of truth in that cliché. If you revolt against that magical thinking, you might be overthinking your way out of one of life’s greatest gifts.

Written by:

  • Benjamin Kaveladze – PhD Candidate in Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine
  • Jonathan Schooler – Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California Santa Barbara
  • Oliver Sng – Assistant Professor of Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine

This article was first published in The Conversation.The Conversation

2 Comments on "Why Does Love Feel Magical? Science Reveals an Evolutionary Advantage"

  1. #Love has nothing to do with #wishfulthinking.
    ..Only #marriage does. 📖✍️
    You are #concealing #the #truth & deceiving people. Let me tell you what that is, but first let me say that I #challenge you. My house is yours if I’m wrong. If you find I’m right and that you shouldn’t have only thought to couple would be to love, which it’s far from doing right, I’ll take the both of you for everything you have SciTechDaily The Conversation

    Right now. I write about pentamournest #polyamory. I’m a woman. I cannot be yours ‘always’ because words #single & #jealous aren’t words that make sense to me. & I can’t he yours #forever because I don’t remember my exes very long long. If I prove men are trapping us & that you be facilitating them (one another), then I’ll want a public apology. Accept. You’re messing with fire. I don’t believe in jokes & half measures either. & What the hell is “man up”. Sounds like an oxymoron. Kind of like “men have a higher infidelity rate” which actually means “more women take more men off of women than vice versa” & that it be women women should be afraid of & not men, but you don’t report that. Do you. Then there’s the whole ..the relationship men think are holy is that twixt them and what good male friend of theirs. #Matrimony is holy by extending, our commitment to you to keep our mits off of his friends. This is your one chance to take me very seriously. You will get no chances with me regarding this. 9⁹ if you test me. My Kindle book’s almost done, & you have just lit a fire up under my ass. I feel bad for what’s about to happen, but You let a girl so our math & you are going to pay for this.

    What about that just about every father watches his daughter leave home into the arms of another man, his of his own, so the next man continues to have what to want like him, proven, & even caused by your not explaining to her the hazards of pairing, such as her not being able to tell if there’s anything wrong with you by the wobble in any others.

    How’s that when you have me, yours of your own, your casually saying that since only seeing one another that we ought to have sex, then, that you call us filthy names when seeing the 3-5 we are so our children’s upbringings aren’t disrupted. Mention my sexual past again. I Dare you. As I’ve said, I’m not your enemy, but when I come I will turn you to a mulch. Don’t you know that when a writer is stirred we don’t tend to write nice things? I write for free. This is entirely on you. I won’t let you do it anymore. I won’t let you spruik about pairing whilst discounting the benefits of a woman seeing a seperate 3-5. Marriage was your deal. Your polygamy, you just end up dressing us all the same, telling us what you ought to think important or not. Your opinion is irrelevant. My freedom isn’t in your hands. Your divisiveness, I am personally going to take into my own hands. You are only referring to lovers as pairs, when with a woman, it is Virginizing for a man. It’s how a man has #less to do with a woman. Not #more.

    I cannot stress enough that I’m over your skewing the truth. I cannot let you pass. Nothing personal, like I think your news column had been. Quite personal to you all wasn’t it. Not only to pair is holy. Don’t make this mistake again.lookvat what your doing to your kids. All only partnering like one another you make a mockery of all of us. It’s why you vandalise your children. Because when deep down we know we don’t deserve the beautiful things we have, we squander them. Remember. I told you. You aren’t the scary one. I am.

  2. I send this September 4th from Australia btw. Krystel Spicer AI Equipped facee. Bring your lawyer. I’ll take them too. I come quite prepared to have to do this all by myself. I can’t stand feeling upset. What you’ve done was cheap, & frankly disturbing. Where have all the thinkers gone.

    R1b1bf2 Kent.

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