This Is Why We Love the One We Love

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Are there any good reasons why we fall in love with one person rather than another? To answer, we need to distinguish between explanatory (or causal, or sustaining) reasons and justifying reasons.

The distinction is commonly invoked when asking why a person acted the way he or she did. If I kill you in an angry outburst even though you did nothing wrong, my angry outburst explains my action, but it doesn’t justify it. If I kill you in an act of self-defense, my desire to live not only explains my deed — it also justifies it.

An analogous distinction applies in matters of love (Brogaard, 2015). There are reasons that explain why we love the people we do, and occasionally there are also reasons that justify our loving feelings. All instances of falling in love and remaining in love can be explained, regardless of how hopeless or irrational they may seem.

Sometimes what explains our loving feelings for a particular person can seem ridiculously simple. For example, a sudden increase in adrenaline and our brain‘s attempt to make sense of this physiological response in the presence of a lovely person can explain why we fall in love with that person, rather than another equally lovely person (Dutton & Aron, 1974). In other cases, the explanatory reason for why we fall in love may be a complex assembly of factors, such as reciprocal liking, mystery and unpredictability, relationship readiness, and similar core values, attitudes, and personality traits.

While all instances of romantic love can be explained (even if we don’t always know how to explain them), only select instances of romantic love can be justified. There are justifying reason for love — or at least a lack of justifying reasons against it — only when the love is rational. And romantic love is rational (or reasonable) only if there is a proper fit between your romantic feelings and the psychology and behavior of the person you love. Unreciprocated love, for instance, is always irrational, owing to a lack of this sort of proper fit (Brogaard, 2015). It is this kind of proper fit that gives us justificatory reasons for loving a particular person romantically.

For a particular person to be worthy of your love, all her features taken together must be such that if you love her, they do not subtract from your overall well-being. Since many people can have features that are such that loving them romantically does not subtract from your well-being, you can have justificatory reasons for loving an indefinite number of people romantically. The presence of justifying reasons for love thus doesn’t make it mandatory for us to love any particular person.

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