Love is nothing like what they make it out to be in movies or TV shows. It’s not as easy as a meet-cute or instantly knowing that this person is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. And the fact that plenty of marriages end in divorce makes many believe that true love is only limited to the big screen.
I’m a firm believer that true love does exist, but the road to finding true love is different for everyone. Some are lucky and fall in love with someone they spend the rest of their lives with, while others are less lucky and endure several failed relationships before meeting the one.
But how long does it take to fall in love? Ultimately, there’s no one right answer that fits everyone. Some fall in love instantly, while others can take weeks, months, or even years before they fall in love. But on average, how long does it take?
And more importantly, how do you know if it’s real?
How Long Does It Take to Fall in Love?
If we’re answering this question based on science, it depends on your sex: it takes 88 days for men to fall in love, while women take 134 days to truly get swept off their feet. These are the findings of previous surveys on how long it took men and women to tell their partners they love them.
Of course, if you’ve ever been in a relationship before, you know that the moment you tell your partner you love them isn’t always the same as the moment you actually realized you love them. For that exact moment you feel the spark, you’re going to have to look closer into chemistry.
The Science of Love: What Is Oxytocin?
You know that feeling when you’re in love, infatuated, or aroused by someone? Not to discredit the whole concept of love, but what you’re feeling is simply the effects of hormones associated with these feelings.
Physiologically, these hormones can takes as short as a fifth of a second to make its way into your bloodstream, according to The Journal of Sexual Medicine. This means the moment you find something positive or attractive about a person, your brain can start releasing oxytocin into your body, giving you that nice perky feeling when you meet someone you like.
Oxytocin is a hormone found in multiple bodily functions, especially those relating to reproduction. These include:
- Physical attraction
- Orgasms during sex – the more intense your orgasm is, the more oxytocin is in your body
- Moving sperm from the testicles to the egg cell
- Triggering labor
- Releasing breastmilk
- Bonding between mother and child
Aside from sexual-related actions, oxytocin is one of the happy hormones used in positive social interactions. This can be used to enhance:
- Positive memories
- Relaxation around others
So, when you’re with someone you’re attracted to, that feeling of attraction is oxytocin (among other “happy hormones”) making its way into your system. And actions like sex and orgasms only heighten the amount of oxytocin in your body, making you bond with that person more.
So, Is “Love” Just My Body’s Go Signal for Finding a Mate?
To further destroy your image of love, your body isn’t naturally wired to find “love,” per se. It’s actually naturally built to focus on reproduction.
Even if you don’t plan on having kids, your attraction to a person is just your brain telling you, “Hey, this person has physical and behavioral traits you want to see in your offspring. If you want to survive, you’ll have to procreate. I’ll make you feel happy if you bond with this person.”
You can thank thousands of years of evolution for this basic instinct. If you go back to prehistoric times, humanity’s ancestors had more basic instincts and survival was much more animalistic for them. If a pack had to survive, that meant growing its numbers and reproducing. And both male and female primates wanted offspring that was just as strong or stronger than they were, so they looked for mates who they thought would produce healthy and strong offspring.
Today, humanity isn’t as primal in thinking, but science suggests that the concept of reproduction and attraction is still the same. Your brain is still wired to think that reproduction and survival go hand in hand, and mating with someone you think can offset your weaknesses and help produce better offspring.
So, in short, science says that “falling in love” is just your brain’s way of saying that that a person is your ideal mate because they have the traits to balance out your weaknesses or help produce stronger offspring.
But What About Same-Sex Relationships?
You might stop me here and say, “Hey, this is a little homophobic. If love is all about reproduction, then does that mean same-sex relationships isn’t real love?”
Not necessarily – the concept of love and reproduction is that you are attracted to their traits, not necessarily their genitals. One could actually use this as an argument for same-sex relationships by pointing out that the feeling of love occurs for a person of the same sex because you see traits and features in them that aren’t present in the opposite sex.
So, this means the same concept applies to same-sex relationships: your brain isn’t feeling love. It’s feeling the desire to reproduce with this person based on their traits. Same-sex relationships can’t have children that are both biologically theirs, but considering that over 114,000 same-sex couples in the United States are adopting children, it’s only the reproduction part that’s modified. How these children are raised will depend on both parents’ traits.
Is Love Not Real, Then?
This may seem like a downer for you: all you wanted to know was how long it took to fall in love, but now you’re being told that love isn’t real!
Well… not exactly. Science may have destroyed your meaning of love, but it can also explain true love, and if you and your partner really are in it for the long haul.
The Science of True Love: How You React to Oxytocin Highs
A 2012 study found that newer couples have more oxytocin in their bodies compared to those who have been in a relationship for longer. That’s why you feel over the moon and have a skip in your step during the early stages of a relationship. This is because your brain is releasing enough oxytocin to help motivate you to achieve your need. In this case, it’s a partner to reproduce with.
But that does not define love in the sense we know it. What defines love is what comes after it.
Once you’ve achieved your partner and your primal instincts for a mate are sated, your brain will slowly stop producing excessive amounts of oxytocin. You won’t feel the same happiness in the little things that used to make your heart flutter. This is like your brain telling you, “OK, you have a mate now. Now what?”
This is the part of your relationship when you feel like you’ve cooled down. Your relationship isn’t shiny and new, and you may start to seriously look long-term into your relationship and see things differently. What happens next, however, may be an indication of true love.
Once the rush of excitement of a relationship has worn off, many feel that the answer is to go find another high. Some choose to rekindle the relationship to get that feeling again. When it doesn’t work, they either walk away from the relationship or they choose to be unfaithful and find other exciting partners that can satisfy their needs.
Science may not be able to define true love, but it shows just how easy it is for primal instinct to take over and choose that oxytocin high over a relationship that has already cooled down. In this age where social media and technology has allowed people to easily compare each other’s’ lives, it’s easy to nitpick traits your partner doesn’t have. And you might think “Hey, this person is great and all, but maybe I can find someone just like them but with more traits I want in a partner.”
It doesn’t matter how long it takes before you fall in love. But what matters in a relationship that we can define in true love is one where two people stick it out even when the oxytocin high is gone. They’re the person that, even when you don’t feel the spark anymore as much as you did when you first started dating, they are still the one you willingly choose to be with.
So, to recap: how long does it take to fall in love? According to science, it can be as fast as a split second or a matter of days, depending on which study you look at. But if you want to know if it’s true love, stick it out until you feel like the butterflies in your stomach aren’t there anymore. Do you still want to make your relationship work even if the novelty of your relationship is gone? Well, then you have your answer.