Having looked at the main reasons why people fall in love, let's now consider some of the courses that this love may then take. The ideal, of course, is the situation where two people fall in love and pursue a life together. It is common knowledge, however, that their early love cannot possibly remain at its initial intensity for very long. In fact, it often disappears altogether in an extremely short period of time. Why does this happen?
One of the main reasons why people fall out of love is because they start to see qualities in their partner which they don't like, shattering the false image on which their love was originally based. During courtship, for example, both parties usually make a great effort to present themselves in the best possible light, only bringing those qualities to the relationship which are the most likely to impress the other person. They see each other at their most considerate, most responsive, most interesting and most entertaining. Qualities that may have the reverse effect are generally not disclosed, fearing that they may drive the other person away. The goal, after all, is to demonstrate your worthiness, to do everything in your power to make the other person fall for you.
The situation can change quite dramatically, however, once they set up home together. It is then much more likely that they will see what their partner is really like, warts and all, as the saying goes. These revelations, involving their partner's less enchanting qualities, often come as a serious blow to the other person, somewhat undermining the love that seemed so deliciously secure. At the same time, it also becomes much harder to maintain their attractive qualities at their earlier level, a fact that strongly reinforces the negative trend already taking place. The motivation to keep making this effort may even disappear in some cases, since the goal of ownership has apparently been achieved. In the most extreme situations, people actually change beyond all recognition, becoming so much meaner as they attempt to take total control of their partner's life.
Even where there was a minimum of pretence during courtship, however, the early love will still lose its initial intensity. The reason for this is quite simple. As time goes on, there is a tendency within all of us to take whatever we have for granted. Now that we have apparently secured the love of our partner, without really noticing it, we will start to re-focus our energies on other matters. In the early stages, the love that we felt was everything, but now we forget this, concentrating instead on dealing with our daily circumstances. Of course, this new situation may eventually become unacceptable to one of the partners, perhaps causing serious problems in the relationship.
On the other hand, the relationship may develop into a loving partnership. When this happens, the couple remain very content within the relationship, even though the original feeling of being in love has changed quite dramatically. They treat each other with respect, they care about each other and they continue to enjoy each other's company. Neither partner seeks to dominate or control the other, resulting in a relationship that remains very strong and satisfying for both. While it may not be accurate to say that they are in love, no one could possibly dispute that they do love each other. This would seem to be the ideal outcome, certainly one that is well worth striving for.
Those people who already feel good about themselves, usually the result of having a clear sense of purpose and direction in their life, are the most likely to achieve the ideal situation just described. Only people who respect themselves, who are kind and gentle to themselves, are able to treat others in a consistently caring manner. In a strange way, their relative lack of dependency allows them to be more loving, because they do not feel the need to control their partner. Amazingly, there are many people for whom such consistency would prove far too boring.
Those who have a more passionate nature, for example, usually prefer their relationships to be exciting and unpredictable, otherwise they start to lose interest. Such people are emotionally very unstable, behaving in a way that may be loving and tender when things are going well, and perhaps the very reverse when something upsets them. When both partners have this nature it results in the classic love-hate relationship, a situation where physical confrontation is almost routinely followed by passionate reconciliation. These couples clearly demonstrate the immaturity of the passionate nature, creating relationships that are invariably more characterised by misery than by joy.
Whereas there may be a near equality of abuse in many love-hate relationships, there are a great number of other cases where the abuse is only dished out by one party. Their deep insecurity, coupled with a vague knowledge of how badly they are actually treating their partner, results in a relationship where they totally dominate the other person, seeking to control them through the use of fear. Although the abuser may claim that they love their partner, their actual use of physical violence, or any other threatening behaviour, clearly suggests otherwise. Love is about caring for your partner, doing whatever you can to promote their happiness, not controlling them for your own benefit. Such efforts surely have nothing to do with love.
Sadly, there are many victims of regular abuse who continue to put up with this dreadful situation, mainly because their self-esteem has taken such a terrible battering. Fearing that they may be left on their own, a fate which perhaps worries them even more than the awful abuse, they may actually blame themselves for their partner's brutal conduct, accepting a responsibility which clearly doesn't belong to them. Despite this pitiful weakness, most victims of abuse tend to fall out of love extremely quickly. The powerful sense of hope that they once enjoyed disappears completely, utterly destroyed by the selfish and immature conduct of their partner.
There are many other cases, however, where people in clearly non-abusive relationships still fall out of love with their partner. When they begin to realise that their life isn't shaping up as they had hoped, for example, they may start to develop a sense of dissatisfaction with their relationship, a process which may conclude in the realisation that their partner isn't that special person who can make them happy. Sometimes they may even feel cheated, believing that the qualities that attracted them to their partner are no longer evident. Others may simply miss the special attention that was previously paid to them, or be bored by the new routines that seem to dominate their life. Whenever the feeling of great hope starts to slip away, as it often does, love becomes very insecure.
The actual experience of falling out of love can be really painful, especially where the circumstances make separation very difficult. Where someone feels unable to escape because they fear their partner, or because they have children, for example, all sense of hope may be completely lost, a situation that will clearly cause them great distress. Another difficulty arises when someone falls out of love with a partner that they still care about, creating a situation where any desertion is likely to leave a heavy burden of guilt. At the very least, the person who falls out of love always feels a great sense of disappointment, a natural consequence of expectations unfulfilled.
To be rejected by the person that you love must be even more painful, surely one of the most devastating experiences of this life. The deeper your love for the other person, the more you believe that you must have a future together in order to be happy. In fact, it was only by entertaining this possibility that the feeling of great hope was able to arise within you in the first place. Then, when you later come to accept that you have absolutely no such hope, you feel that this existence is no longer worth all the trouble. When this happens, the person may lose all interest in life. This may result in attempted suicide, depression, alcoholism, and so on. In these cases, there seems to be a determination not to recover, a refusal to even consider how recovery from such despair could be of benefit to others.
A much more selfish reaction, however, is to become furious with the person who is rejecting you. This may result in an attempt to harm the person that they claim they love, a response that clearly demonstrates how superficial and selfish their love actually was. In these cases, a person may become very violent, perhaps even threatening the lives of their partner or children. They may even attempt to take their own life, an act which is also designed to harm the other person by making them feel guilty about their death. Those who come anywhere close to true love, care about and value the other person's life more than their own, and would therefore never react in this thoroughly outrageous manner.
Those who genuinely care about their partner will always make a huge effort to get on with their life, despite their utter devastation. With all their dreams lying in ruin, they will resign themselves to a future that has absolutely no appeal whatsoever, doing their very best to follow what have become a variety of meaningless routines. A full recovery can certainly be achieved, but only when they are ready to discard the belief that this other person's love is essential to their happiness. Although it may take many months, or even years, many will gradually get over their great loss, while others will even fall in love again. A development of this magnitude will completely remove any lingering hint of regret.
The least selfish reaction to such a huge personal tragedy is to remain determined to honour life, resolving to do whatever it takes to overcome the powerful feeling that you now have no future worth living. You feel no anger towards the other person, understanding that they can't be blamed in any way for not loving you. Although the thought of suicide may also occur here, it is quickly rejected, because you do not wish to cause harm to anyone else. Recognising that your love was something very special, you continue to see yourself as a positive presence in the world. Recovery is therefore recognised as a duty, something that you must pursue in order to realise whatever potential you may have as a human being.
This state of mind is sometimes described as melancholy, a condition that is very different from depression because the person remains determined to be positive. Although they feel that they have lost all hope and sense of gratitude, they recognise that these wonderful qualities are essential for happiness, and must somehow be regained in order to achieve a full recovery. They may even have a vague notion that this whole experience may somehow be a gift, allowing them to understand something very important about this life. Their rejection, despite their deeply felt love for the other person, has shown them that unconditional love does not exist in human relationships.
The fact that romantic love seems to arise for a number of very clear reasons would seem to confirm that it is indeed conditional, not unconditional. It only happens when the other person has the particular qualities that we find attractive. This is always a combination of physical attraction, emotional compatibility and respect, but the timing is crucial because we must also be open to the possibility. By falling out of love, by rejecting our partner, and by treating our partner badly, we clearly demonstrate how unstable this love actually is. Even the love that grows slowly over time in a caring relationship isn't unconditional. It is produced by a history of shared experience, by kindness and respect. If this love was unconditional, then we would feel it for everyone, but this is certainly not the case.
Close examination also suggests that pride is often a key element in romantic love. Having identified and fallen for that special person, their reaction to us tends to determine how we actually feel about ourselves. Nothing boosts our self-respect more than the return of our love. Success demonstrates that we are attractive, that we are loveable, that we do have value. Rejection is so painful because it does the reverse, causing us to feel that our life has little or no value. Pursuing that which satisfies our own deep need to feel good about ourselves is clearly not entirely unselfish, even though self-respect is absolutely essential to our sense of wellbeing.
The above analysis would seem to indicate that romantic love is often selfish and frequently damaging to a person's happiness. Those who fall in love clearly expose themselves to many risks: the risk of being controlled or abused; the risk of rejection; the risk of falling out of love and finding themselves in more difficult circumstances; the risk of severe disappointment; and many more. Following their natural impulses, however, most people will continue to take their chances, believing that success in love is vital to their happiness. Let's simply wish them well, while asking this question: is there a higher love?