Cue the eye roll every time someone on The Bachelorette or Married At First Sight says, 'I’m falling in love with you'... after spending approximately 457 seconds together. Is that even possible? Seeing this on TV every week is sure to make you question how long it takes for people to fall in love IRL and if your relationship is on the right track. Tbh, it’s not as easy as The Bachelorette makes it seem (shocker!), and it’s completely natural for you to wonder about the real timeline of falling in love.
For many people, this curiosity can come from a desire for outside validation that their romantic connection is developing at a normal pace, says Shelley Sommerfeldt, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and founder of the Loving Roots Project. 'They may want to compare their feelings, reactions, and experiences with others to ensure they are on a typical progression,' she notes. 'Some partners may want to know how long it takes to fall in love to see if their partner 'should' be feeling a particular way toward them as well.'
Meet the Experts:
Shelley Sommerfeldt, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and founder of the Loving Roots Project.
Lisa B. Schwartz, PhD, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and AASECT-certified sex therapist serving clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida.
Loretta G. Breuning, PhD, is the founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, professor emerita at California State University, and author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels.
Of course, every relationship is different, and there’s no 'right' timeline that works for everyone. But still, you might want to know what to expect, especially in a new relationship, or if you’re new to relationships in general. Here’s the science behind falling in love—and the stats on how long it typically takes.
So, how long does it actually take to fall in love?
Physiologically, it takes just a fifth of a second (!) for all those make-you-crazy chemicals to fire at once and produce that in-love feeling, research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine uncovered nearly a decade ago. So, a contestant on the famed TV show could be basing their feelings on that rush.
On the other hand, while it is technically possible to experience that in-love feeling in less than a second, falling in love is still a process. 'There are different stages that we can go through when falling in love, building attachment, and ultimately forming a romantic relationship,' Sommerfeldt says. 'It’s a process to experience initial physical attraction toward someone and then grow into feeling a deeper and stronger emotional connection.'
So, how long does that process *typically* take? Well, it depends. Men think about confessing their love 97 days into a relationship, while women don't consider dropping the L bomb until 149 days in, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And generally in heterosexual relationships, men fall in love faster than women, per a study published in Evolutionary Psychology in 2010. Meanwhile, in relationships between two women, love or commitment is expressed after around six months, according to a 2000 study.
Sommerfeldt believes these general timelines are accurate—although she notes that this isn't due to evolution or biology as much as social and cultural pressures. 'While our stereotypes probably still hold that most people believe women are first to fall in love, feel a greater degree of love, and express love quicker, the research does show that it’s men in heterosexual relationships who are first to fall in love and convey it to their partner,' Sommerfeldt explains.
But it’s also important to look beyond the gender binary with these stats, says Lisa B. Schwartz, PhD, LMFT, a psychotherapist and AASECT-certified sex therapist serving clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida. 'There is so much more than gender that goes into expressing emotion, especially around the "love" word,' says Schwartz, adding that 'these studies focus on the binary.'
Some science suggests love at first sight exists. Here’s why:
You're wired for love, whether you want to be or not.
'The brain is naturally selected to focus on reproduction, even if you’re not consciously intending to do so,' says Loretta G. Breuning, PhD, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, professor emerita at California State University, and author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels. 'Your brain is focused on survival, and reproduction is the pinnacle of survival.'
Once you’re falling, it feels good. In fact, a culmination of several happy chemicals in your brain create a sensation of euphoria that's akin to a hit of cocaine, studies have shown. If you think you’re falling hard—whether it’s someone you’ve known for years or someone you went on one measly date with—here’s why you’re starting to swoon.
First, dopamine will surge in your brain, reinforcing pleasurable sensations. Breuning gives the example of walking into a bar and checking people out. 'You have a specific idea of what it takes to meet your needs based on past experiences,' she explains. As you scan the room, you think, that one. Suddenly, the chase is on.
Then, oxytocin, the love hormone associated with attachment, comes into play. It helps bond you to a potential romantic partner, and women release it by the boatload after sex with a mate, building trust.
The last hormone involved? Serotonin, which is sometimes generated from your partner’s status. After all, 'animals are hierarchical—when you get [an impressive or powerful] partner, it improves the survival of your young,' says Breuning. That’s why you may be attracted to that winning athlete, the person with a cool job, or the jet-setter.
All that said, the jury’s still out on whether love at first sight really exists. Just over half—56 percent—of Americans believe in love at first sight, while 41 percent do not believe in it, according to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll from 2013. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, once you've fallen in your love, chemistry takes over for everyone.
Okay, so my brain’s in love. Now what?
Time to shake it up and see what happens.
As you two get to know each other, dopamine is surging, and the anticipation that you can land this potential partner can give you the kick you need to start to emotionally invest.
If they also have the right status (triggering serotonin) and proximity to you (stimulating oxytocin)—and you have positive expectations about the whole 'ship—you’ll get hit with all three hormones at once. 'That’s not something that happens all the time,' says Breuning. The result? You're falling in love.
What are some signs that I’m in love?
If you’ve never been in love before, you may want some extra verification that you’re feeling that 'can't-eat, can't-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of stuff.' After all, love is so hyped up that you may not know what to expect when you fall in love with someone. You might also just feel the pressure to fall—as Schwartz says, 'Some people think they have to or "supposed to" say it at a certain point in their relationship.'
While only you can determine whether you’re in love, there are some signs to watch out for. 'Some signs that you may be in love could be feeling a strong desire to spend more time with your partner, be physically and emotionally connected to them, as well as an increased desire for intimacy and affection,' Sommerfeldt says. 'Many people will also want to know more about their partner, their stories, and history.' Unsurprisingly, you’re going to want to be around your person 24/7 and crave knowing everything about their life.
Sommerfeldt also says that some people notice themselves feeling happier overall, and laughing and smiling more. I’ll take those side effects!
Do dating apps have an impact on how fast I’ll fall in love?
They’ve changed the game, for sure. Now, 'we view falling in love, the availability of meeting potential partners, how we seek love,' in a different light, says Sommerfeldt. 'Many couples may spend time online getting to know one another and screening profiles for the traits they desire rather than spending a lot of time in person.' In turn, this naturally changes the amount of time it would take for them to fall in love.
But technology also adds another layer of pressure 'that people think they are supposed to fall "in love" quickly and if they don’t, they are on to the next person,' says Schwartz. Enough time should be given to develop your connection to make sure it becomes a trusting and respectful one, she adds—whatever that may look like to you.
How do I know whether I’m experiencing love or infatuation?
Don’t get me wrong—love and infatuation certainly have similarities! 'Both are based on intense feelings without thinking clearly,' says Schwartz. This may look like ignoring certain 'red flags' or idealising the person, she adds.
Turns out, you can tell just from someone’s eyes, according to a 2014 study from the University of Chicago. The study found that one’s eye patterns will focus on a stranger’s face if they perceive that person as a potential romantic partner, but if they’re experiencing lust, they’ll look more at the person’s body. Makes sense.
But ultimately, it depends on the physiological response and depth of feelings toward the other person, says Sommerfeldt. 'Infatuation is typically an idealised love that can come from a fantasy or obsession over someone who may be unattainable or a short-lived relationship,' she says. It might involve temporary feelings based on admiration.
Love, on the other hand, involves people building passion and having a commitment and affection for the other person. 'Love is connecting on a deeper level and wanting to get to know a person more thoroughly. Partners in love also tend to share interests and values,' she adds.
And if you feel as though you want to experience sexual pleasure with someone and not necessarily a relationship, you're likely experiencing lust, adds Schwartz.
But generally, it seems like young adults are looking for love rather than anything more casual these days, according to a 2022 study from the University of California - Davis. Researchers surveyed 208 heterosexual college students from a Midwestern college about their dating lives over seven months. They discussed their likes, dislikes, and attractions. On average, participants had about five crushes during this period and about 15 percent of them turned into relationships.
Can I make someone fall in love with me?
Being swept up in the feelings you have for another person is extraordinary, but also kind of frustrating. You may start worrying whether this person will reciprocate your feelings, or if you’ll ever get that uncontrollable type of love they show in rom-coms. Even though there isn’t a love potion or super secret trick you can use to make someone fall in love with you (because, uh, that would be bad), you can create opportunities that prioritise connection.
What does this look like, exactly? Sommerfeldt suggests that love requires vulnerability and authenticity. It's not just about spending time together. It's about spending quality time together and having those conversations that help you learn their future plans, interests, likes and dislikes, and expectations they may have for a long-term relationship, she says.
Forcing it to work, well, never makes it work. 'We must focus on creating a connection with our partner based on trust and openness rather than forcing feelings or progression,' says Sommerfeldt.
Are there any shortcuts to falling in love?
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. Just like you can’t really force someone to fall in love with you, love requires time to build an authentic connection. 'Every person has their own unique experience when it comes to falling in love,' says Sommerfeldt, adding that it’s all about how long it takes you to 'let your guard down.'
'One person may be able to build feelings of love and intimacy faster than another,' she notes. And that's okay! When it comes to lasting love, slow and steady often wins the race.
The best 'shortcuts' you're gonna get from Sommerfeldt is just good old fashioned advice—make time to learn each other, be open and emotionally available, and hold onto your own identity and sense of self.
What if they say 'I love you,' but I'm not there yet?
Okay, first of all, take a breath, and don’t panic. Thinking about what you have learned about falling in love so far tells you that everyone’s experience is different. Maybe your partner had an easier time letting down that emotional wall. However they went about falling in love with you, it’s important to respond in a way that highlights your appreciation for the relationship and minimises discomfort, Sommerfeldt says. 'You could respond about your feelings of romance and affection toward your partner and reinforce your continued partnership and growing feelings.'
Try something like: 'I'm so grateful for you. This relationship and the time we spend together means so much to me. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your feelings with me.'
And how lucky are you to have another person understand how special you are and fall in love with you! If you're feeling it, don't be shy about sharing how important they are to you, too. Even if you're not ready to say the 'L' word just yet, 'expressing how grateful you are toward your partner, their vulnerability in sharing their feelings, and your thankfulness about them and your relationship can be a critical sentiment,' Sommerfeldt adds.
Should I be concerned about falling in love TOO quickly?
Well, here's the thing: Those lovey-dovey brain chemicals 'are designed to motivate you to take action to seek an unmet need,' says Breuning. 'Once that need is met, those chemicals are no longer stimulated.'
Your brain effectively says,'You found the one. Now what?'
For some, the answer may be to continue searching and chasing that high—a.k.a. emotional or physical cheating. For others, the end result might just be the feeling of love fading sooner than they'd anticipated (whomp whomp).
Another potential snag, especially in this modern age of social media, is the tendency to compare your partner and relationship to others' once that initial excitement has worn off. 'Your partner may have 500 good qualities, but your brain will focus on the 10 they don’t have,\ says Breuning.
Common thoughts like, What does everyone think of my partner? or What romantic dates do other people’s partners take them on? are threatening. They give you a grass-is-greener mentality, even when you're with a solid and worthy match.
So, what do you do? After you fall in love, bask in it. But remember that your brain will soon want a new dopamine-oxytocin-serotonin hit.
Try not to fall into the trap of comparisons—remind yourself why you went for your partner in the first place, says Breuning. And don't forget to go after goals that drive you, like a higher position at work or new athletic personal best. Your happiness shouldn't depend on someone else.
That will help ensure those heart-eye-emoji feelings stay put for a happily ever after—no matter how quickly (or not) you fell in love.
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