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Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose

Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose

by Ayala Malach Pines

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Falling in Love is the first book to unlock the mysteries of how and why we fall in love. Renowned psychologist Ayala Pines shows us why we fall for the people we do, and argues convincingly that we love neither by chance nor by accident. She offers sound advice for making the right choices when it comes to this complicated emotion. Packed with


Falling in Love is the first book to unlock the mysteries of how and why we fall in love. Renowned psychologist Ayala Pines shows us why we fall for the people we do, and argues convincingly that we love neither by chance nor by accident. She offers sound advice for making the right choices when it comes to this complicated emotion. Packed with helpful suggestions for those seeking love and those already in it, this book is about love's many puzzles.

The second edition furthers the work of the popular and successful first edition. With expanded research, theory, and practice, this book once again provides one of a kind understandings of the experience of love.  The new edition offers updated references to recent research, new chapter exercises, and "case examples" of romantic stories to begin each chapter.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Don't be fooled by the frothy pink jacket art: this is a dense, academic volume. It addresses every conceivable aspect of the psychology of mate selection in late 20th-century America, giving equal emphasis to social and clinical approaches to understanding romance. The book's first half is devoted to an ambitious and inclusive survey of the experimental literature on the general factors that influence attraction--for example, similarity, geographical proximity, physical beauty and social status. The second half underscores the relevance of early childhood experiences with and between one's parents in understanding one's attraction to specific persons. Recent clinical theories suggest that we are attracted to persons who are in some critical way similar to our parents and who have the potential to directly stimulate, and thus heal, old childhood wounds. Pines also offers advice to those seeking love. But she does a far better job of educating readers than advising them. Although founded in scientific evidence, her suggestions are brief and simplistic ("try to be in a good mood when you meet new people") and appear to have been tacked on to the end of each chapter simply to appeal to the self-help reader. Though Pine is at her best when laying out complex theories--accurately referring to the original research studies on which her assertions and conclusions are based--and the material is intellectually stimulating, reading it feels like work. Ten-city tour. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A couples' therapist's clinical look at how and why we fall in love removes some of the mystery from that most magical of human experiences. Pines (Romantic Jealousy, 1992; Keeping the Spark Alive, 1988), a social psychologist and researcher who is also a clinical psychologist specializing in relationship issues, tackles her subject from both perspectives. As a social psychologist and researcher she analyzes how we fall in love; her clinical experience and psychodynamic theories come into play in the exploration of why we choose a particular person. She draws extensively on three studies: interviews with 100 men and women about their romantic relationships; a cross-cultural study comparing American and Israeli accounts of falling in love; and interviews with 100 couples comparing their reasons for falling in love with later stress in their relationship. Pines describes falling in love as a staged process. First is geographic proximity; then a state of emotional arousal; awareness of the other's appealing appearance and personality; discovery of similarities; and finally, with growing intimacy, the revelation of deeper psychological needs and the mutual ability to satisfy them. Gender differences and the evolutionary, social, and psychoanalytic theories that seek to explain them are also examined. As to why we fall in love with a particular person, Pines looks at various psychological theories and concludes that an internal romantic image plays a key role in whom we choose and that childhood experiences of love shape this image. Interviews with four individuals reveal how early relationships with parents affected subsequent romantic ones; Steve, for instance, was abandoned by hisfather and terrified of the live-in boyfriends of his cruel and demanding mother. He fell in love with a domineering woman and found the relationship exciting but scary, and he remains unattached. Not a how-to guide for the lovelorn but a serious, research-oriented work of special interest to those involved in couples' therapy. (11 b&w photos) (Author tour)

From the Publisher
'Ayala Pines takes aim and sends her Cupid's arrow straight at us with this brilliant work, and we cannot help but fall in love with it and what it teaches us about love in our lives. Both a clinical tour de force and a rich practical guide.' - Dale Larson, Ph.D., author of The Helper's Journey and Associate Professor and Director at the Counseling Psychology Program, Santa Clara University, USA

'A couples' therapist's clinical look at how and why we fall in love removes some of the mystery from that most magical of human experiences...Not a how-to guide for the lovelorn but a serious, research-oriented work of special interest to those involved in couples' therapy.' - Kirkus Reviews

'If you expect no definitive answers on either the conscious or unconscious nature of falling in love and making it work, if you are looking for a plausible excuse to examine the intimate relationships of those around you and, perhaps, your own, if you're interested in relationships in the abstract, whether 'true' in its conclusions or not, FALLING IN LOVE is a fascinating book on an ever engrossing topic.' - Isadora Alman, San Francisco Bay Guardian

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Taylor & Francis
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


When I'm not near the one I love,
I love the one I'm near.
—E.Y. Harburg, Finian's Rainbow

Advice for good love: Don't love
those from far away. Take yourself one
from nearby.
The way a sensible house will take
local stones for its building,
stones which have suffered in the same cold
and were scorched by the same sun."

—Yehuda Amichai,
"Advice for Good Love," Love Poems

"We were friends as soon as we met at school. I was actually going out with his roommate so I spent a lot of time in their house and we became really close friends. And then we started falling in love."

"We both used to work in the same coffee shop. We just started hanging around together after work. I don't know, we just got to be good friends. He is my best friend."

"We sat next to each other in class, and with time, after several months, we became good friends. I don't recall who it was that pushed for it to become an intimate relationship, whether it was she or I, but it moved in that direction."

"I started working at his office. Actually, he was my boss's boss, so we would see each other often and we would always make fun of each other. Then we started flirting with each other. First it was only with words. Things would get really hot between us justtalking. Then he asked me out."

"She was in class with me. One evening we did our homework together, then we continued talking the whole night. Then we did it again and again. I never spent so much time with anyone except my parents and my closest friends, and I loved every moment."

These quotes are from in-depth interviews with young men and women who talked about their most significant romantic relationships. An analysis of the interviews suggests that in well over half of the cases, the romance started between two people who had known each other previously. More often than not the initial acquaintance was through work —"we worked at the same coffee shop," through school —"we sat next to each other in class," or through the place of residence—"we lived on the same floor."

    Obviously, in order to fall in love, people first have to meet. While love relationships can and do start in other ways, such as correspondence—internet romances are becoming increasingly popular—usually, the relationships either take off or die out after the couples have met face-to-face. As we will see shortly however, there are other, perhaps less obvious, reasons for the power that physical proximity exerts over romance.


A number of classical studies demonstrate that as the geographic distance separating potential couples decreases, the probability of their marrying each other increases. In one of these studies, conducted in Philadelphia in the 1930s, some 5,000 marriage licenses were examined. The research showed that 12 percent of the potential couples lived in the same building, as evidenced by the same address, when they applied for a marriage license. An additional 33 percent lived a distance of five or less blocks from each other. The percentage of marriages decreased significantly as the geographic distance between the potential couples increased (Bossard, 1932).

    In another study, conducted in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1950s, 431 couples who applied for marriage licenses were interviewed. It turned out that 54 percent of the potential couples were separated by a distance of 16 blocks or less when they first went out together, and 37 percent were separated by a distance of five blocks or less. The number of marriages decreased as the distance increased between the potential couples' places of residence (Clarke, 1952).

    The two most famous studies documenting the relationship between proximity and attraction were conducted in college dormitories. Since most of the students who live in dormitories haven't known each other previously, a dormitory provides a good setting for the study of how close relationships develop.

    Leon Festinger (1951) conducted a study of the residents of married student housing on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT dormitories were built in a U-shape around a central court covered with grass. The exterior sides of the buildings faced the street, while the central section faced the inner courtyard. Festinger's famous conclusion was that the architect had inadvertently determined the patterns of relationships among the dwellers of the two buildings.

    Two factors appeared to exercise the greatest influence on personal relationships: the location of the apartments and the distances between them. The most important factor in determining who would be emotionally close to whom was the distance between their apartments. The closer people lived to each other, the more likely they were to become friends. Next-door neighbors were far more likely to become friends with each other than with people who lived in adjacent buildings. As a matter of fact, it was difficult to find close friendships between people who lived more than five apartments away from each other. In over two-thirds of the cases, close friendships were between next-door neighbors.

    In addition, the location of some of the apartments created more opportunities for their residents. Those residents who lived near staircases or mailboxes met more of their fellow residents and met them more often. The frequent encounters increased the chances that these well-placed people would talk to others, get to know them, form friendships, and increase their own popularity. On the other hand, people who lived in apartments that faced the street had no next-door neighbors. As a result, these residents made half the number of friends made by those who lived facing the inner court.

    The second study was conducted in a student dormitory at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Once again, the results of the study showed that what most influenced the formation of close personal ties between the students was not their compatibility, but their physical proximity. Roommates were far more likely to become close friends than people were who lived several doors down from each other (Newcomb, 1961).

    In yet another study, using a group of new recruits to a police academy, most of the police trainees described their best friend as a person whose last name started with the same letter as theirs. The reason? Assignments to rooms and classroom chairs were made according to last names. This meant that the trainee's roommate and neighbor in class was someone whose last name started with the same letter as the trainee. This constant physical proximity was found to better predict the development of close ties than did similarity in age, religion, marital status, ethnic background, level of education, membership in organizations, and even leisure time activities (Segal, 1974).

    Seventy years of research on attraction between neighbors, roommates, classmates, coworkers, and members of organizations testifies to the effect of physical proximity on attraction. Students tend to develop closer friendships with other students who take the same courses, sit next to them in class, live with them, or live next to them in dorm rooms. Sales people in department stores form closer friendships with people who work right next to them than with people who work just several yards away. And most important, the likelihood of individuals marrying increases as the physical distance between them decreases (Berscheid & Hartfield-Walster, 1978).

    What can explain this strong positive effect of physical proximity? One of the main reasons, claims Robert Zajonc (1968), is that physical proximity makes "repeated exposure" possible. Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to decorating materials, exotic foods, or music.


During his military service, a friend of mine who grew up in a home where classical music was the only kind of music he heard, was assigned to a unit whose heroine happened to be the Egyptian singer, Omm Kolthum. At first her seemingly endless, wailing songs were a torture. He would shut his ears and cover his head with a pillow to escape the never-ending torment. But with time the torment decreased, and he got used to the songs. One day he discovered that he was nuts about Omm Kolthum. Then he started torturing his family and friends in an effort to get them to appreciate the wonders of her incredible voice.

    Robert Zajonc showed that repeated exposure to practically everything we encounter, from Chinese characters all the way to the faces of unfamiliar people, increases our tendency to like them. In all his studies, a relationship was found between the frequency of repeated exposure and the level of liking. In one of these studies, Zajonc invited subjects to participate in what they thought was a test of their visual memory. He presented them with 12 pictures of people. Each picture was shown for 35 seconds, but some pictures were shown only once, while others were shown 2, 5, 10, or even 25 times. Results of the study showed that the subjects' positive feelings toward the individuals pictured increased with the frequency that their pictures were shown. In other words, even when the exposure was a very brief, and silent, 35 seconds, the more often people saw a picture, the more positively they felt toward the person in it (Zajonc, 1968).

    A more recent study on the effect of repeated exposure was conducted in a large lecture hall on a university campus. Four women, confederates of the researchers, pretended to be students in a particular class. Avoiding contact with the other students in the class, the first woman attended one lecture, the second one attended ten lectures, and the third attended fifteen. The fourth woman didn't attend any of the lectures. At the end of the course, students were shown slides of the four women and asked about their feelings and attitudes towards them. Despite the fact that the students had had no personal contact with the women, the liking they reported toward them was inversely related to the number of times that they had seen them in class. The woman who didn't attend any lectures was liked the least, and the woman who attended all the lectures was liked the most. In addition, the more lectures a woman attended, the more likely she was to be perceived by the students as attractive, intelligent, interesting, and similar to themselves (Moreland & Beach, 1992).

    In a study specifically related to romantic attraction, men and women who didn't know each other were asked to look in each other's eyes for two minutes, a very long time when you look into the eyes of someone you don't know. The results? Both men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the other person (Kellerman et al., 1989).

    The positive effect of repeated exposure seems to arise out of an inborn discomfort that we all feel around strange and unfamiliar things, an inner programming that warns us that the strange can be dangerous and should be avoided. As children, we are taught not to talk to strangers, and even as adults we are not likely to respond positively to a stranger who, approaching us on the street and introducing himself, says that he would like to get acquainted. Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us. If however, we have seen the same stranger every day in the supermarket, on the bus, or in the elevator, we are likely to respond very differently. After a number of such casual encounters, if the person were to ask our opinion on the weather or the political situation, chances are that we would respond positively and willingly continue the conversation, possibly the acquaintance. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, so we can relax and enjoy the encounter.

    Repeated exposure makes us respond positively to strangers who just look familiar to us (White & Shapiro, 1989). The mere fact that a person looks like someone we know is enough to make him or her seem familiar and thus less threatening. This positive influence remains even when we are not consciously aware of the exposure.

    In a study demonstrating this point, subjects were asked to talk about some neutral topic with two different people who were, in fact, confederates of the experimenter. Before the conversation, a photograph of one of the confederates was flashed on a screen so quickly that the subjects were unaware of it. Despite the subjects' lack of awareness of this subliminal exposure, they still responded more favorably toward the familiar person, than they did toward the person whose photograph was not flashed on the screen (Bornstein et al., 1987).

    The attraction to the familiar may have a greater effect on romantic attraction than a certain physical look. This provocative conclusion is based on the results of a study in which men and women were asked to choose from groups of photographs the person they could possibly marry. Next, some of the photographs were projected on a screen several times. At the end, the subjects were asked to note their romantic preferences a second time. In many of the cases, both men and women changed their original preferences and chose someone whose photograph they had seen several times (Thelen, 1988).

    As the interviews at the beginning of this chapter illustrate, the effect of repeated exposure can also explain romantic relationships in the work place (Pierce et al., 1996). "We both used to work in the same coffee shop.... I don't know, we just got to be good friends." "I started working at his office ... then we started flirting with each other." "We worked at the same place and that made things go faster."

    We may not be aware of our preference for familiar faces, but this preference seems to play an important role in our attraction to certain faces. Actually, our preference for familiar faces includes even certain aspects of our own faces. This was demonstrated in an original study that investigated the effect of repeated exposure on the way we view ourselves. In the study, female subjects were asked to arrive with a close friend. The researchers proceeded to take two pictures of each subject. One was a regular picture, the other a mirror picture that showed how the woman looked when she saw herself in the mirror. The women and their friends were asked which picture they liked more and which one they thought flattered them more. Results showed that the women preferred the mirror pictures while their friends preferred the regular pictures. The reason is obvious: since the women most often saw themselves in the mirror, this is the view of themselves that they liked. Their friends, who more often saw them straight, rather than left-side-right as is the case in a mirror picture, preferred the regular pictures (Mita et al., 1977).

    The preference for familiar faces can explain people's tendency to fall in love with, and marry, people who look like them and like members of their family. Since they often see their own faces in the mirror, and see the faces of their family members around them, people with similar characteristics seem familiar and attractive.

    Contrary to the poet's view, familiarity breeds content. We prefer the faces of people we see often on television, the music we hear often on the radio, and the foods we grow accustomed to. Advertisers know that the more contact we have with a certain brand name, or a new product, the more we are likely to prefer them. Similarly, repeated exposure to a person who lives, works, studies, or spends leisure time near us is likely to increase our comfort with, our liking for, and, at times, our romantic attraction to that person.

    Could this process also work in reverse? Could we develop liking, attraction, and comfort because we know we are going to spend time with a certain person? If we know that we are going to meet a certain person often—because he is going to work next to us, study in the same class, or live next door—don't we have a vested interest in seeing him as warm, pleasant, and friendly? After all, who wants daily contact with someone who is cold, nasty, and uncooperative? Once we convince ourselves that a person is warm, friendly, and pleasant, we treat him as such, which makes him respond in a way that confirms our expectations.

    This proposition received support in a study conducted in the 1960s. Female students were told that as part of a psychology department survey of sexual habits among college students, they would have to meet other students, whom they didn't know, and discuss their sexual habits. Every subject received two very similar descriptions: one, of the student each was going to meet, the other, of a student another subject would meet. Results of the study showed a clear tendency for each subject to like more, and attribute more positive traits to, the student she was going to meet (Darley & Berscheid, 1967). Clearly, the students preferred to talk about an issue as intimate and private as their sexual habits with someone they considered pleasant and likable.

    There are two final points that need to be made about the effects of proximity and repeated exposure. One point addresses an on-going argument about the effect of separation on romantic attraction. That is, does geographic distance enhance or diminish love? The other point concerns the negative effects of proximity and repeated arousal. That is, does proximity increase hostility and dislike as well as attraction?


According to one view, separation causes longing that enhances romantic love. From afar, people can see clearly, and appreciate, the wonderful qualities of a partner, qualities that daily proximity may prevent them from seeing. Indeed, my studies of marriage burnout suggest that a temporary separation, especially one that involves some danger and worry, such as a husband's army reserve duty, increases the romantic spark in the marriage (Pines, 1996).

    According to the other view, "what is far from the eye is far from the heart." Just as physical proximity enhances emotional closeness, physical distance reduces it. Indeed, it was shown that married couples who don't live together are significantly more likely to divorce than couples living together (Rindfuss & Stephen, 1990). The problem with reaching a conclusion based on these findings is that couples who don't live together may have problems in their relationship. It is possible that these problems—and not the physical distance in and of itself—are what eventually cause the divorce.

    What then can we conclude about the effect of separation on lovers? While there are wonderfully romantic stories of mythological loves, such as the one between Odysseus and Penelope that remained intense despite long years of separation, for most couples a long separation may not be too beneficial. When the relationship is close and loving, however, a separation—especially when short—may help intensify the romantic spark. But when the relationship is not good, and the separation long, it is easy to get used to life without the partner and come to prefer it.


When someone annoys us, repeated exposure, rather than making us like that person more, will intensify our negative feelings. This is why police records show that most acts of violence do not happen between strangers but between people who are very close, such as husband and wife, family members, friends, and neighbors. In other words, repeated exposure intensifies the dominant emotion in the relationship. When the dominant emotion is anger, repeated exposure enhances the anger. When the dominant emotion is attraction, repeated exposure enhances the attraction.

    This conclusion is supported by the findings of a study in which subjects were shown twenty different pictures and were asked how much they liked each one of them. In the second stage of the study they were shown some of the pictures one more time, and other pictures five or ten times. In the results, those pictures that the subjects either liked or felt neutral toward were rated more positively after subjects were exposed to them several times. On the other hand, repeated exposure to those pictures that subjects disliked served only to increase the dislike (Brickman et al., 1972).


An opportunity to meet and get acquainted in person is almost a prerequisite for the development of a romantic relationship. While platonic love relationships do develop by means of letters, telephone, and more recently electronic mail, and can be extremely exciting and rewarding as such, most people need to meet in person before they allow themselves to fall in love. And when people live, work, or play in close proximity, their likelihood of meeting increases.

    But meeting once is not enough. The results of the analysis of the romantic attachment interviews suggest that in only 11 percent of the cases, the love described in the interview was at first sight. Repeated exposure is yet another requirement for a romantic spark to turn into the steady flame of a love relationship.

    Meeting repeatedly, however, does not guarantee love. If the first impression is negative, it is best to cut contact, let the first impression dissipate, and then give the relationship another chance. In such a case, repeated exposure will not change the initial dislike or disdain into love, but will increase them.

    The conclusion for people who are seeking romantic love is obvious. Try to arrange your life in such a way that you have many opportunities to meet people through your work, place of residence, or recreational activities. It is important that your close physical environment include the kinds of people you want to engage in a relationship, be it a friendship or a romantic attachment. Being involved in activities you love, or could love, is important not only because such activities offer the most likely meeting grounds in the search for a romantic partner, but they also assure living genuinely and, therefore, more happily.

    When seeking candidates for romantic love, the encounters should offer not one-shot opportunities, the kind that take place on a busy street or in a crowded bar, but instead, time together and repetition. The meetings should either take a while—such as a week-long ski or mountain hiking trip—or be repeated regularly as daily encounters at the cafeteria at work, next to the elevator or the mailboxes at the apartment, during a year-long class, or a regularly scheduled, athletic activity.

Meet the Author

Ayala Malach Pines is a clinical, social, and organizational psychologist and the head of the department of Business Administration at the School of Management, Ben-Gurion University in Israel. She is both an American and Israeli citizen, and has specialized in couples therapy for many years, with extensive experience in both countries. She has authored ten books, twenty book chapters, and over seventy scholarly research articles. Her books have been translated into many different languages, including French, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Greek, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, and Turkish.

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