Written by Meg Walters
For centuries, we’ve mythologised love into something supernatural and otherworldly. But now, science has shown that there may be a practical reason why love feels like a real-life magic spell.
Humans have always linked love with magic. There are countless songs: I Put a Spell On You; A Kind of Magic; Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered; and Do You Believe in Magic. And then there’s the age-old myth of the love enchantment — take Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or Wagner’s opera Tristan And Isolde.
In short, we’ve always considered falling in love to be akin to some form of real-life magic. Whether you believe that you have a spiritual connection with your partner or not, science has now given us another explanation as to why we all experience “that magic moment”, as the famous song goes.
Studying the connection between love feels like magic
For years, scientists have been fascinated with the connection between love and magic. One 1988 study found that women were more likely to use the word “magic” to describe falling in love, while men often described the same experience using words like “chemistry” or “electricity”, but nevertheless, this feeling of experiencing a spiritual connection was a common trend in romantic couples.
In a 2022 study, researchers from California tried to get to the bottom of why falling in love feels so magical.
“We hope that answering this question might offer some insight into the quandaries that have long plagued people in love,” wrote the researchers. “Should you blindly trust your heart to lead you to happiness, despite the chaos that’s as much part of love as bliss is? Or should you instead regard the tendency to magical thinking about love with scepticism, striving for rationality in the search for a fulfilling relationship?”
The researchers began by exploring the history of “magical thinking” for people in love. What they found was fascinating; based on love letters and other documents from 4,000 years ago, it seems that humanity’s understanding of romantic love hasn’t really changed. Throughout history, we’ve always found love to be somehow spiritual or fated. In other words, magical.
Is the magic of love a biological phenomenon?
According to this new study, the magical feeling we get when we fall in love is actually a trick the mind and body plays on us. Why? It’s all to do with evolution.
“Evolutionary psychology is centred on the idea that people think and act the way they do today because, over hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors with traits that made them think and act that way were more likely to survive and reproduce, passing those helpful, or ‘adaptive’ traits on to the next generation,” wrote the researchers.
When a love affair feels magical, they explained, our bond to our partner becomes stronger. In turn, our desire to survive, reproduce and support our offspring becomes stronger, too.
“The supernatural ‘meant to be’ stories people tell about love might increase their confidence in the value of their relationship,” wrote the researchers. The more you value your connection, the more determined you become to preserve your connection and stick together through thick and thin.
In other words, while love might not really be magic, there’s a reason why we all feel it is. “It fulfils an adaptive purpose and can therefore be considered ‘deeply rational’.” Love can be irrational, but it is this irrationality that bonds us and keeps us together — and evolutionarily speaking, that’s important. Scientifically, the researchers claim that love’s magic helps people make the tremendous commitment required to successfully pass their genes down.
What does the magic of love mean to us today?
Of course, in today’s world, many of us aren’t quite so focused on passing along our genes. So, what should we do with this information?
Well, for a start, you can start to look at your ‘magical’ connections with new eyes — you can take a step back and begin to reconsider difficult or toxic romantic relationships. If you find yourself sticking with someone who isn’t good for you, ask yourself why. Is it because you feel a deep, spiritual bond? Or is your relationship based on more real-world factors like shared interests, values and goals? After all, the magic of love may be tricking you into staying with someone for all the wrong reasons.
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