Love is a complex, not well-understood emotion that can occur for people at different rates.
Scientists have developed a model for understanding love that includes four fundamental components:
- connection or resonance
These components connect and often rely on each other. As relationships change over time, love’s components can grow and fade with the changes. They can also apply directly to romantic love or the notion of falling in love.
This article reviews what scientists know about the time it takes to fall in love, what love at first sight is, what falling in love feels like, and more.
When it comes to how much time it actually takes to fall in love, there is not a lot of hard data.
Some of the only research available comes from a six-part study from 2011. In the experiment, researchers asked 66 males and 45 females, all college students, two questions about their current relationship status:
- About how long did it take before you started to consider saying you were in love?
- Who confessed their love first?
They found that males took about 97 days before they expressed their feelings to their partner. Females took about 139 days to confess love to their partner. In other words, it can take several months for either gender to fall in love or at least confess to their feelings.
Love at first sight is the notion that two people fall in love almost instantly upon seeing each other for the first time. The limited data on how long love takes suggests that love at first sight does not happen but instead takes a few months to develop.
Additional evidence supports the notion that physical attraction plays an important role in love at first sight.
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However, to build a strong romantic relationship, a person will need to develop aspects of both kinds of attraction. This can take time.
There is no scientific data on what falling love actually feels like. It likely varies greatly between people and situations.
Some potential feelings associated with falling in love may include:
- excitement or nervousness
- desire to spend more time with the other person
- trouble concentrating on daily tasks
- strong desire to get to know them better
- feeling more attached to them
Evidence suggests that to have a romantic relationship, a person also needs to develop a friendship with their love interest. This may explain urges to spend more time together and the desire to learn more about them following a physical attraction.
Several stages can exist in falling in love. Like other staging systems that describe human emotions, such as grief, each person may not always follow the same stages.
Lust aligns with sexual desire and an innate need to mate with the other person to continue the species.
A 2016 study provided data that suggests that a person’s sex drive and love follow the same routes in the brain. This suggests that to fall in love with a person, a strong desire to have sexual relations with them plays an important role in falling in love.
Attraction keeps a person interested in another and is a key component to keeping a relationship going.
According to a 2023 article that comprehensively explores what love is, attraction involves two realms: sexual or material and nonsexual or non-material attraction.
Sexual or material attraction includes physical attributes of the other person, including factors such as:
In contrast, nonsexual or non-material attraction includes factors that include:
- social status
To form a romantic relationship, both forms of attraction typically contribute. Spending more time together and getting to know each other play an important role in strengthening and maintaining love.
Emotional attachment develops over time as two people begin to develop deeper connections with each other beyond sexual behavior.
Certain factors can strengthen attachments or connections, such as:
- positive shared experiences
Sexual activity can help strengthen emotional connection with a romantic partner and promote attachment. Proximity and spending time with them can also strengthen attachment.
A person may also experience separation distress and jealousy. These emotions are key features of love and help to maintain and protect emotional connections with the other person.
Falling in love requires two forms of attraction: sexual and nonsexual.
In an ideal situation, both partners would have several things that attract them to the other, but this is not always the case.
It can be difficult, particularly in a new relationship, if one person does not reciprocate love to the other. If love does not develop, a person may want to talk about their feelings with the other. This may help a person determine the next steps and whether pursuing a romantic relationship with them is still the right thing for them.
Human feelings are complex. Sometimes, people are not sure how they feel about another person.
Romantic love typically requires a couple to form both a sexual intimacy and a friendship to create and maintain an attachment.
A person may want to consider taking time to understand themselves a bit. Several factors, such as low self-esteem, can influence how a person responds to feelings or develops attachments.
Understanding how different factors influence feelings may help a person determine how they feel about their partner.
When falling in love, forming a strong friendship, physical proximity, and keeping things fresh can help to maintain a romantic love. There is no single answer on what a couple can or should do to maintain and grow love, but some things that may help include:
- Spend time with each other and get to know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, goals, and other values.
- Try new things together, both sexual and nonsexual activities.
- Work on communication.
How does a person know when to walk away?
There is no correct answer on when to walk away. A person may find it helpful to have an honest talk with a romantic partner to help answer questions about their relationship, such as what they hope to get from the relationship, their goals, and whether or not they agree on a basic level on key values.
If the answers do not line up with expectations, a person may want to consider walking away.
The following sections provide some answers to frequently asked questions about falling in love.
Do males fall in love faster?
According to an older study, males expressed love, on average, in about 97 days compared to females who took about 143 days. This could suggest males do fall in love faster or at least have fewer complications when it comes to expressing love to their partner.
Is 3 months too early to say I love you?
Falling in love typically takes a few months. Love at first sight is likely an expression of strong lust or physical desire that transforms over time into romantic love for each other.
There is no definitive time frame for falling in love, though about 3–4 months may be a rough average, according to limited research. A person will likely start to form a bond with a person during this time. If they do not, they may want to have a conversation with the other person to help figure out the steps to move forward.