Does Love Make You Stupid?

“Do you have any articles about why love makes you stupid?” a reader asks.

Love does not actually make you stupid. Here’s what sometimes does happen.

You meet someone. You’re attracted to them — physically, of course, but for more than that. You fall in love with all kinds of qualities which — when considered as a whole — result in your being excited, infatuated, even a bit obsessed.

There’s nothing inherently invalid or valid about these emotions, as such. You can talk to people who still feel in love with their spouses after 30 years, and their feelings towards that person started out this way. And, of course, plenty of infatuations and love experiences end up in disappointment or pain, as well.

The fact remains: Most loves start out as intense infatuation, whether it evolves into a lasting love, or not.

Remember that emotions of love are intense, oversimplified condensations of a whole host of ideas, thoughts, beliefs, premises and evaluations about a person. In a sense, these emotions of falling in love “make people up.” I once knew a person who said this. When repeatedly disappointed not just in romance but with friendships she commented, “I make people up.” What she meant to imply was not that she did so deliberately or knowingly. Rather, her emotions made people up — as her mind wanted and hoped them to be.

Having these emotions is not the problem. It’s what kind of judgment you use while having these emotions that sometimes creates issues.

If you proceed to act blindly on these emotions or assume they’re all valid and true just because you feel them — well, you’re taking an unnecessary risk and setting yourself up for disappointment.

Sometimes, early on in a relationship, one person will hear from another: “I’d like to slow down.” What this usually means is, “I’m not yet sure that you’re what I want, or that you’re who I think you are. I want more time to figure this out.” Rarely is it put this way, but this is generally what’s going on here. And it’s healthy. It’s the conscious mind’s way of saying, “OK, this feels wonderful and I’m enjoying it for what it is. But it takes time to get to know somebody. Don’t rush to conclusions.” You might not like hearing this from someone. But if you view it rationally you’ll conclude, “I want this other person to be sure about me. And maybe I should do the same.”

People will sometimes say, “I did stupid things when I was in love.” You really shouldn’t blame it on the emotions of love, or even on infatuation. The “stupidity” here consists of errors in judgment. The errors in judgment are based on placing too much faith in emotions not yet supported by facts.

I’ve heard romantic love in its early phases compared to a drug-induced or alcohol-induced high. There is truth in this, in that emotions and physiological components of strong feelings are getting you all revved up, for sure. But you still have your reasoning. Reason is not some boring or puritanical nag designed to step on your fun. Reason is simply your mind’s way of moving through reality during a time of emotional excitement and “high.” It’s your reality check, your best friend through the sometimes perilous navigations life requires.

It takes a long while to really get to know somebody. You might think you know someone sooner than you do. That’s because your emotions make them up to be someone they might or might not completely be.

It doesn’t take much time to know that you’re physically attracted to someone, and that you like (or love) attributes about their sense of life, personality and personal style that come across in a way you find exciting. But your mind projects onto these stylistic attributes deeper character qualities, and a whole range of personal preferences or compatibilities, which you’d like to see in a person but may or may not be true of them.

It’s wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is perfectly fine, by itself. But when you start to treat wishful thinking as equivalent to truth, you’ve started down the path of magical thinking. Not smart.

That’s why it’s dangerous to place too much mental stock in these feelings of infatuation. You ought to let yourself enjoy these emotions — but see them for what they are, as well. Remember that they’re not barometers of objective truth. It takes time and many more repeated experiences to learn what someone is really like, and how good of a match they really are for you. And this all assumes the person feels the same way back.

Most of us are not delusional or going through life in a drug-induced stupor. But our minds do have a propensity for “making people up.” For that reason, it’s advisable to proceed with facts and logic as always part of the mix. Keep your judgment handy even as you go on the thrill ride of an exciting new experience.


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