New Research Reveals The Overlooked Phenomenon of 'Emophilia' In Relationships
Researcher Daniel N. Jones explains why some people fall in love quickly and frequently.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 30, 2024
A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences examined the tendency of people to fall in love fast and easily, ignoring the potential red flags and safe sexual practices.
I recently spoke to Daniel N. Jones, Associate Professor at the University of Nevada Reno, to discuss the overlooked phenomenon of "Emophilia" and its consequences on individuals and their relationships. Here is the summary of our conversation.
What is Emophilia?
Emophilia describes the tendency to fall in love easily, quickly, and often. Every single one of us falls somewhere on the emophilia dimension. Some people are very low on emophilia, and it could take a lifetime (if ever) to fall in love.
For others, it could happen in an instant, and most are somewhere in the middle. So, we all have an emotional threshold for falling in love, which varies from person to person. Nevertheless, that threshold must be reached for us to fall in love; for some, that threshold is lower and can be reached much faster.
How does Emophilia differ from the anxious attachment style?
Anxious attachment is a defense mechanism to prevent attachment figures from abandoning us. Thus, it is associated with a sense of neediness, insecurity, and fear of abandonment. Emophilia, on the other hand, is associated with a sense of want and emotional excitement.
The two concepts overlap because love often involves perceptions of both— wanting and needing. Further, rapidly developed emotional attachments make us vulnerable, and these two traits predict similar outcomes at times, such as rarely being single and rapidly developing relationships.
Thus, these two things would correlate. But the processes driving the behavior of those high in emophilia vs. anxious attachment are different.
Why do you think people develop Emophilia? Which individuals are prone to it?
There are a lot of possible theories, but there is little empirical evidence yet on what might cause it. From a biological perspective, some promising avenues to explore would be a hypersensitivity to oxytocin (a bonding and stress hormone) or sensitivity to reward in the brain's emotional centers.
However, it is a much harder question to answer why it evolved as a trait. There may be several explanations, such as emophilia may facilitate closer relationships with multiple partners, and by having children with them, one may pass on genes more effectively. But all of these explanations are speculative.
How does Emophilia affect a person's relationships?
Emophilia can be disruptive in a healthy relationship. Part of what we see is that the fast rush of love does not stop once someone is in a relationship. Thus, the possibility of infidelity is relatively high. This risk is particularly true for emotional infidelity, which is when someone romantically bonds with someone outside of their primary relationship. However, emophilia predicts most forms of infidelity.
What are some harmful effects one can experience with Emophilia in a relationship?
People high in emophilia rush into relationships. As a result, they do not take their time to get to know a person before making significant sacrifices or commitments. They ignore red flags rather than looking for them (or even acknowledging them).
As a result, they can find themselves in tough places romantically, emotionally, and even physically. But, because they are in love, they are also likely to ignore the warnings or advice provided by loved ones, which risks alienating people who care.
Do you think Emophilia is more prevalent in men or women, and why?
So far, the evidence is clear that men are higher in emophilia when compared with women (note that we have little evidence of those who are gender nonconforming).
As to why men might be higher, one great explanation comes from Susan Sprecher and Sandra Metts in 1989. Although they were referring to romanticism, they point out that historically, across most cultures, women had to be more practical about their relationships than men because women did not have the same levels of independence and earning opportunities.
Thus, evolutionarily, culturally, and socially, men have been more able to follow their emotions into relationships, whereas women were forced to be more practical. Again, these explanations are not readily testable, and there may be other explanations. I find this explanation compelling.
Why do you think people high in Emophilia are attracted to individuals with dark personality traits?
As clarified earlier, I do not necessarily think they are disproportionately drawn to all dark personality traits. They just do not screen them out as those lower on emophilia do.
Nevertheless, the risk of involvement with an individual who has a dark personality is high (especially narcissism), and I believe this is a two-step process.
First, research has shown that narcissistic individuals are particularly good at charming others in first encounters and early on in a relationship. However, that charm wears off. But that initial charm is likely to reel in those high in emophilia, who are then likely to fall in love quickly and jump into a relationship. However, they are unlikely to take the time to realize that this charm is almost always a façade.
Being drawn to the excitement created by a charming veneer and rushing to fall in love prevents proper screening and attention to red flags. This lack of screening facilitates premature commitment and sacrifice, often landing them in a tough spot in the future.
What practical advice would you give to people who are prone to Emophilia?
I have at least three pieces of advice, but more in my forthcoming book Emophilia: The Science of Serial Romance (Oxford University Press).
- Keep a calendar and a journal. Track your entries over time. Get those romantic feelings (and other feelings) out in writing, but also ground them in perspective with the calendar. You may have found "the one" this time, but if this perception has been a recurring pattern, perhaps you have not taken the time in the past to separate the wheat from the chaff. Many people look good from a distance because we have limited information about them, and we get to color in the rest. Those prone to emophilia often paint a rosier-than-warranted picture. So, track your relationship and see if you feel the same way over a series of milestones determined by time and interactions.
- Listen to your loved ones. Although occasionally loved ones can give bad advice, those who love you and are there for you are likely to speak up if they have concerns about your partner. Listen and consider their advice. Do not alienate them; they are trying to help.
- Realize that there are over 7 billion people on this planet. There are always those who may be more attractive or charming than the person you have a relationship with. But, if you want to be in a relationship, whether it be monogamous, polyamorous, or otherwise, then there comes a time to realize that relationships take work and time, and chasing every whim of romantic appeal, you come across can lead to missing out on what you have.