In the comedy Failure to Launch Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) makes men fall in love with her by avoiding physical intimacy and by faking traumas. Traumas? What does that have to do with love? A whole lot, in fact. Real impediments intensify our emotions. It’s also called the Romeo and Juliet Effect. If real impediments exist, such as marriage to another person or a family feud, our romantic feelings are likely to intensify.
How does that work psychologically? Well, if we manage to overcome the impediment and we receive the prize in the end, then we have created a near-miss situation. A situation is a near-miss situation if it could easily have failed to obtain. Winning the lottery is a near-miss situation. A lot of other people who bought lottery tickets didn’t win despite doing the exact same thing as you did. Near-miss situations can intensify both positive and negative feelings. If we hear about a plane crash and the only reason we weren’t on the plane was that we missed our flight, we feel a much stronger sense of relief than if we just hear about a plane crash. If we hit a pedestrian on our way to work, we will hate ourselves even more if it happened on that day where we impulsively decided to try out a different route.
Just as near-miss situations can intensify our sense of relief or self-hatred, it can also intensify our romantic feelings. Real or fake impediments generate near-miss situations. There is a sense in which we are lucky, because things could easily have been otherwise.
Impediments can intensify our feelings in other ways too. Impediments can induce strong activity in our emotional brain (the amygdala). That intense firing of neurons provides a good foundation for falling in love, as long as we misinterpret the cause of the brain activity. If our brain associates the racing heart and the stress of the situation with the other person, the brain may begin to produce love chemicals. And that’s normally all it takes to fall in love.