“I think about you all the time.”
“I want to be with you all the time.”
“I like talking to you all the time.”
These are among the common sentences that you hear in romantic songs, poems, movies, and from love-struck people in real life. Love makes people say and do things that seem irrational or even downright stupid. Why would anyone in their right mind think about someone all the time? For one, that would deviate limited mental energy from other important, day-to-day tasks.
Same with spending hours talking on the phone, especially when most of that talk is absolute rubbish. Yet people in love do tend to think about each other most of the time and spend inordinate amounts of time talking to each other.
In my article 3 Stages of love, I pointed out that love is a multi-stage process where we experience different emotions at different stages. This type of behaviour wherein you’re so obsessed with the person that you spend hours talking to them is typically displayed in the initial stages of a soon-to-be or not-to-be relationship.
Following are the reasons why new lovers engage in this seemingly irrational behaviour:
Assessing a potential mate’s physical attractiveness is usually the first task that we carry out to determine whether or not they’d make a suitable partner. When it is established that the person is physically desirable, the next important task is to figure out if their personality is compatible with yours.
Talking for inordinate amounts of time is a way to gauge the mental characteristics of the person. The problem is: mental characteristics are not easy to assess and take time. Sometimes it takes people years to understand someone and even when they think they’ve finally figured them out, the person might display unpredictable and unexpected behaviour.
Since assessing personality is a complex task, new lovers are motivated to talk for hours so that they can figure each other out. They are curious about each other’s interests, tastes, lifestyles, hobbies, etc. and are, often subconsciously, assessing if these interests, tastes, lifestyles, and hobbies are compatible with theirs. But why?
Going back again to the stages of love, having a crush on someone is only the initial stage of love designed to make people like each other just enough to get them to have sex. The next important stage of love is bringing the two people together long enough so that they can have kids and raise them. Hence, the mind transitions from simply having a crush on someone to also obsessively wanting to know them better.1
In sexually reproducing species including humans, there is always some sort of a competition to secure the desirable mate for oneself and prevent others from stealing one’s mate. When you’ve deemed a potential partner attractive enough to spend hours talking to them and trying to get to know them, you also need to guard them against your competitors.
One way to do this would be spending hours being with them or talking to them. This way you can increase the likelihood that your potential partner doesn’t get stolen. After all, if you have most of their time, the likelihood of them slipping out of your hands diminishes.
An interesting thing to note is that when people court multiple potential partners simultaneously, they often devote most of their time to partners they think are more valuable in the mating market.
So if a man is courting two women at the same time, he’s likely to invest more of his time into the more beautiful woman and when a woman does the same, she’s likely to invest more time in a man who’s more stable financially.
It makes sense that new lovers spend hours asking each other about their tastes and preferences. But that’s not all they talk about. Quite often, the conversations become rubbish and pointless to the point that they question their own reason and feel like they’re wasting time.
As you might have guessed, these wasteful conversations also serve an evolutionary purpose. This type of behaviour is explained by a concept that biologist Zahavi called ‘costly signalling’ .2
The idea is that if it costs you a lot to send a signal, then that signal is likely to be honest. This principle frequently holds in the animal kingdom. A male peacock’s tail is costly because it takes up a lot of energy to form and makes the bird vulnerable to predators. Only a healthy peacock can afford such a tail. Therefore a male peacock’s beautiful tale is an honest signal of health and, by extension, genetic quality.
Similarly, male bowerbirds spend hours building extravagant nests to impress the females. Many birds have costly and wasteful courtship signals- ranging from singing to dancing that they use to attract mates.
Watch this amazing video by BBC Earth showing a male bowerbird trying to woo a female:
When your lover wastes their time talking to you for hours, it’s an honest signal that they are invested in you. Why else would someone waste their time if they didn’t want you badly? The greater their personal sacrifice, the more honest is their desire to court you. It may seem unfair to the person making the sacrifice but this is how we think.
In humans, it’s predominantly the females who are the choosers. Therefore, they more often demand wasteful courtship from men rather than vice versa. This is why romantic poems, songs, and movies have men incurring heavy costs on themselves and going the extra mile to court women. They overcome all odds, and sometimes threats to their own lives, to win the hearts of women. I’m yet to watch a movie where a woman defeated a sea monster to win the heart of a man.
- Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of neurophysiology, 94(1), 327-337.
- Miller, G. (2011). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Anchor.