Falling in love suggests a loss of control, just as a fall, synonymous with tumbling, toppling, collapsing, is often a form of giving in to greater forces, such as gravity
I’ve always wondered why in love we fall, instead of rise.
As an idiom, it’s in the same vein as “fall into pieces” or “fall apart,” meaning to disintegrate, or “fall asleep,” meaning to succumb to unconsciousness, or even “fall ill,” meaning to become sick. Most idioms with the word fall seem to be on the negative side, such as “night falls,” associated with darkness or shadows or gloom, or “riding for a fall,” meaning behaving in a way that’s likely to result in trouble, or “fall short,” that is, to fail to meet a goal, standard, or expectation. In the Bible, the fate of Adam and Eve was a case of “falling into sin,” the sin symbolized by a luscious apple, and the result was banishment from paradise and a descent to life as we know it now, full of brokenness, incertitude, pain, and sorrow.
Falling in love suggests a loss of control, just as a fall, synonymous with tumbling, toppling, collapsing, is often a form of giving in to greater forces, such as gravity. I don’t know if one ever decides to love in a way that one rises to an occasion. You come into my life and, having found in you what I need to be happy, I step up to love you. But the way we see it, we never really step up—we come down, we drop, we plummet, we nosedive, we plunge, or even sink. It’s always about falling, as if it were an accident, as if love were an abyss, some kind of a ravine, a gap into which, without meaning to, we slip.
Is love an option we would rather not take? Is it something that, by instinct, we first resist and invades us like an army once our defenses crumble? Is it chance? Is it fate? Is it destiny? Is it a chink in our armor, a piercing of our barriers, an occupation, an infection? As the song says, “Can’t help falling in love.”
The expression fall in love goes a long way back, although no one knows exactly when. Some researchers claim that the idiom first appeared in the text of English poet Edmund Spenser’s work The Faerie Queene. In the fourth volume of the epic poem, published in 1596, six years after the first three volumes were released, it was used in the passage: “Both Scudamor and Arthegal / Doe fight with Britomart / He sees her face; doth fall in love, / and soone for her depart,” and then again in the passage: “Farre passing that, which by surpassing skill / Phidias did make in Paphos Isle of yore, / With which that wretched Greeke, that life forlore / Did fall in loue.”
Even in this early usage, the phrase falling in love connotes yielding, submission, surrender. What is it about love that we resist and yet about it, if we do fall, we find ourselves helpless? There’s sado-masochism involved in allowing someone to occupy our every thought. It’s a kind of madness to see them everywhere, even when they are not there. It’s impractical to give them a key to our heart and thereby the power to break it. But can we help ourselves?
Some say love is temporary blindness, from which we may recover way too late, with other ties, like a marriage vow or children or conjugal wealth already set to bind us to the person who made us blind in the beginning. No wonder we fall—we cannot see, at least not clearly, at least not objectively, at least not practically.
British-Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton claims that modern love is fairly new, born of what historians now call Romanticism. “We are all heirs of Romanticism…an ideology that tells us that ‘all of us have a soulmate out there,’” says he, adding that very likely the people who invented Romanticism did “not have jobs or they only worked a little bit, Romanticism is very tied up with long, balmy summer afternoons, walks in nature, lots of waterfalls, and large watery expanses.”
There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.—Friedrich Nietzsche
Before the Romantics, Alain claims that love in a union between two people was not required nor was sex and love entirely conjoined. “The notion that we would be not only married but happily married only dates back to roughly the middle of the 18th century,” he explains. “Until then, you tolerated your partner for the sake of domestic concerns or the children. You did not expect to love them.”
French moralist and author Francois La Rochefoucauld once said, “There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard there was such a thing.” But I suppose no amount of intellectualization can shield us from falling in love now. As a culture, we are in too deep. This crazy thing called love is now ingrained in our system, cemented there by Sappho, Rumi, William Shakespeare, John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Florante at Laura, even Hollywood and now K-drama.
So I guess we just have to take the fall—like crazy, head over heels, in over our heads—when circumstances call for it.
Some of us may be lucky enough to fall into someone’s arms in which, if not a happy ever after or some real life version of it that is nothing like a fairy tale, they at least find some comfort, a life ally, a partner, a home, and enough joy to make all the heartaches worth it.
Others just fall with a thud, a few bruises, some broken bones, maybe a concussion. That’s OK—they’ll live.