The concept is associated with a set of metaphors attempting to convey the speed and intensity of falling in love by describing it as a physical process of falling or being struck.

Alternately, falling in love is often described with reference to Cupid's arrow. Other sources, such as Tristram Shandy, describe the process by referring to it as the act of being shot with a gun: 'I am in love with Mrs Wadman, quoth my uncle Toby - She has left a ball here - added my uncle Toby - pointing to his breast'.[2]


The twentieth-century saw the concept of love-sickness reconceptualised by psychoanalysis. As early as 1915, Freud asked rhetorically, "Isn't what we mean by 'falling in love' a kind of sickness and craziness, an illusion, a blindness to what the loved person is really like?"[3] Half a century later, in 1971, Hans Loewald took up the theme, comparing being in analysis 'to the passions and conflicts stirred up anew in the state of being in love which, from the point of view of the ordinary order and emotional tenor and discipline of life, feels like an illness, with all its deliciousness and pain'.[4]


A 2005 article by Frank Tallis suggested that being utterly romantically lovestruck should be taken more seriously by professionals.[5]

"For love-struck victims, the world appears altered. Replacing the flatness of ordinary experience is a fullness".[6]

According to Tallis, some of the symptom clusters shared with being lovestruck include:

More substantively, the estimated serotonin levels of people falling in love were observed to drop to levels found in patients with OCD.[7] Brain scan investigations of individuals who professed to be "truly, madly, deeply" in love showed activity in several structures in common with the neuroanatomy of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), for example the anterior cingulate cortex and caudate nucleus.[8]


Some who would "disagree with Frank Tallis's fundamental thesis that love should be seen as a mental illness...concur that at the extreme and under certain circumstances love sickness can drive a person to despair".[9]

They would suggest however that "'disordered love'...can be understood more clearly in terms of attachment theory".[10]

Literary examples

  • The character of Romeo fits the archetype of a love-struck youth that he has become the very model of Cupid himself.[11]
  • In Possession, the hero's ex quotes Robert Graves to her new lover - '"Oh Love, be fed by apples while you may"'[12] - echoing the Song of Solomon, 'comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love'.[13]

See also


  1. Jennifer Overton, Snapshots of Autism (2003) p. 58
  2. Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Penguin 1976) p. 554
  3. Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 9
  4. Quoted in Malcolm, p. 127
  5. Tallis, F (2005). "Truly, madly deeply in love". The Psychologist. 18 (2): 72–4.
  6. Kathryn Allen Rabuzzi, Mother with Child (1994) p. 117
  7. Marazziti D, Akiskal HS, Rossi A, Cassano GB (May 1999). "Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love". Psychol Med. 29 (3): 741–5. doi:10.1017/S0033291798007946. PMID 10405096.
  8. Bartels A, Zeki S (November 2000). "The neural basis of romantic love". NeuroReport. 11 (17): 3829–34. doi:10.1097/00001756-200011270-00046. PMID 11117499.
  9. M. J. Power/T. Dalgleish, Cognition and Emotion (2008) p. 342
  10. Power/Dalgleish, p. 351
  11. Clayton G. MacKenzie, Emblems of Mortality (2000) p. 75
  12. A. S. Byatt, Possession (1990) p. 417
  13. J. M. & M. J. Cohen eds., The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations (1964) p. 42

Further reading

  • Frank Tallis, Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness (2005)
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