Why “Forbidden Love” Can Seem So Alluring—And When It’s A Problem

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many of us are likely familiar with the concept of "forbidden love," a romantic notion often portrayed by characters in acting and literature. It refers to a romance between two individuals that is opposed by family, friends, or society, as their relationship may defy cultural, religious, or societal norms. This could be due to disapproval from loved ones, differing backgrounds, or taboos like a significant age gap, a coworker relationship, or even a love interest who is already married.

Mark Twain captured this dynamic when he wrote, "There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable," and many of us have heard the phrase, "forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest." Apparently, such hidden feelings can intensify the romantic experience. But why is this, and what are the potential drawbacks or concerns related to pursuing a relationship of this type, where marriage or even just being together may seem like an insurmountable challenge?

Why A Person May Feel Drawn To “Forbidden Love”

Is Your Inclination Toward "Forbidden Love" Causing Problems?

People of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations may experience the increased allure of a relationship that’s been deemed “forbidden.” There are many reasons why someone might be drawn to romantic dynamics that are supposed to be off-limits in some way—below, we’ll explore four of them.

1. The Way The Brain Works

Researchers have identified a number of psychological principles that may provide some insight into why "forbidden love" is so alluring to some, particularly in the world of a young lover. One is reactance, which one study defines as "the motivation to regain a freedom after it has been lost or threatened." In other words, reactance is a person's desire to work even harder to get what they want after they've been told that they can't or shouldn't pursue it. If a girl's parents say she's not allowed to date, that girl may be even more motivated to find a partner, for example. Or, two coworkers, like Justin and a woman he's interested in, whose office has a policy against dating colleagues may find that the rule actually increases their desire to get together.

Another principle that's been identified in relation to the allure of "forbidden love" is the effort justification phenomenon. The principle states that humans—and even some animals—tend to place greater value on rewards that require more effort to obtain. So, if a couple must sneak around at night to spend time together because their families disapprove, for instance, they might both be inclined to value the relationship more highly. They may fall deeper into their secret romance, potentially contemplating marriage or simply enjoying their time together, no matter the consequences.

2. The Influence Of The Media

One study found that people who watched a selection of romantic films or read written pages of love stories to learn "reported stronger endorsement of romantic ideal beliefs than those who did not watch to learn." Since movies, TV shows, and books, many of which have played with the theme of forbidden love and the desire to marry against all odds, are a common part of life for many people beginning in childhood. The "forbidden romance" trope is common across media types—think Romeo and Juliet or The Little Mermaid—it may contribute to some people subconsciously being more drawn to this dynamic in their personal romantic lives as teenagers and adults, possibly even exploring intimate aspects like sex within these relationships.

3. A Fear Of Abandonment Or Commitment

Someone who frequently finds themselves pursuing “forbidden love” relationships could potentially have a fear of abandonment or commitment. There’s often a significant chance that these types of relationships won’t work out, which may make them feel like safer choices to a person with such deep-seated worries. Someone who fears making commitments might feel more comfortable in a dynamic that has a high chance of failing, so the chances of being expected to commit to someone long-term are lower. Someone who fears abandonment might prefer this type of relationship because it may feel more predictable; they won’t be as caught off guard if or when things don’t work out.

4. Avoidance Of Boredom

Some people may feel compelled to avoid relationships that are conventional or “safe” in favor of those that have “forbidden love” elements. They may be trying to avoid a dynamic that they consider to be boring, preferring to take their chances on something that feels risky or unexpected. In cases like these, it might simply be boredom, curiosity, or even “the fear of missing out” that drives someone to pursue a relationship that others disapprove of. There’s also the element of the “rush” some people feel when doing something that’s against the rules. For some, having a secret to keep can make life feel more exciting.

When The Pursuit Of “Forbidden Love” May Be Problematic

Someone who strongly feels the allure of “forbidden love” could potentially end up sabotaging their other relationships. For instance, someone who is in a loving, healthy relationship could cheat on their partner with someone who may be inappropriate or even unhealthy for them because of one of the motivations discussed above. Or, they could break up with someone they deeply love to pursue a “forbidden love” instead. A decision like this could end a relationship that was a positive force in their life, which would likely be hurtful to the person’s partner and could lead to a pattern of unfulfilling relationships.

Behaviors related to pursuing “forbidden” relationships could also have negative consequences on a person’s life even beyond their romantic situation. For instance, if a professional gets romantically involved with their boss because of the thrill of it being against the rules, someone may end up losing their job, which could negatively impact their career and their financial stability.

The human fascination with danger, transgression, and adrenaline rushes are real, and they have the potential to cause harm to the individual or those around them.

Is “Forbidden Love” Worth It?

Determining if it’s in your best interest to pursue a “forbidden love” relationship with someone often requires being honest with yourself. Is the connection with this person what you truly want? Have you weighed the ways in which it could negatively impact your life? Will pursuing this relationship mean you’re denying yourself the opportunity for healthy connections, or unduly harming people you love? Breaking up with someone to pursue someone else can be a perfectly valid or even positive choice, as can pursuing a relationship that others disapprove of. Determining whether it is worth it depends on your unique situation and your true motivations.

If you find yourself in a difficult situation because of your draw to “forbidden love,” you may find it helpful to explore your motivations with the help of a professional.

A therapist may be able to help you uncover the motivations for your choices and learn to make decisions that prioritize your wellbeing. If your pursuit of “forbidden love” stems from fears of abandonment, low self-esteem, substance abuse issues, or some other challenge, a therapist can provide you with tools that may allow you to make better choices for yourself. 

Regardless of the cause, if you’ve become concerned about the romantic choices you’re making or wish to make, connecting with a mental health professional online may help you sort through your thoughts and understand what’s going on. 

For instance, a review of 14 studies found that online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) led to an average improvement of 50% for symptoms of a range of concerns, including generalized anxiety disorder, depression, social anxiety disorder, and more.

Those experiencing the draw of “forbidden love” or any challenges resulting from it may have some feelings of embarrassment given the taboo nature of this type of relationship. With online therapy such as BetterHelp, you can connect with a qualified counselor from your home through a web page, rather than having to go to an office in person where you might encounter other people.

Is Your Inclination Toward "Forbidden Love" Causing Problems?


Forbidden love can be alluring for many reasons, but in some cases, it may lead to challenges in an individual’s romantic, personal, or professional life. If you are experiencing such challenges and are looking for support, online therapy may be able to help.

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