All of us experience the strong occurrence of love, maybe it the gladness of getting a soulmate or the depression of being rejected.
However, what precisely is love?
In this book, Helen Fisher a biological anthropologist talks about how our feelings of romance, sexual urge and connection are all the outcomes of our brains. More than giving a deep understanding of what love is all about, the author proceeds to describe how and why evolution offered us the capacity to love in the first place.
Chapter 1 – The features of romantic love are general.
When we fall in love, we feel as if though we’re experiencing something that is exceptional to us. However, in retrospect across time and cultures, there are signs that everybody experience when they fall in love.
One popular sign is the importance we assign to the people we love. We become extremely concentrated on our loved one, and they pervade our feelings, dreams, and behaviors. We see them as unique and perfect and admire them to the point that we view all the things they do – even their weaknesses –from rose-colored glasses.
For instance, the person you love might have crooked teeth or a speech disorder such as a lisp. Though these deficiencies are usually viewed as unattractive, you see their imperfections as part of their cuteness or uniqueness since they belong to your beloved one.
These feelings of love are shared by people around the globe.
The studies the author conducted have revealed that these feelings of love are the same for everybody–regardless of age, culture or sexual orientation.
However, definitely there are differences in how love is felt across the globe, right?
Certainly; however, anywhere there are differences between societies, there are obvious cultural reasons for that. In a study that the author conducted, many more Japanese than American participants concurred with the word “Anytime I am speaking to [my beloved one] I am usually scared that I will say the thing the wrong.” This can be clarified by the reality that, in the Japanese community, seeing someone of the opposite sex is more formal and less common than in America. hence, this shyness is a result of culture, instead the love itself being different.
Chapter 2 – Chemical processes in the brain bring about romantic love.
For thousands of years, people have thought about what caused love. Some people believe that it is a deeply spiritual occurrence; however, contemporary science has confirmed that it is the outcome of chemicals in the brain. Specifically, the feeling of love is brought about by three main neurotransmitters namely dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
One of the main neurotransmitters researchers have discovered to correspond with feelings of romantic love is Dopamine. As a matter of fact, Dopamine is one of the most strong neurotransmitters in charge of the entire mood, affecting concentration, motivation, and addiction – all significant features of being in love.
Dopamine assists to explain the reason why is really addictive. Researchers have revealed that when you’re with a person you love, you feel something that is similar to taking a drug such as cocaine. Dopamine overwhelms your brain, supplying you with a feeling of pleasure that you can’t wait to relive. This the reason people who’re in love feel reliant on and yearn for their loved ones – just like how drug addicts do with their drugs.
Norepinephrine is the next main neurotransmitter involved, which has effects that looks like dopamines.
The feelings of excitement and stimulation that come with love –such as butterflies in the stomach or a fast heartbeat – are as a result of the production of norepinephrine. However, this neurotransmitter as well brings about some of love’s unpleasant feelings: it’s usually difficult to fall and remain asleep when we love someone, and a lot of us also feel a loss of appetite –and both of these are as a result by norepinephrine.
Serotonin is the final main love neurotransmitters.
Serotonin causes elevated restlessness and regular thinking about the one you love. However, different from the other two neurotransmitters, serotonin levels are usually lesser when you fall in love. The reason for that is that the level of serotonin is reduced when the levels of the other two chemicals increase. In this case, less is more – the less the serotonin level, the more you become obsessed about the person you love.
Chapter 3 – Together with romantic love, there are two other kinds of affection which are lust and attachment.
In the former chapter, we discovered how brain chemistry plays a role in our feelings of romantic love. However, romance isn’t the only means we feel love or desire. There are still other two other kinds of affection which are lust and attachment, feelings that are connected with the secretion of certain hormones.
Let’s begin with the juicy aspect.
Lust is our sexual craving for a person, and it’s as a result of the hormone testosterone. The higher the testosterone that’s produced into our bodies, the more sexually stimulated we get.
Also, we have an attachment, which is the feelings of gladness and ease we acquire when we’re close to a person we love. These feelings are related to increased levels of vasopressin and oxytocin hormones in the body – these are hormones that are lovingly categorized as the cuddle chemicals due to how they make us feel.
Though each of these kinds of affection is different, they can work in any likely mixture with one another.
For instance– to say it somewhat crudely – feelings of romantic love can initiate lust. This reason is that increases in the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters that cause love can arouse the release of testosterone.
However, this also functions in the other way round: sexual urge can ultimately cause romantic love. The reason is that the hormonal attachments go either way, and increases in testosterone level can aid rises in the neurotransmitters which lead to romantic love.
Therefore, when next you’re considering having a casual sexual relationship – watch out, it could cause something more!
Chapter 4 – All of us are attracted to proportion, difference, and mystery.
All of us have a different view of their perfect partner: some people prefer them small, some tall, some thin, some fat. However, there are specific features that none of us can resist.
One kind of person all of us see as attractive – irrespective of our gender – is a person that is different from us.
We consider people who’re different from ourselves mysterious and new, which eventually makes them more desirable. This urge for the strange and novel is really hard-wired into our brains: novelty can lead to higher levels of dopamine to be produced, which, as we’ve noticed, brings about the feelings of romantic love.
However, what is the reason why evolution led us to want the people that are different from us?
The answer to this question could be in the association between our genes and our immune systems. Researchers have revealed that when two parents with unrelated DNA copulate, their child is at a lower risk of sicknesses and disease than a child from parents with related DNA. This clarifies the reason we are attracted to people who are different from us.
Evidence for this can be seen from the sweaty T-shirt experiment, where women were told to rate the smell of men´s sweaty T-shirts. The outcomes show that “the sexiest smelling” usually belongs to a man that has an immune system that is different still compatible with that of the test person.
A different attraction bias that the majority of the people have is craving for specifically symmetrical partners.
According to statistics, the people that have symmetric bodies and faces are considered to be more beautiful than the people with unbalanced bodies. The reason is that when we watch more symmetrical bodies, higher dopamine is produced in our brains.
The female waist-to-hip ratio is a different illustration of certain proportions associated with attraction. Researchers have discovered that one of the most charming features in women for men is a waist-to-hip ratio of 70%. Not surprising, researchers have also discovered that these are the usual measurements of a Playboy centerfold!
Chapter 5 – Men have the tendency to judge their mates based on their appearance, whereas women seek for smart and successful ones.
As we have seen in the former chapter, all of us share the same biological chemistry that makes us experience love. However, this doesn’t signify that both men and women experience love in precisely the same manner. As a matter of fact, there are some key differences between the two.
One key difference is the features we search for in a partner.
When men fall in love, the brain parts linked with visual processing are triggered, which is the reason men are usually attracted to a likely partner’s look. This makes men judge partners mainly on how they appear. Specifically, men look for women who display indications of youth and beauty, such as soft smooth skin.
Why these particular signs?
Since signs of youth and beauty specify increase estrogen levels in a woman – a significant indication of good reproductive health – which signifies the likelihood for more children. Selecting a partner as a result of their look signified that men are more likely to fall in love really fast– some people even say at first sight.
On the other hand, women, take a more long-term method to love, choosing partners who can make them feel safe.
Women are more attracted to men who show abilities of success, such as high levels of intelligence and financial security. The reason is that women have to experience pregnancy and childbirth – a long, tiring and hectic process. Hence, a successful man is more attractive since they are very likely to be able to cater for and look after a woman during this hard time.
Chapter 6 – All of us possess a “love map” which outlines the features we consider desirable in a mate.
As we become older, we begin to learn what we most like in our partners: maybe a big smile, green eyes or a good sense of humor. As this information accrues over time, they grow into a love map: a chart in our unconscious mind of all the things we find particularly attractive –such as sexual preferences, the color or the hair, eye and the kind of personality.
However, where does a love map originate from?
Your specific love map comes from your own personal experiences and is hence unique to you. No other person will possess the exact kind of likes and dislikes that you’ve accrued as a result of your unique experiences. We understand this since studies have revealed that even identical twins with the same set of values and interests will have formed their own preferences in love – in a nutshell, they’ve formed their own love maps.
Therefore, what does your love map do precisely?
Your love map is what directs you to fall in love with a certain person.
Let’s describe this with a thought experiment. Assuming you enter a room full of strangers. You check around and see a lot of potential partners –however, it’s very likely you won’t be attracted to all of them. Rather, there will be just a few, or perhaps only one, towards whom you’ll feel strongly attracted to. This person is the one who best fits your love map.
Chapter 7 – The roots of romantic love can be dated back to 3.5 million years ago.
Have you ever questioned yourself where the concept of romantic love derives from? The answer to the question can be seen way back in our evolutionary history.
About 3.5 million years ago, humans made a huge evolutionary change when they begin to walk upright. Though, it gave them a lot go benefits, walking on two feet made mothers carry their babies in their arms rather than their backs. Also, because mother hands were full, they couldn’t gather food for themselves anymore or simply escape from predators. This signified that they needed somebody – a mate – to remain with them and assist in protecting the children.
This circumstance brought about a primitive kind of romantic love known as serial monogamy, where mates remained together for a period of time before proceeding to form a couple with another person.
Why serial monogamy?
Our evolutionary ancestors most likely didn’t use their whole lives together –just long enough to raise a child through infancy; say about four years. Afterward, the two partners would then go their different ways and create new couples with different people. This approach would have been better for the genetic health of the group since the more children you give birth to with different partners, the more the diversity of a population’s genetic material.
This advantage of serial monogamy could have brought about the advancement of contemporary romantic love.
As mates brought up a child together, they might have begun forming affection for each other. Although it would have declined for the majority of the couples when the children grew up, it’s most likely that for others the attachment inspired them to remain together longer to give birth to more children together. Though the primitive brains of these ancestors most likely signified that they couldn’t experience love in the manner that we experience it, this development possibly led towards the deep connections we link with romantic love nowadays.
Chapter 8 – As humans grew, our capacity for romantic love grew as well.
In the former chapter, we discovered that the first “humans” to feel romantic love probably felt it in a somewhat primitive manner. However, in the course of an evolutionary path, our brains’ complexity developed and our ability to feel love evolved.
Nearly 1.8 million years ago, there was a huge evolutionary growth: the emergence of language which is the ability to express oneself with words. It’s questionable that there is no better method of expressing one’s romantic love than with language. We can be certain that the first humans’ ability for love grew when this new capacity emerged. Now they could entice, tease and flatter one another with stories, songs, and gossip – things just language can do.
As humans kept on their evolutionary path, the size of the human brain grew as well, which further increased the feeling of love.
The development of the brain was partly as a result of the development of cooking. By knowing how to cook a meal, ancient humans increased their calorie consumption, which permitted the growth of huge, calorie-hungry brains. The caudate nucleus is one part of the brain that grew in size, a part connected with our motivation to pursue and win rewards. This brought about improved efforts in attempting to attract a suitable mate – and is most likely the reason why some people will do anything to spend time with the person they love.
Also, these new, bigger brains made parents remain together longer.
However, bigger brains signified bigger skulls, which signified more difficulties during childbirth. So that babies could fit through the vagina, children needed to be born before their brains and skulls were completely developed. Since children were born less formed, they had to experience a longer phase of childhood before being able to cater for themselves. This enforced couples to remain with one another for longer times, and hence improved feelings of romantic love.
Chapter 9 – Thrilling dates increase relationship fulfillment – and can even initiate love.
All of us understand that romantic love can ebb and flow: on some days you feel very attracted to a person, the next day you feel disconnected and uninterested. Love appears to go with its own rules –however, that’s doesn’t mean it’s not controllable. As a matter of fact, there are a few things you can do to make the flame burning
Such as doing new and exciting things.
As previously mentioned, one of the chemicals that trigger the feeling of romantic love is dopamine – and it’s produced when we are doing an exciting or new thing. This signifies that you can harness the power of excitement to form feelings of love.
In 1974, this was observed by psychologists Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton, who studied how exciting circumstances can stimulate love.
They did an experiment on two bridges: one of the bridges was low and stable concrete, the other bridge was a wobbly rope across a gorge. They told the males to walk past one of the bridges where a female researcher was waiting for them. She then questioned them and then told them to call her later if they had any questions. The men who walked across the risky bridge were very more likely to call the researcher later.
What was the reason for that?
Since the exciting condition in which they came across her had initiated the feelings of romantic love.
Sexual intimacy is another method of keeping high levels of romantic love in a long-term relationship.
Sex stimulates the release of testosterone – which can stimulate the production of dopamine. Orgasms as well as flood the body with cuddle chemicals like vasopressin in men and oxytocin in women.
Therefore, if you feel that your feelings for your partner are falling apart– there’s one guaranteed thing you can do to renew them!
Chapter 10 – Enforce yourself to stay active when you have been rejected.
As the majority of the people understand, there are few pains more than being rejected by a person you love. That can make you feel depressed, and want to only want to lie around the entire. However, rather than giving up on yourself, you have to quit wallowing in self-pity and take action. As a matter of fact, this is the only means to lessen the pain.
Since being active make you distracted while you disconnect from the person you love.
When you are rejected, the chemical reaction in the brain is very much similar as if you had desperately fallen in love: serotonin levels reduce, and you obsessively think about the one who rejected you. However, rather than caving in and communicating with beloved, you need to remain strong and keep a distance to enable you to detach – with the assistance of lots of distraction!
Just like the members of AA mention: “One day at a time.” Say to yourself that you won’t get in touch with the one you love today, and remain busy, for instance, by going out with friends. Only committing yourself to continue with the responsibilities and jobs of daily life, from doing the dishes to going to work, will keep you busy and assist you to stay away.
Another advantage of staying being active is that it assists improve your mood.
As seen that new experiences produce dopamine, doing a new and exciting thing, such as skateboarding, bungee jumping or rock climbing will assist you to handle your negative emotions.
Exercise as well as help to raise levels of serotonin, and some psychiatrists even mention that exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medications or psychotherapy in treating depression.
Therefore, when you are feeling depressed, stand up and do some sports and you’ll begin feeling better immediately!
Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher Book Review
As we understand, romantic love has developed all through our evolutionary history. By harnessing our understanding of the science of love, we can make the romantic spark alive and handle the negative feelings of rejection.