For Valentine’s Day, let’s wonder about the biology of love for a moment. While some try to discard the significance of this holiday by insisting it’s a capital device to promote spending, that’s another topic group. I’ll focus on science and its relation to gift giving.
According to Helen Fisher, an anthropologist with Rutgers University, love is a biochemical condition in the brain. Not only does the person you love take on a special meaning, “But you have intense energy. As one Polynesian said, “I felt like jumping in the sky.” You’re up all night. You’re walking till dawn. You feel intense elation when things are going well, mood swings into horrible despair when things are going poorly; a real dependence on this person.” Fisher proposes romantic love behaves like a craving, similar to an addiction to euphoric drugs like cocaine.
Turns out the brains of people in love light up when thinking of the object of their desires. Fisher explains, “We found activity in a lot of brain regions. In fact, one of the most important was a brain region that becomes active when you feel the rush of cocaine. And, indeed, that’s exactly what happens. I began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion. In fact, I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low, but, actually, it’s a drive. It comes from the motor of the mind, the ‘wanting’ part of the mind, the ‘craving’ part of the mind.” Yes, you can become addicted to love.
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A person in that state of mind would certainly take the time out from his busy day to buy or create some kind of gift for a sweetheart. The Rules, written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, suggests women break up immediately with a man who does not provide some sort of romantic gift for Valentine’s Day.
When in love, people will do something romantic on Valentine’s Day. It’s not about the amount of money spent, it’s the type of gift that counts. The Rules #12 states: “Stop dating him if he doesn’t buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine’s Day.” Here’s the acceptable list: flowers, jewelry, poetry or a weekend trip. Buying something expensive AND practical spells trouble, which starts with T and stands for toodle-oo.
Well, if Helen Fisher correctly identifies love as a biochemical condition of the brain, people in love should trip-all-over-themselves to make their lover happy—at least in the beginning.
Fisher also points out how sex drive gets couples to the place where they can fall in love, but it isn’t a guarantee. Fisher breaks love into three stages. First comes sexual attraction, (is this the sitting in a tree part?) Then comes romantic love, and last comes attachment. Attachment keeps couples together long term (or at least long enough to raise children). Fisher points out the trap. Attachment begins “with orgasm, then you get a real rush of oxytocin and vasopressin, those are associated with attachment, this is why you can feel such a sense of cosmic union with somebody after you’ve made love to them.”
So if you really want to keep things casual, skip the orgasm. Or take your date out for a slice of pizza:
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People can experience different kinds of love at the same time. You guessed it; you can have a lovely, deep attachment to one partner and experience romantic love with another. This issue has been investigated by researchers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, authors of the book, Sex at Dawn.
According to Sex at Dawn, we really aren’t actually a monogamous primate species. The book supplies numerous examples, from the societies of early hunter-gatherers, to comparative biology, to modern “hysterical” medicine and marriage laws. The most convincing part compares penis and testicle sizes of monogamous, polygamous, and polyamorous primate species and discovers humans do not resemble monogamous or polygamous species at all! In fact, humans match Bonobos most closely, and that primate species uses sex as a social tool to maintain community bonds. (But does not celebrate Valentine’s Day).
If you’re curious, read Sex at Dawn. They’ll dive into the scientific explanation more thoroughly and humorously than I can. Unfortunately for us, we can’t just switch to a polyamorous society without some serious work and cooperation with numerous other like-minded folks. “How would it feel to live in such a world?” The authors ask, “Well, we all know how it feels to live in this one.”
So in the meantime, before our society flows “back to a hunter-gatherer casualness,” go get a romantic gift for your true love this Valentine’s Day and stay out of trouble.