Love is the simplest thing

There’s an idea circulating that two people who want to be in romantic love can get there by performing a simple procedure that steps them through asking and answring 35 questions and ends with staring into each others’ eyes for 4 minutes.

I don’t know if these reports are true or not. But I’m writing to oppose the gut reaction I think most people have on hearing them, which is that it can’t possibly be that easy because romantic love is this tremendously complex mysterious mystery thing. And if it is that simple, it’s wrong.

I don’t think so. Even if this procedure doesn’t actually have a high success rate, there will be one that does, given certain basics. The basics are: the participants must be of mutually compatible sexual orientations and must smell good to each other.

Why do I believe this? Because of what romantic love is for.

It’s all about the encephalization, really. Millions of years ago our hominid ancestors stumbled onto a novel adaptive strategy: be smart, adaptable, and capable of learning rather than purely instinct-driven. Make tools; use fire; invent language.

This strategy required much, much more of our nervous systems. Because intelligence was in fact a winning strategy, we were selected for growing more complex brains capable of doing more information processing. But increasing the logic density of brains is hard; there probably isn’t a path to it through the design space that is rapidly exploitable by small point mutations. So selective pressure made our brains larger, instead.

The fossil record shows that the hominid line encephalized at a breakneck speed compared to the usual leisurely pace of evolutionary change. This had huge consequences; much of human biology is a series of hacks and kluges to support that encephalization, often in stupidly suboptimal ways.

The one that’s relevant here starts from the limited width of the birth canal. Limited, that is, by the pelvic girdle surrounding it. A skull that’s too large won’t fit through. Therefore, the genetic lines that survived were those in which babies are born with small skulls but the ability to grow them much larger by maturity. (And even so, the size of a baby’s skull pushes that limit pretty hard; this is why birth is so much more difficult and dangerous for human females than it is for other primates).

That design (be born with a small skull and upgrade it outside the womb) implied a long juvenile period between birth and physical maturity. In fact the human brain doesn’t completely finish configuring and rewiring itself until around age 25. And the long juvenile period probably also explains the exceptionally long human lifespan; whatever had to be altered in the development clock to defer stabilization into the final adult configuration probably also delayed the inset of senescence. (Direct evidence for this theory is the rare disease “progeria”).

And the dominoes kept falling. The long juvenile period implied offspring that would be incapable of fending for themselves for an unprecedently long time – on the order of decades rather than the few months to a year typical for other mammals. Consequently the selective value of extended cooperation between the parents went way, way up relative to even our nearest animal kin.

Romantic love works as an an evolved mechanism for keeping mated pairs cooperating long enough to raise multiple children. Here again, selection favors those who love more because they get to launch more offspring. We are, in fact, made to fall in love – and it would only be surprising if the mechanism for establishing it were not simple, robust, and easily triggered.

The “smell good to each other”? There’s experimental evidence that humans generally make a would-I-or-wouldn’t-I decision about a potential sex partner based on smell before they’re aware of doing so. There’s some reason to believe that good smell indicates a degree of genetic distance optimized for healthy offspring – we favor mates who smell something like, but not too much like, our own kin.

For a complicated mix of psychological and historical reasons (some of which are the lingering influence of religion) members of our civilization tend to be romantics about romance. We want it to be poetry, not mechanism. (Then, too, the scientific context in which to understand it as mechanism has only existed since Darwin around 1859.)

But reality is what it is. Even if this particular procedure doesn’t reliably deliver what it promises, we will eventually learn to work the mechanism. I think we will be happier, and more free, when we choose who we love rather than than waiting for it to strike us like lightning.

92 thoughts on “Love is the simplest thing

  1. @ESR

    The most accepted model for the reasons of the evolution of human intelligence is called Ecological Dominance – Social Competition. This proposes that humans were already winning re: the environment _before_ evolving intelligence, and intelligence was largely about winning re: other humans. How else could intelligence have been such a runaway arms race? This is actually the simplest, most Occam-friendly theory: if intelligence would be something winning re: the environment, it would have a normal distribution between species, like tooth or nail size, or strength or speed. But one species having so much and others not, such a binary gap, can only be a runaway process _inside_ a species, hence competition inside the species, not outside it. And that is also why we have built-in circuits for dodging hurled missiles (no other animals do it so expect really a lot of tribal warfare until it became a selective pressure) and also why human intelligence tends to be social, tactical and physical i.e. weapon-making.

    This is fairly brutal. But it gets worse.

    Since ecological dominance before evolving intelligence means plenty of food, just what kind of resource could early proto-humans compete with each other for? And the likely answer is: women. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/06/10/the-yanomamo-and-the-origins-of-male-honor/ Just recall your Greco-Roman studies, from the myth of Europa and the bull to Sabine women. There are reasons to assume the ancestral culture did not really understand the idea of consent.

    I think this changes the model a bit. If, like the Yanomamo, you can simply kidnap a female mate, you don’t her to feel anything like romantic love to yourself. And if it seems like this is the main process driving the evolution of your species, it is even less likely. I won’t go deeper into it because I am disturbed and disgusted enough. I think you can work it out from here better than I can.

  2. “Then, two, …” Alas, the limits of spell checkers. I’m 99% sure that should have been “too”

  3. Setting the evolutionary aspect aside, my view is something similar. Strangely enough, I don’t even consider cultures that have arranged marriage necessarily evil. I think if you basically put together two young, okay looking and generally not very selfish, okay-personality, “we, not me” type people with compative orientations and love will develop through getting used to each other and through sexual desire.

    Sort of similar to friendship. I think a lot of human loneliness is unnecessary, and just a result of thinking friendship is a Special Thing To Be Earned. In reality, in a high school, for an average-IQ person half the class is a friend. About half the class is not an asshole and they are there, right at hand, why shouldn’t they be friends? Of course for the high IQ ones it is harder since most of them just bore them. Still I feel a certain kind of connection to about 30% of my former class, despite they have not earned it: they were simply there, not assholes, and we got used to each other, we were through some shit together. An even better exemple is how almost every military platoon in a real war develops strong friendship. It is not a special thing to earn, but more default.

    I think we need to get beyond thinking that love is something to be earned, a special prize or special connection, an ultra-rare soulmate thing and a lot of single people will find their things a lot easier.

    But we, not-single people cannot really do it: love itself is telling us our SO is special. It is a feeling that is hard to overcome: and do we even want to overcome it really? At some corner of my soul I do understand that the specialness what I feel for my wife may be not entirely rational, that many people consider her perhaps not that exceptional, but do I really want to be rational about this? I think this is one of the cases where reason is the enemy of happiness. This is one illusion I choose to keep since it makes so many things in my life and relationship work better. And I think this is a fairly widespread thing to do.

  4. This tale, well as it is told, for the evolutionary underpinnings of romantic love bears the danger of being a “just-so” story – it takes the facts that we appear successful and that we have romantic love and delivers an explanation that one caused the other. What if it isn’t? What if romantic love is a hindrance to getting to the next generation? Or, alternately, what if there were another way to ensure the next generation’s survival that romantic love somehow crowded out? And is there any evidence of that?

    What of other traits humans have? Why not an explanatory tale for why those are features, not bugs? …such as religion? (We appear to have had that around for a very long time. How long have we had romantic love by comparison?)

    I’m not asking this because I think romantic love is a red herring, or that religion is an unmitigated boon. (Indeed, I suspect Eric may have happened upon evidence that these hypotheses were considered at some point, and left them out for the sake of brevity.) But my scientific self compels me to explore these questions to affirm or refute whether this is a just-so story.

  5. The problem I see here with this whole deal is that “love” is an extremely imprecise term. The love a couple feel for each other when they first meet is completely different than the love they have after their third child graduates college.

    The first type of love is a kind of madness. It is an infatuation, a fantasy about the perfect other. It has this remarkable ability to blind the lovers to the faults of the other. It seems to be a brain mechanism to disguise the faults and magnify the positive qualities. This seems be be built around some hormone feedback mechanism that accentuates it. It is a form of insanity because it prevents the person from making sane judgement about the other person, their mind is literally muddled about ration assessments.

    However, over time the infatuation, the insanity fades, and a more realistic picture of the other emerges. Assuming some level of basic compatibility, what takes over at that point is a general friend disposition, attached to a shared history, and a tacit or explicit set of agreements between the two to watch out for each others needs. And of course sexual bonding allows a little bit of the re-emergence of the occasional madness.

    Relationship is the transition from the one to the other. The madness bonds the pair for long enough time to form the second kind of longer lasting bond. Lasting even after the madness has passed.

    (FWIW, there is also a reverse mechanism, when a couple is breaking up. Then a similar mechanism seems to kick in where the brain can only see the faults of the other, and is blind to their positive qualities. And that too seems to be a useful mechanism for breaking down all the positives from the long term commitment type of love, though I don’t know what evolutionary purpose it serves. Hell, they say, hath no fury than a woman scorned, and with good reason, it is a useful mechanism, and frankly I think it applies equally to men, even if they act it out in a different manner.)

    But to call the two things “love” is just plain confusing. They are two very different things, they are even physiologically different. If we are to reason about love we need to get past these soft imprecise, multi-faceted words, to words that have clear meanings and clean boundaries.

  6. A few days ago, I was using my medical marijuana, a sativa known for its euphoric effects, and had a wonderful, walking-on-air feeling in which it took an effort not to smile, particularly with my eyes. All of a sudden I thought, “This feels exactly like falling in love!”. The other feeling that I was comparing it to wasn’t a case of two people falling in love; it was me being briefly infatuated. Nevertheless, it seems that that wonderful walking-on-air feeling can be turned on and off with the a flick of one or more chemical switches.

    I am not sure how relevant this is. Ignoring the marijuana aspect, perhaps that feeling is involved in changing a person’s motivations during the process of falling in love. I imagine that marijuana has helped a lot of people fall in love.

  7. Mrf. I’m not sure that you can mechanize arriving at Heinlein’s definition of love: “that state in which the happiness of another is more important than one’s own”.

  8. @ Jay

    I’m not sure that you can mechanize arriving at Heinlein’s definition of love: “that state in which the happiness of another is more important than one’s own”.

    Isn’t the quote closer to “happiness of another is a requitement of one’s own”.

    In any case, we are (chemical) machines. Falling in love pretty much has to be mechanized one way or another.

  9. “I’m not sure that you can mechanize arriving at Heinlein’s definition of love: ‘that state in which the happiness of another is more important than one’s own’.”

    Eros, familia, and agape all fall under the English word “love”, but they mean very different things. As Heinlein knew.

  10. We have some strange ideas about the role of marriage, and thus indirectly of love, in modern Western culture. For most of human history, a marriage has been a socially-recognized bond formed between two (in some cultures, more than two) people for the purpose of creating an economically self-sustaining and stable group that can bear and raise children in reasonable security.

    All of these elements are important.

    Socially-recognized: and Stable The surrounding culture recognizes the pair-bond, making it harder to dissolve and thus more stable. In some cultures it cannot be dissolved, while in others there are formal steps that must be observed. By making it more difficult to break up, each partner feels more secure and children are more likely to be cared for.

    Economically self-sustaining: Marriage is normally an economic arrangement. Sex and bonding can help hold it together, but it works best when the partners have different roles (Victorian England, 1950’s America), or complementary roles (frontier farm families in pretty much any era).

    In modern America, and perhaps Europe as well, we have put marriage on a pedestal and said that if the potential marriage isn’t perfect, it shouldn’t be formed. We think so much of mutual self-actualization that we forget the original purpose.

  11. Except we are already gaming the system, badly.
    One bit of Science which isn’t talked about is the Birth Control Pill which puts women in a state of pseudo pregnancy. And apparently smell is important

    A PDF transcript of a talk is here: http://www.janetesmith.org/documents/OfficialTranscriptContraceptionWhyNot.pdf but the main site http://www.janetesmith.org/ also has discussions and other information.

    There were a few experiments she notes. One is they contracepted some female monkeys who were the preferred by the alpha male. He promptly ditched and found three others. When they contracepted all the females, the males started doing kinky things.

    Another was to collect T-Shirts from successful (high position or income) men, and from “losers”. Women were able to sort the T-shirts in an experiment – if they were fertile, they preferred the high-status men.

    There’s Game and hypergamy and such, but playing with the hormonal state of women is already screwing up the “romantic love”. And there’s lots more research.

    The first problem is to think the traditions of our ancestors were just stupid or made up. The successful societies were the ones that survived. They may not have had biochemistry, but figured out certain policies and behaviors promoted general happiness, and others created problems.

    One of those might be that any man and woman can learn to fall into “romantic love” with each other, provided they aren’t spoiled in some way earlier. Right now divorce statistics point that out. Too many earlier men, and the one married won’t be held onto.

    But English has a problem. CS Lewis described “the four loves” – the Greeks had different words for them. Storge – cuteness or even pitiable. We storge infants. Eros – Sexual attraction. Philea – Friendship. Agape – Love from the will.

    We already can “choose to love” – as Agape. The traditional courtship was Agape -> Philea -> Eros, starting with reason and choice and letting it grow to romance in the form of friendship, and finally sex.

    And “Till Death do us Part” is a choice – from the will. Agape. Not “as long as I feel romance”. And what if the spouse is injured or gets a disease?

    Assuming we could choose whom to feel romantic love toward, the problem is then we could choose to turn the same switch off on a whim. “I love you but if you don’t start doing what I wan’t I’ll stop using romance technology”.

  12. There was a TED talk about the effect of looking each other in the eyes – some effect in the brain triggered, linked with falling in love. There may be more than one factor at play; maybe eye-locking has some signaling.

  13. @ Cathy

    In modern America, and perhaps Europe as well, we have put marriage on a pedestal and said that if the potential marriage isn’t perfect, it shouldn’t be formed.

    Yeah – it’s a bad idea – all marriages turn out to be imperfect.

    So….

    @ Shenpen

    At some corner of my soul I do understand that the specialness what I feel for my wife may be not entirely rational, that many people consider her perhaps not that exceptional, but do I really want to be rational about this?

    If the way you feel about your wife makes you want to spend your life with her, why is this not rational? You and she fit together in a way that works, and that is great. Letting it get sidetracked by how others judge each of you would be tragic.

  14. …and I just thought of something – it wouldn’t be good if people were only attracted to a very small proportion of the population that appear to be close to perfect according to a common standard – almost no one would get married. The very fact that different people are attracted to different people makes it possible for many people to get married.

    Have their been human cultures where only one “bull” male in a group is the father of all the children (Grass Giant style)? …making this up as I go along… that is only the best plan if there is a single common standard, and it still needs the other males to be fathers part of the time to keep the gene pool in good shape.

  15. “One of those might be that any man and woman can learn to fall into “romantic love” with each other, provided they aren’t spoiled in some way earlier. Right now divorce statistics point that out. Too many earlier men, and the one married won’t be held onto.”

    This sounds speculative to me. What’s more likely is that, to some extent, people are divorcing because they _can_ do so with few consequences, and are even incented to. The _institution_ of marriage is failing, but long-term relationships as a whole are quite healthy, if sometimes lacking the extra security that the institution used to provide. And even then, lots of people – especially middle-class folks – manage to keep their commitments and don’t divorce.

    And no, the ‘agape’ -> ‘phile’ -> ‘eros’ path does _not_ and _cannot_ work. If it did, there wouldn’t be any talk about “Nice Guys(TM)” and the “friendzone”.

    Luckily for us, Game seems to meaningfully improve our chances of successfully attaining ‘eros’ – which means that, although we don’t exactly get to feel love for just about _anyone_, the outcome is close enough to be quite interesting and intriguing. You don’t need to be a “bull” male, or a “vixen” female – you just have to make the grade, and we’ll tell you how to do that. Then the folks who can show other good traits will again have the advantage, if only for sheer strategic reasons. Quite intriguing.

  16. Eric, you’ve got some high octane blog threads running this month. Hope we can keep up.

    We evolved as an animal first, and mating was solely about successful reproduction. Whatever worked, worked.

    As we developed sentience and intellect, the mating model changed; but still, what worked, worked.

    Monogamy became prevalent because it worked better than other archetypes. And along with it evolved behaviors that enhanced offspring robustness.

    These behaviors take cues from a combination of conscious and unconscious drivers; but the end result is two people trying to procreate with long term success. At the subconscious level, pheromones, subliminal visual cues, and voice can play a significant role. At the conscious level, we respond to physical morphology, fitness assessment, and courtship viability.

    Love is a higher level brain function that deepens the sense of attraction and creates a stronge bond of attachment. It also exists because it works. And it is indeed mysterious.

  17. In suspect the questions may be a big part of this trick. My guess is that people with vastly different values may get “turned off” by the questions. They would obviously not go on to the eye contact.

    But really on the flip side, is it hard to believe that two people who discover interesting connections and have shared values with each other couldn’t end up romantically entangled?

    Love at first sight is quite a bit less involved than these proposed activities. And on that note I must confess I do remember quite fondly the first time I ever saw my wife.

  18. Women with wide hips are considered sexually attractive, most likely because they can carry a larger headed baby more successfully. (Not guessing on the first; definitely guessing on the second.)

  19. @Jessica @Jay

    The idea is to transition from selfish desire to something more selfless (“we, not me”), and it’s mechanism is not entirely clear. I think the first step is the romantic desire being stronger than other desires. So, you don’t want to go somewhere, but your SO wants to, and it is more important for you to be together than your not wanting to go there, and you go and you even feel good, because being together is so good that it dwarfs the problem of you not wanting to go to that place. Example: women going with their men to watch motor sports or men going with women to flower exhibitions (OK it is very cliche and very stereotypically gender-roled, people are not THAT simple: yet, both happened to us.) This then transitions into a “we” mentality.

    So, it selfish desire for another person knocks other kinds of selfish desires out of the way and you learn to overcome them, then later when that madness calms down you are already used to not caring so much about your other kinds of selfish desires. I think that is the mechanism.

    But no evo-psy, please: this all was invented about 200 years ago. People did not transition in the Romeo-et-Juliet age: they had this desire, at least the man did, and when it ran out it was a hierarchical household with clear purposes, roughly the combination of a business and a school, with leadership, orders, rules, it was not much romantic and was neither selfish nor selfless: rather a fairly strict conformance to rules.

  20. Falling in love is rather easy. Staying in love much less so. Because, you know, yo have to live together without trying to kill each other. But smell plays a role in both for all mammals.

    And the important part for monogamy is that mother and child are unable to gather enough food for both. They need others to help. These others are grandparents and other relatives for baby sitting and/or a partner for collecting food. There were suggestions that this is where the free hands came in. You can use them to transport food. For a female, rivals to “her” man are direct competitors for food. There are good evolutionary reasons for women to hate adultery and rivals in love. Polygamy only arises where some men can provide enough resources for all the women he sires children with. When poverty is so stark even a single family is too much for a man to provide for, we see polyandry.

    It is basically the same economics as in nesting birds. Hence the parallels in mating practice.

    For a female, it is good to mate with a high ranking male (good genes etc, protection of her offspring), but her steady mate might not want to raise his children. This and a few other game theoretic features make that it is advantageous for women to hide who the real fathers of their children are. Which evolved to women preferring mating in private.
    (or so I was told, I could not say for sure whether they really do, and then there are other mysteries with this hypothesis).

  21. “intelligence was largely about winning re: other humans. ”

    Yes. Our brains evolved to model the minds of other humans, what information they are likely to have, and their complex motivations. Then we learned to understand natural phenomena by anthropomorphising them as humans with complex motivations. Hence thunder gods. Hence the little gods in the high mountains of Tibet. “The local valley god seems in a funny mood” is not operationally different to “the weather looks about to turn” – in either case you wait for a more propitious time for your journey.

    Innumerate people can do predicate logic if it is disguised as a question about social rules.

    I program, but to me a program is not a mathematical construct, it is a bunch of grumpy gnomes with clipboards. Why grumpy? Because they are jobsworths following instructions!

  22. > The basics are: the participants […] must smell good to each other.
    […]
    > The “smell good to each other”? There’s experimental evidence that humans generally make a would-I-or-wouldn’t-I decision about a potential sex partner based on smell before they’re aware of doing so. There’s some reason to believe that good smell indicates a degree of genetic distance optimized for healthy offspring – we favor mates who smell something like, but not too much like, our own kin.

    IIRC I have read about this experiment in Scientific American. They compared “smells good” with similarity in immune system.

    There was however another experiment, which found that *pregnant* females prefer contact with close kin (and not one-degree removed); perhaps also the reverse. Which doesn’t look good for society which habitually uses “the pill”, a contraception based on making body think it is pregnant and (ab)using anti-multipregnancy adaptation. Because that means that females find and marry too close genetically males: less healthy offspring, higher rate of divorces (because of going off pill to have children)…

  23. I think you’re approaching the question at the wrong angle. I suspect it’s likely that you can induce a hormonal cascade that makes pair-bonding LIKELY. There are also, as Jakub noted, likely to be some pheromonal cues.

    Think of it as kernel-level system calls, but if the appropriate packages aren’t installed, much less configured appropriately, you’re not going to get much of a process.

    I very much expect that we won’t really understand the mechanics of falling in love until we manage to crack the so-called “brain code”. . . decompile it and look at the source code, as it were, and trace the processes. . .

    And to continue the analogy, it probably explains why a sudden breakup feels like a system crash. . . .

  24. @ESR:
    > The long juvenile period implied offspring that would be incapable of fending for
    > themselves for an unprecedently long time – on the order of decades rather than
    > the few months to a year typical for other mammals.

    Minor quibble–Historically most humans are capable of fending for themselves at around a decade, at least within or close to a tribe that isn’t actively hostile (think of Dickensian Orphans etc.) and were at least mildly useful to the tribe by 4 or 5 (children that age were expected to be able to watch the goats/sheep and do minor “chores”).

    TZ:
    > Agape – Love from the will.

    Agape is the love of God for Man and vice versa.

    I have “Dictionary of Philosophy” that I’ve had since at least the early 90s that has as it’s definition for love (from memory):

    Love: See Eros, Agape, Phillia.

  25. Brian Marshall on 2015-01-15 at 19:41:18 said:

    @ Jay

    I’m not sure that you can mechanize arriving at Heinlein’s definition of love: “that state in which the happiness of another is more important than one’s own”.

    Isn’t the quote closer to “happiness of another is a requitement of one’s own”.

    Had a GF back in the early 90s that asserted that this was not love, but “co-dependency”.

    She had issues. I feel sorry for her.

  26. A typo: “Make tools; use fre [emphasis added]; invent language.”

    You’ve discussed the kludgy nature of the brain’s evolution. Have you read David Linden’s The Accidental Mind and/or Gary Marcus’ Kluge?

  27. >Have you read David Linden’s The Accidental Mind and/or Gary Marcus’ Kluge?

    I have not. Just from the titles I’d probably enjoy them.

  28. And no, the ‘agape’ -> ‘phile’ -> ‘eros’ path does _not_ and _cannot_ work. If it did, there wouldn’t be any talk about “Nice Guys(TM)” and the “friendzone”.

    If you’re thinking in terms of “friend zone”, you’re doing it wrong. A (presumably) great woman has offered to be your friend, and you are devaluing her by complaining about being in the “friend zone”. Also, a lot of “Nice Guys” really aren’t. Especially when they whine about being friend zoned. That’s where nice-guy and friend-zone talk comes from — the immature, clueless, and sexually frustrated and the PUA “gurus” who prey on them.

    I recall a quote from one of those Real Social Dynamics assholes, something to the effect of “success is defined as penis in vagina”. And if that’s your criterion you are a) profoundly short-sighted; b) missing out. Your success criterion could easily be achieved by patronizing your local escort service; either that, or you are such repulsive scum that nothing — not even “game” — will adequately salve your frustrations.

  29. > If you’re thinking in terms of “friend zone”, you’re doing it wrong.

    The “friend zone” persay is just an empirical observation – that being a friend is not the same thing as being a lover. True, some people whine about being friend-zoned, especially Nice Guys. But PUA and ‘Game’ folks have little patience for such whining. It’s not just immature and a sign of frustration; it’s actively bad for your sex life.

    You are also misinterpreting what “success is defined as penis in vagina” means, as referenced by the RSD folks. It’s not a moral claim, just a foolproof, tangible standard to avoid staying in denial as to what being a woman’s _lover_ actually entails. Being friendly to her is the _easy_ part, and we all know what the more difficult part is. Some people are just more willing to say it out loud than others.

  30. I could be completely off base here, but I’ve learned along the way that love is both an action and an emotion. Compare “I love you” with “I feel love for you”. As such, love falls under the caveat most other emotions fall under: if you act it, you will feel it, which is what this process is. I don’t remember who said it, but there’s a quote about that if you don’t feel love for someone, act as though you do, and your emotions will catch up. Just my thoughts in this discussion, interested in feedback or criticism

  31. >It’s not a moral claim, just a foolproof, tangible standard to avoid staying in denial as to what being a woman’s _lover_ actually entails.

    More concretely, “success is defined as penis in vagina” is help for young men who have a tendency to let themselves be jerked around by women who dangle sex in front of them but don’t deliver. I’m not talking about modesty here but about sexual teasing and manipulation as a power play. Some men need to be told that when a woman is treating you that way it is not success, you are not in a healthy relationship, and the right thing to do is call her on the behavior or bail out entirely.

  32. This seems to be an example of the proposition “The mind has mechanisms which can be manipulated.”

    This has been demonstrated in another area. The mind has mechanisms for estimating risk-effort/reward ratios. These mechanisms are not rigorous – they are approximating shortcuts. They fail on unusual conditions such as edges, and can be spoofed

    Gambling systems attract play by attacking these vulnerable points and by spoofing the appearance of favorable odds.

    I suspect that “Game” works by spoofing signals as well.

    This purported love generator may also work by hitting mind mechanisms.

    If so – it would be interesting to see what the mechanisms are for – what they are evolved to do.

  33. At some corner of my soul I do understand that the specialness what I feel for my wife may be not entirely rational, that many people consider her perhaps not that exceptional, but do I really want to be rational about this? I think this is one of the cases where reason is the enemy of happiness. This is one illusion I choose to keep since it makes so many things in my life and relationship work better. And I think this is a fairly widespread thing to do.

    I think this is more rational than we realize. When I lost my father, I felt great pain–and if I felt that pain for every person that I heard just die, I would be completely destroyed. Yet, our familial bonds are important, because they help our groups stay cohesive through all sorts of trouble; hence, the people significant to us are more significant than others.

  34. This purported love generator may also work by hitting mind mechanisms.

    If so – it would be interesting to see what the mechanisms are for – what they are evolved to do.

    How about the mechanisms are for falling in love? Falling in love is something that happens and the purpose is clear. Something turns in on and off. The idea that at least part of it can be acheived by getting increasingly intimate with someone gently but quickly (boiling frog style) and then staring into each other’s eyes sounds very plausible to me (particularly, as the author suggests, that the only people that would do it are at least open to the possiblility).

  35. @Brian Marshall
    I’m not going “Right. The only one that agrees with this is the stoner.”. Please refrain from making such untrue and whiny comments in the future.

  36. >And no, the ‘agape’ -> ‘phile’ -> ‘eros’ path does _not_ and _cannot_ work. If it did, there wouldn’t be any talk about “Nice Guys(TM)” and the “friendzone”.

    Of course it can. But then again “work” is the wrong word. It’s a path that might happen. If you’re thinking about making it “work” as a strategy, then you’ve started out with the ‘eros’ as an endgoal. People who complain about “being in the friendzone” aren’t trying to ‘love from the will’->friendship->’eros’. They’re *starting out* from a one-sided feeling of eros and trying to induce it in the other person through friendship which is almost certain to fail.

    Nobody complains about being friendzoned by an unattractive friend they later, through the experience of being a friend, became attracted to. Nope, it’s always the hot friend they were attracted to from the start.

  37. > Nobody complains about being friendzoned by an unattractive friend they later, through the experience of being a friend, became attracted to.

    Meh. If two people are attracted to each other to begin with, they’ll get together, most likely. They don’t even need friendship for that – that’s not the interesting case.

    And no, unfortunately, being friends with someone unattractive will not make _you_ more attracted to them either. Your best hope there, barring a sheer fluke, is that they have some game and choose to use it.

  38. >Meh. If two people are attracted to each other to begin with, they’ll get together, most likely. They don’t even need friendship for that – that’s not the interesting case.
    Uh … two people being attracted to each other to begin with is the least interesting case, and nowhere in my first comment do I talk about that.

    >And no, unfortunately, being friends with someone unattractive will not make _you_ more attracted to them either.

    You’re missing the point. This whole discussion started with tz’s comment on *will* (i.e. CHOICE) to love. The autonomy of the situation is what’s important.
    However, “unattractive” was too strong a word. I really should have just said “plain”. To restate my belief: Most “friendzone” anecdotes have no bearing on the question of whether friendship can develop into a deeper attraction because those anecdotes usually involve individuals shooting for someone way out of their league; they succeed in gaining familiarity with the person in question but fail at capturing romantic interest. So I’m not necessarily disagreeing with what you’re saying, but we seem to be asking and answering different questions.
    “Can friendship between the average Joe and Jane lead to a romance?” (YES, MAYBE)
    vs
    “If average Joe becomes friends with hottie Nicole, will Nicole fall in love with Joe?” (ALMOST CERTAINLY NO)

  39. I find myself wondering when the concept of ‘Romantic love’ entered the Western tradition at all. Isn’t it rather recent? And in modern times it’s kind of a loaded term, with lots of toxic baggage. But that’s just me.

  40. @Greg
    > I find myself wondering when the concept of ‘Romantic love’ entered the Western tradition at all.

    There are romance stories going back to the dawn of human literature. For example, the Iliad and its story of the love for Helen that compelled Paris to start the Trojan war, and the story of Samson and Delia that lead to the fall of Israel into the hands of the Philistines. They might both be mythological but they serve to show us that the idea of romance and the sacrifice of self for romantic affection existed at the time of their writing, hundreds if not thousands of years BCE.

    Of course romantic love has been shaped and molded to the times we live in, and much of the silliness comes from the general silliness of the Victorian era. However, it is surely a theme throughout human history.

  41. As esr has explained in past blogs, love is obviously a bit more complex. Both sexes are optimizing their genetic mix. Men want to distribute their seed, as well select for the strongest intellectual and physical attributes for child rearing such as wide hips, larger breasts, and rarer beauty that will perpetuate the upward climb of the offspring. The woman’s reproductive seed can’t be distributed and she is dependent on the man and tribe for assistance in child rearing, thus her optimal strategy is social at the expense of analytical, to satiate a beta-male for support, and accepting seed from the alpha-males.

    Feminism and the $157+ trillion debt bubble of the current round of collectivism has skewed the female strategy and radically lowered the fertility of western civilization. The global sovereign debt collapse correction will begin in earnest in 2016. The collapsing velocity-of-money, oil, copper, and Euro is the signal of collapsing global demand. The marginal-utility-of-debt is now likely negative; meaning saturation of ghost cities, bridges to no where, and duplicitous gas stations/strip malls every 500 meters.

    An alpha-male possess superior analytical powers that foster the strategies which create the status. A beta-male settles for lack of fearlessness, determination, genetics (e.g. strong immune system, etc), creativity, and analytical powers.

    Competition is the generative essence of love. Perhaps beta-males (and females) wish for it to be easier, and vote for statism and other shortcut “insurances” that cement a collective lower status. Michael Jordan said in his famous Nike commercial, “…or maybe you are just making excuses”.

    In the fledgling Knowledge Age, are we in the process of transcending genetics where distributing our knowledge is a more robust evolutionary strategy?

  42. > “Can friendship between the average Joe and Jane lead to a romance?”

    I’d say that friendship can be a way to _uncover_ existing attraction. But it can’t ordinarily create it where there was none beforehand, even between “plain” people. I think many people, of both sexes, do not clearly realize this, and a lot of awkwardness results. It’s not necessarily people who are going for someone “out of their league”, although that does happen.

  43. @whodat?
    > larger breasts

    This is something that I never quite understood — the preference for larger breasts. Small breasts have essentially the same functionality for nursing infants, and so larger breasts are simply extra fat tissue. I suppose there is an argument that more fat is indication of (in a pre-abundance world) a healthier female, however, more fat around the waist, hips or butt doesn’t send the same signal. I also suppose that it is a signal of sexual diamorphism, but that doesn’t actually seem to offer much evolutionary advantage. If you mistake your partner for a woman, only to find he is a man, then there isn’t much chance of progeny anyway. It would be a self correcting error.

    In a sense, larger breasts should be a signal of lack of health, in the sense of a fatter person and all around the negative consequences of that. Smaller breasts are generally speaking closely correlated with athleticism, and larger breasts are often correlated with age — older women, because of the general accumulation of fat, tend to have larger breasts.

  44. In a sense, larger breasts should be a signal of lack of health, in the sense of a fatter person and all around the negative consequences of that. Smaller breasts are generally speaking closely correlated with athleticism, and larger breasts are often correlated with age — older women, because of the general accumulation of fat, tend to have larger breasts.

    Breasts also enlarge as a consequence of pregnancy. Some of that enlargement may be permanent. So maybe big tits are a fertility signal of “I’ll bear you healthy babies — after all, I’ve done it before.” There is more to the picture — breasts and nipples are sensitive, and they enlarge when a woman is sexually aroused. Signs of arousal are considered to make women sexier — for example, blood flow to the lips (both pairs!), reddening them, is another telltale sign of arousal, and these days women wear lipstick to simulate it.

  45. @ esr – a typo in the first sentence of the OP –

    that steps them through asking 3and answering 5 questions

    The article says that Dr. Aron used 36 questions, which some folks here might find more plausible than 3 or 5.

    @ Emanuel Rylke

    I’m not going “Right. The only one that agrees with this is the stoner.”. Please refrain from making such untrue and whiny comments in the future.

    “whiny”? You need a new dictionary; I am not into self-pity. I was making an observation. I used the word “stoner” facetiously – I certainly wasn’t complaining.

  46. >that steps them through asking 3and answering 5 questions

    Typo, corrected. Some press accounts have the number 35, some 36.

  47. In the recent movie “Her”, the protagonist falls in love with an AI played solely by Scarlett Johansson’s voice. The drama is both compelling and sympathetic. There are no pheromones, visual cues, possibility of procreation, or even intimate contact in play. And there are also real-world instances in which two people have (apparently) fallen in love while solely exchanging letters. Just mind to mind attraction.

    Notwithstanding our evolutionary heritage, something more must be going on here. Like any man, I can feel lust when in the presence of a uniquely attractive woman, but my strongest attraction has always been to perceived intelligence. Everything else is a very distant second.

  48. > In a sense, larger breasts should be a signal of lack of health, in the sense of a fatter person and all around the negative consequences of that.

    Preference for thinness is a very modern development. Historically, fatter people (if not morbidly obese, which would’ve been quite rare anyway) were considered more attractive, both socially and sexually (the so-called ‘venus’ figurines are quite fat).

  49. Expounding from Jeff’s points from my perspective (not from data), if a man is pertinaciously focused on only the reproductive goal sans the intellectual component, larger breasts indicate to me maximum division-of-labor, i.e. that she will excel at producing and rearing offspring. Tying this into Eric’s female scarcity point, an athletic woman may be prone to riskier activities; big breasts may keep her tucked away. Black porn taught me that some men prefer fat butts which is another signal of eroticism or focus on reproduction.

    Fat around the waist I believe I read may be correlated with increase incidence of heart disease. It doesn’t appear to add any thing to eroticism nor be a signal of bearing more and healthy offspring. Some (ostensibly white) men prefer slim bodies. I believe that is culturalization because I lost that preference as I gained experience and was exposed to higher fertility cultures. In my effeminate, boyish 20s I declined sex with a dark-skinned bombshell Coca-cola body with model looks. Cripes!

  50. >Preference for thinness is a very modern development.

    And not as general as often believed. Studies have repeatedly found that men and women have very different ideas, on average, about the ideal female figure – with men favoring a curvier, less skinny shape than women expect.

  51. >In my effeminate, boyish 20s I declined sex with a dark-skinned bombshell Coca-cola body with model looks.

    I was more masculine in my twenties. Or, at least, I never passed up such opportunities. :-)

  52. Oh I am not necessarily disagreeing with the premise of the OP. Perhaps plausible that a set of questions and sufficient genetic distance could determine sufficient compatibility w.r.t. the matrix of competition optimization opportunity cost.

  53. >…men favoring a curvier, less skinny shape than women expect.

    I certainly do. But there’s some pressure on women to be fixated with their shape, right? (I’m thinking mainly of teenage girls, since they appear to be the most vulnerable to media and peer pressure.) For example, models with normal bodies are perversely called “plus-size models”. They should be the rule, not the exception.

  54. >There are romance stories going back to the dawn of human literature. For example, the Iliad and its story of the love for Helen that compelled Paris to start the Trojan war, and the story of Samson and Delia that lead to the fall of Israel into the hands of the Philistines. They might both be mythological but they serve to show us that the idea of romance and the sacrifice of self for romantic affection existed at the time of their writing, hundreds if not thousands of years BCE.

    Note the presence or absence of the capital ‘r’. ;) Much like the presence or absence of the capital ‘l’ in libertarian, it tells you something.

    There have been love stories as long as there have been writers who wrote stories about people. Stories of Romantic love, in the ‘courtly love’ sense, as sung by the troubadors, that’s a much more recent development. And comes to us with some baggage.

  55. @Greg
    > Note the presence or absence of the capital ‘r’. ;) Much like the presence or absence of the capital ‘l’ in libertarian, it tells you something.

    I am entirely unaware of the distinction, but perhaps that is due to my ignorance. Please explain the distinction and perhaps offer some justification for your claim that there is a commonly understood difference between those two classes.

  56. That’s where nice-guy and friend-zone talk comes from — the immature, clueless, and sexually frustrated and the PUA “gurus” who prey on them.

    While there is certainly some of that going around, shouting at someone who’s sexually frustrated that the friendzone is NOT A THING and they are a bad person for believing in it may be counterproductive. Some people need to learn that showing you’re attracted to someone (preferably by flirting with them, at first) is a better and more honest strategy than becoming no-sexual-element-platonic-friends and hoping that Something Will Develop in some probably-unlikely circumstance, and it would be nice if they didn’t have to learn it from the pantywhisperers.

  57. >it would be nice if they didn’t have to learn it from the pantywhisperers.

    “Pantywhisperers”? ROFL. You win the internets today.

  58. >I’d say that friendship can be a way to _uncover_ existing attraction. But it can’t ordinarily create it where there was none beforehand, even between “plain” people.

    Assuming that Joe and Jane are heterosexual, with no strange fetishes, and that neither of them are particularly ugly or good-looking , then they’ll start off with a tiny, epsilon sized bit of “attraction”. In this scenario, friendship can boost that existing attraction. I’m NOT saying it will, I’m NOT even saying it’s highly probable, but your implication that it never happens is preposterous. I’m simply pointing out that it is a phenomenon which sometimes occurs. (How often? I would say often enough at the societal-level but not often enough at the individual level to be reliable.)

    And game, which you are so fond of, is strategy specifically designed to boost that attraction. That’s fine, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there are people who became attracted to each other simple because they took the time to be friends.

  59. Now I’m worried that said ‘pantywhisperers’ will get ideas from this phenomenon. OTOH, they might not cara about anything longer term than one night.

  60. > Now I’m worried that said ‘pantywhisperers’ will get ideas from this phenomenon.

    Meh. What ‘pantywhisperers’ would say wrt. the 35 questions thing is that they are trying to use a canned spiel in order to create _comfort_, and that never works – if you actually tried to use it in the field (not in a lab experiment), the ‘questions’ would end up sounding quite robotic and insincere, and all attraction would be lost. Even professional salesmen (who are generally paid on commission for successful ‘closes’, so they have big incentives to get this stuff right) cannot create comfort without sounding awfully fake, so why even go there? Attraction and romance (for lack of a better term) are far more interesting, overall.

  61. @ guest

    The “35 question thing” isn’t for the “field”; outside the lab, it is for two people that decide to try it – two people that have already decided that they are open to a positive result. Both people answer all the questions, so it isn’t a “spiel”. The questions gently force both people to quickly become more intimate.

    My feeling is that if it worked (sometimes) in a freakin’ lab, I sure wouldn’t be surprised if it works between two people that pretty much want it to work. That plus the staring into each other’s eyes – it would surprise me if it didn’t result in infatuation, in at least some cases.

  62. > the global sovereign debt collapse correction will begin

    As we used to say on Usenet: “Plonk!”

  63. Not that I’m coming down on any particular side of this debate, but suppose:

    If it really were true that so much of what results in attraction and eventual relationships were really so determined by unconscious, dumb mechanical cues – and conscious appreciation and commitment really were so impotent and easily distorted – that things really were as simple and direct as the proposed scenarios:

    Could you imagine the sort of havoc some evil mad-scientist could do by screwing with scent cues/doping the food supply. You could play cupid/anti-cupid and hole a civilization below the waterline by wrecking people’s lives in detail. You could put people into all sorts of bizzare pheremone/horomone dependent modes. And it sounds a lot like all sorts of the paranoid conspiracy theories that people come up with to avoid perfectly useful things like vaccines and food preservatives, so who in respectable society would believe you were doing it intentionally? Muahahaha. :-P

    That is, of course, assuming that any of these effects are that strong/exclusively determinant of these outcomes.

  64. “Could you imagine the sort of havoc some evil mad-scientist could cause…” etc

    Bleh, ignore all the grammar errors in the above: I get dumber when closer to a migraine.

  65. Could you imagine the sort of havoc some evil mad-scientist could do by screwing with scent cues/doping the food supply. You could play cupid/anti-cupid and hole a civilization below the waterline by wrecking people’s lives in detail.

    This was the plot of an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series. The operational capacity of the Enterprise gets completely rekt when Harry Mudd releases a love potion into the ventilation shafts that affects just about everyone on board (yes, even Spock).

  66. Repeatability…

    I said that I felt the glow of infatuation (or love of the first kind, as per Jessica’s distinction) from my medical marijuana a few days ago.

    Anyone that receives medical marijuana from Tilray (a licensed producer in Canada) can repeat this experiment by vaping Jean Guy (“Zhaun Gee” – a strain developed in Canada). Using a vaporizer is required – smoking this strain produces a head-buzz that vaping does not. Other high-euphoria sativas or sativa-dominant hybrids may also produce the “glow”.

    When I first smelled the Jean Guy, I thought, “I haven’t smelled this in 25 years!”. Most strains of illicit marijuana are indica hybrids. A very rough over-simplification: sativas make a person “high” whereas indicas make a person “stoned”.

  67. This is something that I never quite understood — the preference for larger breasts.

    It doesn’t appear to actually exist as a universal the way the preference for 0.7 does. Rather, it appears to be an issue of fashionability, and I suspect there’s a nontrivial proportion of the male population who say they like large breasts but either don’t care or have a different preference. During the European medieval period, the ideal was apparently for breasts that were only just large enough to be noticeable.

  68. >I am entirely unaware of the distinction, but perhaps that is due to my ignorance.

    That must happen to you a lot. :P

    >Please explain the distinction and perhaps offer some justification for your claim that there is a commonly understood difference between those two classes.

    Haven’t figured it out? It’s really obvious, and you shouldn’t play gotcha games. Do you know what a proper noun is? You see, in English proper nouns are capitalized. OK, enough teasing.

    But that’s the difference between little ‘l’ and big ‘L’ libertarian. One is a general political philosophy concerned with personal liberty. The other is a particular collection of criminals and the insane, and the criminally insane, in the form of a political party.

    Similar deal with little ‘r’ and big ‘R’ romantic. One is of or pertaining to the expression of love, the other is a particular political, philosophical and artistic movement that was big in the late 18th and early 19th Century. I wasn’t all bad but it contained a toxic stew of really bad ideas, many of which haunt us to this day.

    Among other things, the Romantic movement idealized and made a fetish of Nature (here the capital ‘N’ just means they were melodramatic and pretentious bastards, joke). Also they were obsessed with strong emotion and their own internal emotional state, and the achievement of certain values of that state as a desired end in and on itself.

    Which is pretty much the reverse of what Eric is suggesting as the positive use of romantic feelings – to help create and maintain pair bonds, to enable effective raising of children. The Romantic approach was more or less what has come down to us as the sexual liberation movement and much of second wave feminism, which is more than willing to destroy families in the pursuit of personal ‘fulfillment’.

    Like it’s worth it to study Marxism to better avoid the creeping corruption of ‘cultural Marxism’ (and not be Stalin’s memebot, etc), I think it’s worth it to study the Romantic period to better avoid some of the awful excesses and mistakes of the period. In a sense, you’re right to complain about there being no real distinction between ‘romantic’ (as we think of it in our current culture) and ‘Romantic’, as the former has been thoroughly (even if we’re not aware of it) tainted by the toxicity of the latter. But that probably wasn’t what you meant.

    The various bad ideas particularly associated with the Romantic movement, and that strongly flavor how we moderns think of as romance, don’t have an extremely long history in the Western tradition. Partly they trace back to Rousseau (him again, that fountain of evil and bad ideas). It’s rather a stretch, but I am intrigued by the idea that they might also partly trace back to the tradition of the troubadours, the Occitan lyric poetry guys who were big in the 12th and 13th Centuries. Was mainly throwing that out to see what Eric thought of it. :)

  69. >The various bad ideas particularly associated with the Romantic movement, and that strongly flavor how we moderns think of as romance, don’t have an extremely long history in the Western tradition. Partly they trace back to Rousseau (him again, that fountain of evil and bad ideas). It’s rather a stretch, but I am intrigued by the idea that they might also partly trace back to the tradition of the troubadours, the Occitan lyric poetry guys who were big in the 12th and 13th Centuries. Was mainly throwing that out to see what Eric thought of it. :)

    I think these were both causally significant, but Rousseau much more so.

  70. It’s good to see intelligent discourse on the topic of Romantic Love, one thoroughly explored by CS Lewis in the Introduction of his “Allegory of Love”, first appearing in literature in the 14th Century as a ‘Religion of Love’, arguing that Physical (and/or Erotic) Love was a poor, mundane & unfulfilling substitute for the immaterial, divine & largely imaginary (Holy Holy) Romantic version.

    Shortly thereafter, Romantic Love evolved into, and demanded, actual worship as its immaterial (and therefore questionable) existence required ever increasing amounts of faith, being awarded only to the most faithful in exchange for conformity, male obedience, correct thought & chivalrous action, at first in literature, then later spreading out to colonize western society as a whole.

    And, if everybody believes in this imaginary commodity, then who am I to disagree? It must be REAL (it is argued) since some many seek it, want and claim to possess it, and I want it just like everybody else, and I am willing to pay any price, suffer any hardship and make any sacrifice to make myself worthy of this immaterial blessing, just like everyone else.

    Romantic Love: It is the ultimate consumer good.

    Her price is set so far above rubies because she does not exist as advertised.

  71. Since no one else has raised the question:

    If romantic love exists for the goal of keeping mated pairs of humans together long enough to raise children, doesn’t this entail that romantic love for any object other than a post-pubertal human of the other sex is a defect?

  72. >If romantic love exists for the goal of keeping mated pairs of humans together long enough to raise children, doesn’t this entail that romantic love for any object other than a post-pubertal human of the other sex is a defect?

    That depends on value choices which I haven’t introduced to this discussion, and which don’t really belong in it. What I was doing in the OP was explaining which we should expect the transactional protocol for falling in love to be simple. What kind of moral judgments we want to attach to the surrounding behaviors is a different question.

  73. The only premise required for this particular entailment is the general statement “When A exists for the purpose of B, an A which is directed to purposes opposed to B is a defective A”. That applies to domains far separated from what’s usually called “morality” – in engineering, for instance, a tool that doesn’t do what its designers meant it to do is defective. So it’s a bit of a stretch to dismiss it as a “moral judgement” when applied to human conduct. Isn’t it?

  74. You’re missing the point.

    Romantic Love cannot be said to ‘exist’ because it doesn’t take any type of material form: It is a con; It is a sham; it is a false promise; and it is a gender-related bargaining chip. It is the moral equivalent of the threat of damnation or the promise of heaven. It cannot be earned, purchased or stolen; and, supposedly, it can only given (loaned) until it is snatched back.

    Romantic Love is just one Massive Shit Test.

  75. Christopher Smith on 2015-01-20 at 07:28:38 said:

    > It doesn’t appear to actually exist as a universal the way the preference for 0.7 does. Rather, it appears to be an issue of fashionability, and I suspect there’s a nontrivial proportion of the male population who say they like large breasts but either don’t care or have a different preference. During the European medieval period, the ideal was apparently for breasts that were only just large enough to be noticeable.

    It would be more correct to say that depictions of breasts in art are subject to the winds of fashion. Art has survived, but if well constructed (aka randomly sampled) surveys of heterosexual male preferences down through the ages were done, they have not survived.

    The fashion world (dominated by homosexuals and women) may prefer emaciated androgynous, erm, things, but advertising aimed at men has much more of a Russ Meyer flavor. I put my faith in the markets.

    Jessica Boxer on 2015-01-17 at 16:18:52 said:

    > This is something that I never quite understood — the preference for larger breasts.

    There is no why. Secondary sexual characteristics are their own reward.

    It is about sexual dimorphism, but not in the sense that it avoids mistakes about which people are men and which ones are women. A suitable mate signals our mating drive. We don’t need to make up stories to understand why a stronger signal causes a stronger drive.

    > In a sense, larger breasts should be a signal of lack of health, in the sense of a fatter person and all around the negative consequences of that.

    I can assure you that men are perfectly capable of assessing female body fat, both in quantity and in distribution. We don’t need breasts to signal something that is so plainly obvious.

  76. Romantic love works as an an evolved mechanism for keeping mated pairs cooperating long enough to raise multiple children.

    Possibly for the first child, I don’t think the changes in brain chemistry which have been described would have lasted for subsequent ones.

  77. >Possibly for the first child, I don’t think the changes in brain chemistry which have been described would have lasted for subsequent ones.

    No offense, man, but have you ever been married? Doesn’t sound like it.

    Part of what successfully married couples do is maintain their bond. The design of romantic love includes a lot of behaviors, part-instinct and part learned, by which couples hack each others’ brain chemistry to keep that ol’ oxytocin response popping, long-term.

  78. >Yeah, you’re childfree though, innit. It’s different.

    As someone with kids… if you don’t do the things needed to maintain your pair bond, you’re only going to have one kid. ;) (And you have to find ways to cheat, as it were, because that first kid is VERY effective birth control.)

  79. Can confirm. Our first child, at 11 months, is putting considerable strain on our relationship. I hope we will survive it, but it is really a “stress test”.

    The sound of baby wailing evolved to make parents super stressed out in order to drop everything and rush to their aid. Aaaaaand… it works. Not just the rushing part, the super stressed part too. After a 3 hour shopping trip with a constant siren concerto, we both have a really, really short fuse left. And good parents have it harder than bad parents, because bad parents can just put the baby in front of the TV with a sugary snack…

  80. @Shenpen

    It’s unfortunately very easy to unintentionally reward tantrums. You need to be very careful not to. Anything people do with pleasure and success they will do again.

    Fortunately a tantrum is an expensive behavior. It’s exhausting. The child will stop if there’s no reward. At home, check for obvious real problems and then walk away. Come back as soon as the child calms down. In public, finish the minimum necessary business and go home.

    Good Hunting!

  81. As someone with kids… if you don’t do the things needed to maintain your pair bond, you’re only going to have one kid. ;) (And you have to find ways to cheat, as it were, because that first kid is VERY effective birth control.)

    As someone else with (three) kids, I try not to assume my insights into the process are universal. Providing them with a safe and stable space to grow up in tends to be the priority, and even if that *could* be enhanced with a little more oxytocin, you need to have everybody on board for that to be an option. But the smallest is only one and a half, who knows what the future will bring.

  82. >As someone else with (three) kids, I try not to assume my insights into the process are universal. Providing them with a safe and stable space to grow up in tends to be the priority, and even if that *could* be enhanced with a little more oxytocin, you need to have everybody on board for that to be an option. But the smallest is only one and a half, who knows what the future will bring.

    Heh. We’re probably on the same page, I think.

    The little munchkins are *so* sensitive to mood, parents doing what they can to soothe and de-stress each other definitely makes for a better environment for the troublemakers. And happier kids are mostly easier to deal with, there’s a little bit of virtuous circle there.

  83. Sorry, Eric, but my own experience says differently. Or rather, you’re half right; it is easy to fall in love, specifically WITH SOME ONE DESIGNED TO BE LOVED. In reality, humans are like ants; there are a small number of breeders and a large number of workers. 47 years of rejection illustrates that I’m one of the workers. Yes, I know more people than ants get married, but the vast majority of married people would rather be with someone else. They “settled” and never stop reminding their reluctant (on both sides) partner.

    Life for a “worker” human is a non-stop hell.

  84. > In reality, humans are like ants; there are a small number of breeders and a large number of workers.

    Maybe. But I think Gamergate could change that.

  85. I have to agree with Recidivist: Romantic Love exists only as a con game, and can never “really” be obtained/achieved because it is a belief in something that doesn’t exist.

    Which doesn’t mean that everyone who seems to offer you RL is trying to fool you. Many have fooled themselves first. But it does mean that if you’re as skeptical of all things as I would expect any rational person to be, then sooner or later you will probably “snap out of it” and become disillusioned. Even if there wasn’t really any good reason for you to want to snap out of it and you were better off under the illusion. Some delusions really are beneficial; otherwise we wouldn’t have evolved to host them.

  86. Why a preference for large breasts? Instinct from long before humans were intelligent. I’m not a biologist but I know the general picture and will summarize.

    (1) Back when the first mammals appeared on earth, say 1.5-2 million years ago, our ancestors walked on all fours like a horse or dog, because that’s the way our joints could bend. And in that same time frame, we picked up a mating behavior that the vast majority of mammal species still follow: when the female wants some, she walks up to the male, turns around presenting him with her buttocks, and raises her tail straight up. (There were also often scent cues but those are not part of the narrative here.)

    (2) Much later, say 200,000 years ago, modern man started to appear as a mutation of the Neanderthal. We had a bigger brain and thus a larger forehead. While this helped us survive better on the plains of North Africa, it had a drawback: the average Neanderthal woman’s birth canal could not pass the average modern baby’s head. If baby was smaller than most or mother was bigger, it could work; but otherwise, labor was likely to either break baby’s skull or mother’s pelvic bone, probably killing both mother and child.

    The short term result was that the Neanderthal and modern man continued to exist side by side for several thousand years. The longer result was a second mutation: a change in the shape of the human hip bone assembly. The front plate rotated up and forward, making more room for birth. This change also gave us the much more flexible hip joints we have now, so standing upright, walking, and sitting down were now possible. With our old skeletons they weren’t.

    (3) Naturally women now started having sex lying down. But this caused a problem for many men: they were no longer getting the visual cue I talked about in (1).

    Result: Just like those crabs Carl Sagan showed us, which evolved to look like the face of a Samurai — human women evolved to grow a second “pair of buttocks” on their chest because men who needed that visual cue selected women who looked that way. Artificial selection!

  87. Why a preference for large breasts? Instinct from long before humans were intelligent. I’m not a biologist but I know the general picture and will summarize.

    Or an anthropologist, apparently. The preference for a 0.7 WHR is universal; preference for breast aesthetics varies widely across time and geography. Medieval Europe considered large breasts unattractive.

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