What Is Love?

What Is Love?A reader of this blog shared a Huffington Post article with me last week.

In it, author Sheryl Paul writes:

“We live under a massive cultural delusion about the nature of real love. Propagated by mainstream media, from the time you’re born you’re inundated with the belief that love is a feeling and that when you find “the one” you’ll sense it in your gut.”

And:

“We have mythologized love to such an extent that people are no longer prepared for the realities of long-term relationships. We are taught that it is good not to compromise, not to put up with anything we don’t like, not to sacrifice our own beliefs for anyone or anything. Yet compromise and sacrifice are the cornerstones of marital love.”

Isn’t it possible that the problem isn’t with the opposite sex, itself but rather your expectations of the opposite sex?

She quotes another author, Kate Kerrigan, in an essay she wrote called Marriage Myths, as saying that “the best thing you can bring to a marriage is not the feeling of ‘being in love’, but romance’s poor relation: tolerance.”

Paul, who works as a counselor, says that “it’s a crushing moment for couples when the infatuation drug wears off and they’re left to begin the real work of loving.”

This is all stuff you’ve read here before. I find it pretty much irrefutable.

But for those who want to refute it – for those who say you should never compromise – even though every happy couple in the world will let you know how much they compromise on a daily basis – what exactly are you hoping for in a partner?

And isn’t it possible that the problem isn’t with the opposite sex, itself but rather your expectations of the opposite sex?

In short, great relationships are understanding what you should compromise on. You DON’T compromise on character, integrity, kindness, devotion, and selflessness. You DO compromise on everything else.

Read the article here and let me know what you think I’m getting wrong. You always do. :)

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Comments:

  1. 121
    Mia

    Michael – interesting point about the age. I have another theory that men get their hearts broken at an early age and then just take Years to recover. The only 2 men whose hearts I broke were 20 and the nicest guys. Nearly a decade later they’re noncommittal men, one a raging player who’s said that my dumping him influenced that. well, I’ve been hurt lots of times and I’m not a commitment phobe …

    Then, I remember reading a comment on this site by a woman who says shes had dates with guys where they had great make outs and got along well and she still didn’t feel compelled to see them again and didnt know why; a lot of people are like that.

    Are There really so many emotionally screwed up people walking around? What more is needed to be bf/gf if two people are attracted enough to enjoy sex, have fun together and get each other , and share similar life outlooks? Do people want heaven and earth to shake and lightening to flash?

  2. 122
    Karl R

    Happy Person said: (#122)
    “In the real world you cannot isolate (your word ‘identify’) pickiness as a variable in mate selection, given that there are so many other variables in our imperfect world,”
    “‘pickiness’ is hardly an observable quality that can be measured anyway.”

    I disagree with those opinions.

    Pickiness can be isolated:
    Numerous sources identify the primary causes for divorce (poor communication, financial disagreements, infidelity, abuse, etc.) and the traits which cause a happy marriage (shared goals, shared values, good commuication, sexual compatibility, etc.)

    If I eliminate a potential date based on a trait which won’t make my marriage happier, which won’t prevent my marriage from falling apart and won’t affect my health, that’s pickiness.

    Pickinesss is an observeable quality:
    On this blog, people frequently state what they’re looking for in a man or woman. If you look at an online dating site, you can see the criteria people are looking for. Then isolate all the criteria that don’t make a marriage happy, don’t prevent a marriage from falling apart, and don’t affect a partner’s health.

    There may be additional criteria that the person hasn’t mentioned/listed, but at least you can identify a minimum level.

    Pickinesss is a measureable quality:
    For online dating, this is simple. If someone is only willing to date a partner who over/under a certain height, I can check to see what percentage of men/women in that region meet that requirement. And I can repeat that for every criteria they use which I have already isolated.

    If dating that’s not online, I’ll have to track down the relevant data from other sources. It’s a little more time-consuming, but it’s possible to find demographics on most of the common criteria, and some you wouldn’t even expect.

    And if someone has a really oddball requirement (“I want someone who has their own individual style”), you can simply ask them what percentage of men/women fit that description.

    After that, it’s just a simple math problem. If someone is ruling out 20% of men/women for height, 35% for hair color and 85% for style, They’ve eliminated 92% of potential partners purely out of pickiness.

    Face it. This isn’t engineering. The calculation doesn’t need to be accurate out to twelve significant digits. If I tell someone that they’ve eliminated 92% of the population with three criteria … and point out that some of the remaining 8% are going to be jerks, or just not interested, then that is usually enough to get someone to reconsider some of their less essential criteria.

    I don’t need my fiancée to be within 5 years of my age to love her for the rest of my life. And as Sheryl Paul indicated, if I’m completely unwilling to compromise on something like that, how am I going to be about all the compromises that arise as part of being married?

  3. 123
    Paragon

    “As a GENERAL rule, a good proportion of men and women do NOT remain single because they are “too ugly” and fall under the bar.”

    I don’t think anyone is claiming that.

    The argument was one of relationship dissatisfaction, if I recall correctly.

    ” Women do have a biological desire to mate with the “best”…but society is bombarding them with a skewed impression of the availability of the “best.” The cultural belief that such men are in abundance. “Where are all these men?””

    I’m not even sure the most obstinate single female is naive enough to believe that such men are in abundance – they are
    simply not willing to compromise their biological mating instincts, no matter how this hinder’s their prospects – they would rather play a lottery.

    But, I agree with you that mass-communication media has skewed perceptions of normal, with important implications for the evolutionary principle of Koinophilia(ie. contrast this with centuries ago, where rural life was the norm, and expectations were locally ‘bounded’).

    “Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in this society right now revolves around sexuality. There are lots of little reasons for
    this but a predominant factor in this is quite simply advertising.”

    I come from a different(naturalist) bias than you, but I would attribute this to the fact that ecological selection
    pressures(in prosperous, developed world populations) are now so relaxed, that there is a far greater emphasis on sexual selection as a result(ie. sexual selection pressures have filled the void left by diminishing ecological selection
    pressures).

    “If you don’t believe this, spend some time in cultures that do not have this system in place (which is actually becoming
    harder to find as western-style culture invades others) and you rapidly begin to see a huge difference in how people think about everything, including relationships.”

    I agree.

    But, because individual day-to-day lives in such devloping cultures are more challenging, the expectations tend to differ.

    Because they are less prosperous, these populations are(by necessity) less tolerant of selfish free-riders(mating
    distributions can be seen as a free-rider problem for evolutionary stability, with implications for sub-replacement
    fertility, and, in particular the demographic economic paradox), which are the vector of selfish expectations.

    And this is what we are really observing – a population where there is too much free floating(ie. systemic) prosperity is
    rife for the indulgence of selfish/biological concerns.

    Where, in less prosperous systems, increased personal liability *compels* individuals to temper their selfish concerns with rational foresight(ie. no promiscuous single mothers, emboldened by an enabling welfare state).

    This level of critical apprehension is absent in a sufficiently prosperous population.

    Ultimately, this is an evolutionary problem of systemic prosperity.

    “So what is wrong with this? A number of things. First of all, this emphasis on sexuality affects relationships of ALL kinds.
    I have a colleague who is doing a long-term study that indicates that as a culture, we provide such preferential treatment in ALL areas of our lives to those with higher sexual appeal so much so that we simply don’t even consider other aspects of who they are. MUCH more than you see in other cultures. Job seekers have a MUCH higher chance of acquiring a position if they invoke sexual chemistry with interviewers–when in fact in other cultures you have a slightly LESSER chance if that happens because its viewed as a potential disruption and therefore your actual qualifications had better be even higher. Individuals in this society tend to choose non-sexual friendships based upon perceived sexual elements of the friend far more than in other cultures. In fact, in this culture its now more plausible to define sexuality as a root element in why anyone does ANYTHING, including just performing well at a job as a motivation. You simply don’t see that otherwise in the collective psychological makeup of other cultures.”

    Again, there is a natutarlist, evolutionary, explanation for this obssessed, sexualized ethos that we observe in western
    society.

    And it is exactly what we should expect.

    ““Beauty” is a self-defined term. AND, to say there is no cultural basis for modifying what we call beauty is a completely ridiculous assertion. We know symmetry is important biologically in determining something to be beautiful, yet…a great deal of modern art is asymmetrical in nature and yet defined as “beautiful” and is sought after. We know that various body types have been defined as desirable in the past as opposed to how they are seen today.”

    Yes, in the past – in an era, where expectations were (admittedly)less skewed.

    “Etcoff’s assertions aren’t necessarily in conflict with what I was saying. “Beauty” is NOT completely a cultural construct…
    but from what I am gathering from what you are saying, it is immodifiable by culture which I do disagree with and in fact do not believe that is what her assertion was to begin with. She was starting with the feminist premise that beauty is ENTIRELY a cultural construct. I’m starting with the premise that is is of course not JUST a construct, but that constructs CAN and DO modify such basic biological instincts.”

    Within limits, and *only* when these instincts are constrained by very real pressures(as I spoke to above with the prosperity ‘problem’).

    In effect, *compelling* individuals to make compromises.

    @ Happy Person

    “To be clearer: In the real world you cannot isolate (your word “identify”) pickiness as a variable in mate selection, given that there are so many other variables in our imperfect world, and “pickiness” is hardly an observable quality that can be measured anyway.”

    I can’t measure quantum jiggle, but that doesn’t prevent me from reasonably and *justifiably* inferring that it is exists.

  4. 124
    Happy Person

    Karl@25, what unit do you use for measuring “pickiness”?

    Is this a standard that your employer would accept?

  5. 125
    Fiona

    Paragon@126 I think calling people who won’t commit to others they aren’t actually interested in “selfish free-riders” is a bit harsh unless they are mistresting others. Most have loved unconditionally and selflessly in the past and would have settled for life with one person but have been left. Maybe for some they just never will find a love like that again. That doesn’t make them any worse people than the people who were not left and did marry the one they loved, the widowed, or the people that settle without love. People don’t have an obligation to society to find another mate if they don’t find love again. The human race will survive it. There are also other contributions that one can make to society. I think most of us are aware that by looking for love, we run the risk of never finding it and being alone but that is one of life’s risks and not the worst thing that can happen – settling is. Anyone who thinks they settled is never going to be happy. They will make all the very hard compromises that relationships need and not even for love.

    Chemistry if often the catalyst for relationships. What gets ignored on this blog is that a lot of those relationships actually do work out in the long term even after it fades. Without it I wonder how many of us on this blog would actually exist in the first place. Not many I suspect.

  6. 126
    Happy Person

    Paragon 126: We aren’t discussing whether or not something exists, we’re discussing what is measurable and what isn’t. I hold that you can’t quantify the hows and whys of relationships and that the results of any such attempts are dubious at best.

    But I have no problem with mystery and black swans and other things that lie outside of our control.

    That’s why I’m a happy person. :)

  7. 127
    P

    @Paragon

    I would only disagree with one of your assertions. That being the lack of critical apprehension. I believe it exists, but in a form we have never had to deal with before: Mental and/or emotional stability and well-being. It exists for the exact reasoning you give with a twist. Prosperity in other forms giving way to increased time to indulge in other areas including selfish biological mating instincts. That’s the critical point: As a general rule we do desire the long-term supportive role in a mate, yet as a result of allowing ourselves to “indulge” in simply sitting back and letting primitive biological instinct take control, we put in the driver’s seat something that is ill-suited and even purposefully detrimental to achieving this end. Life IS generally easier now in the evolutionary context, but I would also argue that it’s harder now in the psychological and emotional realm. Unfortunately, our basic evolution has no tools for this right now and has not compensated for the needs of a more intelligent species with a complex psychology. We may actually be seeing the “fail point” for simple biological evolution in that context, and the point where we, as a species and individually need to “evolve” using that complex higher brain function directly in order to move to the next level.

    I agree with your reasoning as a whole as to the reasons WHY we see these effects in this society and others. However, one reason I don’t tend to directly go down that road in academic form is that in general forums what I tend to find is that many individuals see this as almost as an excuse for their unhappiness and an unchangable paradigm. For the reason I gave above and because we do have a somewhat different advantage over less evolved species with higher cognitive functions, I don’t believe that excuse is valid for the individual. I believe in this environment the individual has two choices:

    1) Maintain their desire to indulge in simple biologically-driven mating instincts and allow that long-term mating will likely not be successful.

    OR

    2) Re-prioritize emotional and mental well-being as a goal therefore greatly increasing the chances of long-term mating and partnership.

    Its definitely a problematic arrangement because, for the exact reasons you gave, individuals will look at that choice set and stomp their feet and say “but I want both!” Problematically, its terribly difficult to demonstrate to people that they can’t really have everything. That they can’t really have selfish indulgence AND emotional and mental fulfillment and stability/support for life–by definition these two elements are often in complete conflict with one another. Instead, they will find some way of locking onto an example that says you can (without fully examining everything about that example and therefore seeing that both didn’t REALLY happen…expectations from the start were actually different), and ignoring the multitide of examples which negate their assertion.

  8. 128
    P

    @Fiona 128

    Fiona, biological chemistry doesn’t get “ignored” on this blog. Though in a lot of cases I believe it should be or at least toned down quite a bit. Your assertion that “a lot” of relationships do work out when their beginnings are rooted in biological chemistry only has validity if you define your bounds. In western society, this is actually a somewhat false statement as the overwhelming majority of relationships do not “work out” or result in life-partners which remain together until one partner dies.

    “Without it I wonder how many of us on this blog would actually exist in the first place. Not many I suspect.”

    Fiona, this statement isn’t really valid in the argument context. Much of what has been talked about here is life-partnership or LONG-TERM mating and how “chemistry” and biological instinct is TERRIBLE as a selector for these goals. Having a child is actually exactly what “chemistry” and biological instinct is all about. How many of us on here have divorced parents? The chemistry worked fine and created a child…the long-term outcome for the couple (your parents) wasn’t so fine (in terms of having a life-long partner). You’re arguing apples and oranges here.

    Plus, if I might add, you don’t HAVE to have the “butterflies” to have a child.

    “Anyone who thinks they settled is never going to be happy. They will make all the very hard compromises that relationships need and not even for love.”

    THAT is an EXCELLENT point. Only…I don’t think you realize why. Your operative word in this entire thing is THINKS. You’re right…anyone who THINKS they “settled” is going to be unhappy. So, if you have expectations that cannot be reasonably met over a lifetime with someone, you will always THINK you “settled.” Fiona…again, it comes back to YOUR expectations. You’re putting the cart before the horse. Your EXPECTATIONS drive your interpretation of whether or not you “settled.” If those expectations have little chance of being met, well…there’s little chance you will ever feel you didn’t “settle.” YOU are responsible for that feeling of “settled/not settled”…not some undefinable thing you have no control over.

  9. 129
    Helen

    P and Paragon: no offense, but it doesn’t sound as though you have much experience in the developing world. You are making pronouncements about how things are there that are completely untrue.

    “Because they are less prosperous, these populations are(by necessity) less tolerant of selfish free-riders(mating distributions can be seen as a free-rider problem for evolutionary stability, with implications for sub-replacement fertility, and, in particular the demographic economic paradox), which are the vector of selfish expectations”

    This is completely untrue in western Africa, southern Africa, and rural China, to name just three places among many. Free-riders abound, and they are primarily men. Women do almost all the economic work in subsistence communities. In southern Africa, this is at least in part because many men of working age are infected with HIV, although that trend is changing.

    By the way, I think it’s selfish to propagate. Propagating is inherently a selfish thing, as you are attempting to pass on your genes, which is a biological imperative. Look at what Zaq had to say about “The Selfish Gene” (great book).

    If there’s one trend I see in these comments as well as in society in general, it’s this tendency to over-romanticize the past, or to romanticize developing cultures. There’s this idea that they’re inherently more moral, when in fact it is selfishness and survival (not necessarily bad things) that have driven all cultures at all times. Even the tendency to form societies and to cooperate has selfish roots.

  10. 130
    P

    @Helen

    I have A LOT of experience in the developing world. I spend a great deal of my time in such places and I do a great deal of research related to the differences between such cultures and western interpretations. I think you are viewing the little “debate” going on here out of context and based on some of the other context around it. Admittedly, some of the conversation between Paragon, I, and Zaq got a little off topic but it is interesting anyway.

    The “free rider problem” isn’t necessarily limited to economic considerations and that has to be remembered when viewing things from a genetic or evolutionary standpoint.

    Zaq’s comments about “The Selfish Gene” were pretty on-target in the context it was put forth. Have you read the text? It’s rather fascinating…but it also isn’t centric upon humans. It’s more generic than that and in fact how it relates to humans (which do have a distinct difference in that we DO have higher cognitive functions and a more complex psychology) is still very hotly debated. Dawkins did intoduce the concept of the “meme” where he discusses culture as a replicating element in an of itself.

    I don’t see anyone here over-romanticizing anything. In fact, I see the opposite. There was nothing “romantic” about the selection mechanisms used in past societies…in fact I would argue at length that they no longer apply and should not be used. What I see now (and that Paragon and Zaq have also given credibility to) is that with a lack of other meaningful reasons for FORCING long-term mating…we no longer have a stable mechanism to create such bonding and have defaulted back to (albeit “romanticized” in and of itself) the most primitive of selection mechanisms which are tailored only towards short-term mating. Thus, we have the high percentage (which steadily rises during prosperous times) of failed long-term relationship bonds.

    We have two choices as individuals in this mess. We either decide that life-long and long-term mating is no longer required and therefore we should not EXPECT such things to occur or even be looking for it, or we use that wonderful higher cognitive ability we have which DOES set us apart from other creatures and make such selections based on emotional and/or mental considerations for life. Such long-term bonds will generally not be sexual by nature, though expression of sexuality is still desirable from an emotional standpoint. Many people who are unable to ascend from primitive shackles will view this as “settling” as the established dogma is that you can get both and one will lead to the other (despite the fact that they are in utter conflict with each other). But in fact I see it in a light of evolving past animal considerations and towards those that are more supportive, lasting, and real for the human experience.

  11. 131
    Zaq

    @Helen #132
    So true, and may I apologize on behalf of my gender for making such insensitive remarks about your physique.
    In our defense, women are incredibly sensitive about any form of criticism of looks, which we are not tuned into.
    Someone I know was training for a very physically demanding event, and I complimented her on the improvement in her looks. This was immediately taken as a criticism of how she USED to look.
    And why do women ask “does my butt look big in this ?” What’s our response supposed to be exactly ?
    Sorry to have to tell you this but I am shocked at how many women go out of their way to point out to me the physical flaws in other women. Women seem far more aware of their ‘competition’ than men.

    P #131 – what you have is a premise, but if it is not true the argument is invalid.
    Watch this video. Denis Dutton is a philosophy of arts professor

    http://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty.html

    The influence of culture sounds really plausible, but you need evidence.
    Creationists reject evolution. They do so for philosophical reasons, but they try to interpret the data to support their view.
    For example if evolution is true, you would expect to see an increase in organisms complexity over time. In the fossil layers we see just that, with simpler creatures at the deepest geological strata.
    Creationists counter with “the strata is a result of Noah’s flood, and the more complex creatures could run up the hills when the waters rose, whereas, the simpler creatures were quickly buried, which explains the observation of complex organisms in higher strata”
    Interesting argument, but how did the trees run up the hill ?
    So having an argument is clearly not enough. Does it really fit the data.

    Open SHAKESPEARE – As You Like It. About 1600

    Touchstone speaking about accepting a girl, who through lack of beauty has been left on the fence. “…a poor virgin,sir, an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own; a poor humour of mine, sir, to take that that no man else will”

    Rosalind explaining to Phebe that given her dating value, it would help if she lowered her sights. “For I must tell you friendly in your ear: Sell when you can; you are not for all markets!”

    Seems to me that nothing has changed at all !

  12. 132
    Helen

    P: Okay, my apologies. I do wonder, though, when I see comments about how people aren’t as sexually motivated in other parts of the world (sexual organisms are sexually motivated, period), or some of the comments from our fellow commenter about how there are few free-riders in developing nations and that their having lots of children is somehow indicative of selflessness. Oy.

    Zaq: you’re responding to my post in another thread, right? Here, I was talking about The Selfish Gene by Dawkins.

  13. 133
    Fiona

    P@126 actually the divorce rate is here is 50% so if we assume that most people who get married do actually feel chemistry (and I think we can take that as a given) then half work out in the long term. OK, the odds aren’t brilliant but I am not sure anyone has evidence that people who didn’t have chemistry are more successful in the longer term either. My parents had chemistry and they are still married 40 years later so chemistry (despite being short term) and compatibility (despite being long term) can co-exist and it seems that at least half of the time that they do. They are not mutually exclusive.

  14. 134
    P

    @Fiona:

    I never said chemistry and compatibility were mutually exclusive. I also said relationships, and not marriages. That the divorce rate when it comes to marriages is only 50% is actually a testament to value systems which still stigmatize divorce (which are rapidly declining). I’m involved right now in gathering data in a study which, if these numbers are to be believed, and I believe they are, if those value systems were shut off, the true divorce rate would rapidly climb into the 80-90% range. At that point, and with that kind of failure rate, marriage, and life-term mating in general become obsolete.

    Regardless of that, the actual “chemistry” your parents felt (if in fact they did) is long since gone. It was within a few years of their coupling. As to the reasons they stayed together–that is between them. Perhaps it was that they developed compatibility along the way. Perhaps it was they didn’t feel any other option was better. And so on and so forth…but, I can all but guarantee you that they do not feel “chemistry” (in the biological sense we’ve been discussing) and haven’t felt THAT for a LONG time.

    And…THAT is the point I’ve been trying to make in a very rational way: IF you desire a life-long relationship, and IF you are aware that the biological “chemistry” will be gone shortly into that relationship (and let’s stay away from calling compatibility “chemistry”–that’s already become a point of confusion), then WHY demand it as a relationship prerequisite for intelligent, rational human beings who are more complex than their basic reproductive systems.

  15. 135
    Paragon

    @ Fiona

    “I think calling people who won’t commit to others they aren’t actually interested in “selfish free-riders” is a bit harsh
    unless they are mistresting others.”

    I meant that in evolutionary game theoretic terms, where the evolutionary stability of a population can be perturbed from
    status quo, and observed in the behavioral trends of a
    population(such as where choice-sets become significantly skewed over some interval of time – which is what we can observe in developed world populations, particularly with respect to mating and reproductive choices).

    In such a case, the selfish interests of individuals could be expected to come into conflict with conditions for the
    evolutionary stability of a population.

    An agreement of data and theory suggests that these western trends are speaking to a dynamic which is increasingly, and disproportionately, enabling selfish choices.

    @ Happy Person

    “Paragon 126: We aren’t discussing whether or not something exists, we’re discussing what is measurable and what isn’t. I hold that you can’t quantify the hows and whys of relationships and that the results of any such attempts are dubious at best.”

    You can assume quantities for ad-hoc purposes.

    Not rigorous, perhaps, but if the inferences have a sound basis I agree with Karl R on their strategic
    usefulness as analytical aids.

    @ Helen

    P and Paragon: no offense, but it doesn’t sound as though you have much experience in the developing world. You are making pronouncements about how things are there that are completely untrue.

    “Because they are less prosperous, these populations are(by necessity) less tolerant of selfish free-riders(mating
    distributions can be seen as a free-rider problem for evolutionary stability, with implications for sub-replacement
    fertility, and, in particular the demographic economic paradox), which are the vector of selfish expectations”

    This is completely untrue in western Africa, southern Africa, and rural China, to name just three places among many. Free-riders abound, and they are primarily men. Women do almost all the economic work in subsistence communities. In southern Africa, this is at least in part because many men of working age are infected with HIV, although that trend is changing.”

    A division of labor is not speaking to a free-riding problem, per se, so long as interactions tend to exchange quantities of
    reciprocal value(even if your ‘liberated’ sensebilities fail to see the equity in these interactions, which is not
    surprising).

    But, the subtlety you are failing to grasp is that poorly developed, less prosperous populations are more reliant upon *local* network interations – which *invariably* resist selfish interactions compared to large/diffuse network interactions(a characteristic dynamic of more prosperous, more developed populations).

    This is not just my opinion, but follows from findings that have been experimentally validated in game theoretic trials(see Martin Nowak’s 2006 paper on the evolution of co-operation).

    Do I romanticize developing world populations?

    A little.

    But, I am not so ignorant of them as you suppose.

  16. 136
    Fiona

    p@137 you keep advising people to act against their biological nature. That’s fine but totally unrealistic and therefore doesn’t really help anyone. Much better that people have tips on how to manage the risks that go with it i.e. don’t make choices exclusively based on those factors.

    P@138 not sure age expectancy suggests we are in any sort of crisis in evolutionary terms. Survival of the fittest is working very well it seems.

    For those men out there that are having trouble attracting women there is almost always something you can to improve chemistry levels. I suspect that the reason men find a higher percentage of women attractive is that women in general make a lot more effort to be attractive. If you have bad teeth, see a dentist. If you are overweight, go on a diet. Take up sport. If you are just not good looking, work on your humour. Don’t just do nothing and complain that women are too picky.

  17. 137
    Helen

    Paragon: what would those “reciprocal values” be in west Africa? Southern Africa? Rural Asia?

    You know as well as we do that these game theoretic trials assume people optimize their choices and are perfectly rational actors in a complex setting. Where exactly do you expect to see this regularly anywhere in the world? That’s right – nowhere. This guy Nowak doesn’t appear to have significant experience among developing world populations either.

    “But, I am not so ignorant of them as you suppose.”

    The points you made fail to convince.

  18. 138
    Helen

    Fiona – just want to say that I like your commonsensical, non-academic comments, like this one:

    “Chemistry if often the catalyst for relationships. What gets ignored on this blog is that a lot of those relationships actually do work out in the long term even after it fades. Without it I wonder how many of us on this blog would actually exist in the first place.”

    So true, every point.

  19. 139
    kenley

    I didn’t want to get caught in this chemistry debate because it never feels as if people are really listening to each other and trying to learn something. However, what I will say is that I think that chemistry in the way that Paragon and P et el are referring to it is that intense physical attraction that makes you want to have SEX with someone. Fiona may be right that chemistry is probably responsible for why many of us exist today — but it’s NOT the reason why people stay together. And, more importantly, people do not need the absolute highest level of chemical attraction to want to get together either.

    I wonder how many people have really experienced that def-con level of animal attraction that I think these guys are referring to. I have — just once in my life and I can tell you that it SUCKS. The attraction was instant, intense, and really inexplicable. I felt like all the cells in my body were being pulled to him before he even opened his month. My skin tingled and my heart would beat faster when I would hear his voice. He was pretty much all I could think about and all I wanted to think about. He was not classically handsome in anyway, but he was tall and had a presence. He was was my first lover — I was an addict and he was my drug. I’d do anything to be with him. For him, I was just a pleasant diversion. I didn’t break free from him until he moved to another city. He happened to me more than 20 years ago. But just writing about him, brings back all those old feelings.

    I have never felt that way about another man and frankly I don’t want to feel that way. I’ve had 3 long term relationships since– the longest of which was 17 years. I did not have that level of chemistry with any of my long term guys. I liked them. I was attracted to them. But, I did not have that I want to be with you..I’ll do anything and let you do anything to me to be with you feeling. With the animal chemistry guy, I was completely out of control and I don’t ever want to feel like that again.

  20. 140
    P

    @Fiona#139

    Fiona, I don’t think you understand and haven’t fully grasped what I (and others) have been saying. I am NOT advising people TO go against their biological instincts, although in reality we actually do so all the time.

    I’m trying to tell you that if you (as I suspect you do) desire a life-long mate and partner, you are ALREADY GOING AGAINST YOUR BIOLOGICAL INSTINCTS. I’m not advocating you do anything that you aren’t already attempting to do (which you yourself call “unrealistic”). Your biological instincts are actually completely and utterly opposed to the concept of mating for life. Your biological instincts want you to procreate with a man (hence, the biological chemistry at first), have and begin to rear the child (the short-term chemical bond which maintains this), then pull away from that partner to find another you have “chemistry” with and start the process all over (the “fading” of chemistry and the dulling of sexual attraction on a biological level). This ensures wider genetic diversity than one mate for life, and is ENTIRELY how you are programmed on the biological level. You do NOT have a biological “chemistry” or instinct for life-term, or even long-term (by modern standards) mating!

    Don’t you see? Using biological “chemistry” as the mechanism for selecting a life-mate means you are also believing in the same mechanism for selection that ultimately will actually FIGHT AGAINST your desired psychological goal of desiring the same person there for life. If you believe fighting this instinct is unrealistic and put your faith in its power of selection, then when it tells you its no longer there and will be somewhere else (which it WILL), you will follow that belief at that point too. By putting your faith in this instinct, you are actually stacking the cards against yourself in your goal.

    This is the big problem. Non-monogamous animals (which, as its turning out, is MOST animals) have this instinct in one form or another as well, but…they don’t have the psychological and emotional desires for life-partners that we do. Those desires are BY DEFINITION outside of those biological instincts. They may have roots in other aspects of our evolution, but instinctually you have nothing when it comes to staying with one person for life. Nothing. Nada.

    You are already fighting your own instincts. If you wish to have any chance of winning that battle, you are going to have to throw away the blind faith in that instinct. Those that stay together for life are making a CHOICE to do so that has nothing to do with innate biological chemistry. Whether you have it at first or not, eventually you will not have it…and will be forced to be in this exact same decision-making process. In fact, it MIGHT be worse for you, depending on your psychology as you HAD this biological chemistry, but now its gone…and you’re forced to actually WORK psychologically to maintain any sexual attraction for your partner. Looking at the failure rates, many people either aren’t up to this task or aren’t willing to undetake it.

    If your goal in life is to have a string of biologically-driving highs, followed by cooling and then let-down, then selecting another for this, and so on and so forth, then that’s valid and feel free. What I’ve been doing here is trying to tell people that this is a perfectly valid choice as well…but if you feel you want something for life…something more emotionally and mentally stable for you in the long term (if that is a desire and need of yours), something has to change in the selection process.

  21. 141
    Mia

    I’m confused by this chemistry debate, because to me chemistry is when you meet someone and maybe right away, or maybe after 3 dates, you discover that you can’t stop talking because you click and feel really comfortable around each other and “get” each other. You’re also physically attracted to each other but the excitement is just as much if not more so about discovering someone who you just CLICK with.

    It’s not unreasonable to want to have that kind of connection with someone, as long as you understand that you can’t just go around discarding people on the first date if you don’t experience it in the first hour of meeting them. And as long as you understand that there are MANY people in this world that you are capable of having that click with, if you stop being so emotionally stunted and let people show you what they have to offer before writing them off.

    That said, we all know the values and ideas that are important to us and it doesn’t hurt to drop certain things into conversation very early on to see if this is a person we KNOW we can’t click with. For example, I could never be with someone who thought the Iraq war was a good idea – though I don’t mind dating a Republican – and see no harm in asking their thoughts on it on a first or second date. I never debate or argue about it, just curious about their value systems. I could never feel comfortable dating someone who was materialistic and cared a lot about having a nice car and fancy house. I’m also unlikely to click with a man who’s too locked into gender roles and stereotypes of a man pursuing a hard to get woman and wanting to do all the work – that’s fine in the first few months but I’d click best with someone like Karl or Nathan who wants more of an equal partnership.

    Anyway, I think there’s definitely a way to get the amazing chemistry and compatibility we want by taking the time to get to know people, weeding out people who truly don’t share our values, and so on, but there is a way to go about trying to get that and it’s not demanding that it be present on the first date, or manifest itself in instantaneous lust. And you definitely don’t have to settle for a relationship with someone who feels like your brother.

  22. 142
    P

    Mia,

    Your approach is much more reasonable given having a goal of a life-partner than many people. Part of what you’re looking for is “chemistry”…an attraction of sorts. But you seem far more capable of driving that attraction by the emotional responses to compatibility. That’s actually a really good start.

    However, if I see one more person using the term “settling” in a derogatory fashion I’m going to scream. Here’s cold, hard reality: you’re going to settle. You’ve settled for things all of your life up until now and you’re going to settle until the day you die. Your choices in life aren’t whether or not you will settle, but on WHAT you will settle. In either case, there’s settling involved.

    I know…people hate thinking this way because they’ve been told all their lives how special they are and how they can have everything they want. Its not only improbable that you can, but so improbable as to be near the side of impossible. Everyone settles on everything at one point or another. Part of the basic reason for this is that no matter what you have, you’ll end up wanting more…or different. Your needs or desires will change as you are a constantly changing creature.

    Every person who “compromises” in any aspect is SETTLING–that’s what compromising IS! This idea that people don’t have to settle in their relationships is absolutely asinine. If you care so much about your sexuality that you are unwilling to settle for a much lesser degree of “chemistry” you will settle later emotionally or mentally when that chemistry fades if you want to keep the relationship. Or, you’ll settle now for things that are going to have longer-reaching implications in your life with this person in order to have that “feeling” for the time being.

    Or, the less you’re willing to settle (a.k.a, compromise) in your demands of a partner now, you more you’re have to SETTLE for the flip-side of that: The very real possibility you’ll end up alone in the end. Whether that be all along or at the end of your life, when you most need someone there with the emotional knowledge of someone who’s been there all along–when attraction and “chemistry” mean absolutely nothing. When you’re scared in that place where all you care about is that this particular someone will hold your hand as things become dark for you. If you want to call that “just” a friendship you go right ahead and do that and keep seeking your “romantic love.”

  23. 143
    Fiona

    Helen@141. Thanks. Common sense goes a long way in my line of work if I want people to actually be able to understand my advice let alone act on it – theory is great but doesn’t help people to make decisions. I would say the same about relationship advice. Having great academic relationship theories are all very well in theory but pointless if no-one is going to want to practice them.

    P@143 I full understand your argument but you do not seem to have understood mine at all. At no point have I argued that chemistry keeps people together in the long term or that it lasts in the long term. I do however continue to think however that you can have chemistry with someone in the short term that you are also compatible with emotionally and intellectually in the long term. I have felt chemistry many times in my life. Through a process of trial and error I have learned that it is not much use to me without compatibility as well so if there is only chemistry and no compatibility, I walk away. My biological instincts and emotional and intellectual needs are not battling it out in a grand showdown in the way that you imply but are now acting in harmony.

  24. 144
    P

    @Mia: I realize that last post looked like I was saying that directly at you. The latter portion about “settling” was actually directed at numerous previous comments made by people who continually talk about not “settling.”

  25. 145
    Selena

    Mia,

    It’s understandable you are confused. On this blog the word “chemistry” is most oft used as a synonym for initial attraction. Despite the fact many of us define as much more than that – the personality, emotional, mental compatibility as well as sexual. The “click”, the “get each other” as you wrote is what some of us understand chemistry to be.

    Since we can’t get everyone to call initial sexual attraction uh…initial sexual attraction…or just plain lust – the debate over “chemistry” goes on.

  26. 146
    Eljem

    I think P has some good points. However, I take issue with the following @145:

    “The very real possibility you’ll end up alone in the end. Whether that be all along or at the end of your life, when you most need someone there with the emotional knowledge of someone who’s been there all along–when attraction and “chemistry” mean absolutely nothing. When you’re scared in that place where all you care about is that this particular someone will hold your hand as things become dark for you. If you want to call that “just” a friendship you go right ahead and do that and keep seeking your ‘romantic love’.”

    Sadly, you can play everything “right”, ie, form a stable and happy relationship based on compatibility and shared values, and still end up facing the end of your life alone and scared – it’s called your partner dying before you.

    I had a serious relationship with a man who is significantly older than me, and when I was with him I had to let go of the idea that my partner would be there at the end of my life. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened but probability said it most likely wouldn’t. So I do wish we (the collective we, not the author and readers of this blog) could avoid basing arguments on the premise that doing things one way (whoever’s way that is) guarantees a partner by your side for the rest of your life. I believe a good relationship is a wonderful thing, and will improve my life significantly, but I don’t see it as a panacea, or as the answer to life, the universe and everything. Life’s too complex for that.

  27. 147
    nathan

    All the attempts to understand and debate love solely based on logic and reasoning are absurd. And rather comical, if not also a bit irritating. There are elements of love that are unexplainable, that can’t be pinned down by all the research and theory in the world. Consider that poets, musicians, and visual artists have always been the gatekeepers of love. Why? Because they find a way to touch that which people actually experience.

    Furthermore, the frequent appeals to evolutionary psychology and it’s variants are a major weakness in the modern American dating world. Instead of a diversity of dating/relationship theories and research approaches, the majority of what I see out there is either evo psych focused or personal experience based. Open many popular magazines or dating books these days, and you’ll basically find a combination of these two. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a wide diversity of other views/approaches out there, but that they tend to get minimized or dismissed all together.

    This is even true when the conclusions reached are similar, but the understanding of the human interactions that led to those conclusions is entirely different. I’d argue that some of Evan’s writings, for example, fall under that category. In fact, whereas evo psych folks often defend things like “instinctual cheating,” Evan routinely says quality men aren’t ruled by biological impulses. I tend to go further though, and question the idea that we actually know for sure how strongly certain things – like promiscuity or wanting monogamy, for example – are biologically determined anyway. When much of the research being cited is conducted on middle and upper class North Americans and Europeans, using ideas an frameworks developed by the same people, the only intelligent thing to do is to question.

    Instead of more paragraphs, here is a poem from Rumi.

    Some Kiss We Want

    There is some kiss we want with
    our whole lives, the touch of

    spirit on the body. Seawater
    begs the pearl to break its shell.

    And the lily, how passionately
    it needs some wild darling! At

    night, I open the window and ask
    the moon to come and press its

    face against mine. Breathe into
    me. Close the language- door and

    open the love window. The moon
    won’t use the door, only the window.

  28. 148
    Happy Person

    Helen 151: Had a chuckle at your words. In the world of microfinance they don’t even bother to extend the micro-loans to the males in these developing regions for exactly the reasons you cite.

    To all: Sounds like we can’t even define “chemistry,” much less come up with some good, workable relationship math units to measure it. Now NO ONE is going to get together and the future of the planet is doomed! We better get some really smart people on this one STAT.

  29. 149
    Saint Stephen

    Helen, you’re flat out wrong about about how relationship transpires in West Africa. Except you’ve done farm-work ( and i’m referring to manual labor type – not mechanized) Then you clearly lack the knowledge of the great deal of tremendous energy needed to cultivate crops enough to sustain a family and society in such parts of the world. Saying the men there are idling away, while the women do everything is not only false but ridiculous.

    If you got to Ghana, Nigeria or Sierra lone. Such societies, majority of the couples still conform to rigid gender roles where men are the bread winners, hunter, gatherer, and women playing only the supporting roles – i.e. making the home. Although, in said parts of the world, gender roles are obviously being gradually abolished as western civilization keeps sweeping to every part of the earth, especially among the middle class families and those in white collar professions.

  30. 150
    Helen

    Stephen: there are almost no hunter-gatherer societies anywhere in Africa anymore. Certainly not in the specific countries you mention. In urban settings, yes, more men are “western-style” breadwinners, but go out into the rural settings and it is a completely different picture. Yes, it is a huge job to make enough food to feed the families, and women are the primary farmworkers. That is why educational efforts for farming are targeted toward them.

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