Why do we Fall in Love?

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Why do we Fall in Love?

Have you ever wondered how much of love is biology and how much is psychology? If you’ve ever wondered if chemistry just happens or can be created, if love at first sight is real and all other things about love, you are living in a wondrous time. Why do we fall in love? Science has some answers. There are three different systems in the brain, that when brought together spell the emotional and biological phenomenon we call love. First is the sex drive created to ensure the perpetuation of our species. The feeling of romantic love helps you focus on one person making sure you don’t waste any time or energy. The last part is the comfort and security you feel when with a long term partner, giving you time to raise children together.

Love feels fantastic because the pleasure centers of the brain are activated when we fall for someone. Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel euphoric, enthralled, and sleepless mirrors other experiences, such as being high on cocaine. Love at first sight does occur, though more to men than to women. Men are visual creatures. Whereas women fall in love in terms of who a person is, their charm, status or power rather than their physicality. Love at first sight may be an evolutionary advantage, producing offspring in a short amount of time rather than the long, drawn out process we go through today with society as our backdrop.

Timing of course is just as important in falling in love as it is with everything else in life. If you’re too busy with work or focusing on your responsibilities you may not notice the perfect person for you, when they’re just inches away. But with a little free time and the right mindset, a sort of openness, not necessarily looking for it, love can hit you like a lightning bolt. If you want someone to fall in love with you, do exciting things together with them. This releases dopamine and norepinephrine into the brain, mimicking romantic love. There is a difference between love and lust. You can feel love for one person. But lust dissipates after sex. And you can feel attracted to someone without being compatible, or jealous if they are into someone else.

How do you keep the spark alive? By trying new and exciting things together, and doing the things you did when you were first dating. Perhaps someday all of our questions on love will be explained. Will that kill the romance? Or will it give us a finer appreciation of the nuances of love? Only time and intrepid scientists will give us the answers. For more on this topic read, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher.

How to Stop Pushing Nice Guys Away and Picking Jerks Instead

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How to Stop Pushing Nice Guys Away and Picking Jerks Instead

Speak to a lot of single women of a certain age and they’ll tell you that there are no quality men out there. Some are over-developed man children, they say. Others are sad and sorry pushovers, nice guys who have no passion in life and so stir none in them. Then there are the jerks that seem nice at first but play games, ignore needs, act callously, are distant, disrespectful and drop them without a second thought. So is this an actual social paradigm in the modern world, a list of excuses for broken hearts or a lashing out of the scorned and unlucky in love? Dr. Jeremy Nicholson is a social and personality psychologist who studies relationships. He posits that women’s evolutionary selves and the box our modern society tries to place them in are at odds, placing women in what he calls a “double-bind.” To find out more about what he says and what women can do about it, you need to know about Dr. Helen Fisher. She is an evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University. Dr. Fisher says there are three kinds of love: lust, attachment—managing the home, parenting and so on, and attraction, which is what we feel when we like someone and wish to pursue a relationship with them.

For each person, these are different. We’re all like weirdly shaped puzzle pieces trying to find the right fit. Though we are supposed to get all three from one person, sometimes we are attracted to one, lusting after another and still only feel comfortable with the third. Each of these three feelings that we blend together and call love start from different needs. Though you may get all three from the same person, Dr. Fisher argues that the needs themselves are very different. For most women these feelings just happen. But if they look deeper they would notice that there are certain features or cues put out by a partner that makes her attracted to him. These include physique, resources such as income, social status, stability, intelligence, conscientiousness and ambition. In society today, however, a woman needs to be many things to be deemed worthy. She has to be good at her job, her relationship, look beautiful, have a great attitude and raise stunning children. That’s a tall order. To do so she’ll have to be smart, industrious, assertive and motivated. These women, in order to have a mate that fits into her plans, must be agreeable, supportive, cooperative, and so on. Yet, by an evolutionary standpoint, these are not the men who are high in status. Those are often disagreeable. They don’t cooperate and they aren’t supportive. So those men who are culturally desirable aren’t desirable from an evolutionary perspective.

What strategies can a woman employ then to successfully traverse this complex landscape of the heart? Nicholson suggests selecting one of four successful strategies. The first is coming to love in the role of the leader. The businesswoman can also be the superheroine or the dominatrix. She can lead the nice guy to the right places and enjoy the ride. The second is holding off and finding the right guy. Here she will follow him and enjoy his attractive, strong leadership qualities, but will select a mate who also has a kind heart and keeps her wants, needs and desires in highest regard. Next, there is mixed dating. This is having one male partner for the household affairs and partnership, while another is for sexual rendezvouses. This could be an illicit affair, an ethical, polyamorous relationship or something in between. Lastly, there is sharing, balance, communication and compromise. Each person is in charge of their own set duties and the couple works everything out together. Good communication and a solid foundation to work from are key. For more on that state of human affection read, Why We Love by Helen Fisher.

Can Marriage and Lust Coexist?

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Can Marriage and Lust Coexist?

It is a common misconception that people who have been together a long time inevitably see their passion fade. So can marriage and lust coexist?  In fact, research has shown that married people are having more sex than their single counterparts. For instance, a 2010 Kinsey Institute survey found that three out of five single people went without sex last year, as opposed to one out of five married people. In another study conducted by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth which studies families, married 25 to 59 year olds were more likely to have sex two to three times per week than their single counterparts. Usually couples have sex often in the early phase of the relationship but frequency slows down as time goes on. What often happens is people get caught up in the demands of a career and raising a family and so have sex less often. But studies have shown that married people enjoy it more. Laura Carpenter, a sex researcher from Vanderbilt University says, “While people get older and busier, as a relationship proceeds they also get more skillful—in and out of the bedroom.” Still, couples often blame dry spells on their marriage. It’s usually certain aspects of the marriage such as an all too familiar partner, arguing or household chores and the politics that can come with them.

Science can’t help us here. There are few studies that have looked into what a normal sex life looks like in mid-life. There is no recipe therefore on what can keep sex hot and lust going in a marriage. Still there are indicators. The eminent John Gottman, a pioneer in the field of couple’s research and head of Seattle’s Gottman Institute says that when men and women share their lives, they are more likely to engage in sex. Men who share in the household chores and childcare had sex more often than those that didn’t, Gottman’s research found. Other researchers have also found that the more a couple shared, the more sex they had. Other research has shown that it doesn’t matter who is the breadwinner. No matter the financial situation, long-term couples had the same frequency. On another front, it’s important to see a certain psychological paradigm that exists and how to overcome it, or balance it out. Our sexual feelings are filtered through our culture. Rules and norms on desire, fantasies and arousal lock us in to what researchers call “sexual scripts.” These are the roles, desires and fantasies we allow ourselves to take part in. University of Washington Sociologist Julie Brines thinks the trouble is we are still stuck in traditional sexual scripts. Even more problems occur when we are between scripts.  “I don’t think we have newer alternatives to traditional sexual scripts in marriage,” she said. Since couples relate differently in and out of the bedroom perhaps our sexual scripts should reflect this new dynamic. But one has yet to settle in.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel says the issue of losing passion in a marriage comes when we are too focused on our need for security. It comes to dominate our competing need for novelty. Perel says that, “couples who describe themselves as loving, trusting, and caring complain that their sex lives have become dull and devoid of eroticism.” What Perel does then is show couples how to, “reconcile our fundamental need for safety and security with our equally strong need for adventure and novelty.” It’s worth noting that her 2013 TED Talk has five million views on YouTube. Some suggest using one’s sexual imagination to explore what is interesting and novel to the couple themselves. Gottman found that desire was present most in couples who responded to each other’s feelings. Those that were adversarial shut down desire. These were the sexless marriages. Gottman also found that sex didn’t take a back seat to other things on the couple’s agenda.  “Couples who are going to have a lot of sex end up somehow being able to communicate to one another that it’s a priority,” the researcher said. “It is not going to be the last item on the infinite to-do list.” When one person wasn’t in the mood in these marriages Gottman said one would give the other person an alternative to intercourse. This is done so as to show love and concern for the spouse and their needs. Lastly, to keep the spark alive, Gottman said that sexual imagination needs one very important thing, a free and comfortable atmosphere conducive to play. For more on keeping the novelty in your marriage read, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel.

Biological Anthropologist Changes how We Look at Love and Infidelity

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Biological Anthropologist Changes how We Look at Love and Infidelity

The eminent biological anthropologist, Helen Fisher says that love really isn’t an emotion at all. In fact, it is an entire system in the brain responsible for mating, romance and reproduction. We in our society value love highly. And yet these very biological systems that comprise love also give us the capacity for infidelity. Recently on a Ted Talk, Fisher spoke about marital infidelity and the biological basis for love. Topics she covered included how common cheating is, why it occurs and how certain genes may fit into the equation. Across the globe, 91.8% of men and 93.1% of women marry before age 49, according to the United Nations Demographic Yearbooks, which include 97 separate societies. This data was collected between 1947 and 1992. Monogamy is not the end all, be all of mating for human race, however. Infidelity is common throughout all societies, from all continents and historical contexts. In America, 20-25% of heterosexual married women, and 20-40% of heterosexual married men engage in an extramarital affair at some point in their lives. Sadness, anger, frustration and despair often surround these. In fact, many times they break up the marriage. Usually, we think of infidelity as a psychological or moral choice. But according to Fisher, it has biological and genetic components as well.

Three brain systems in modern humans relate to what we call love: the sex drive, romantic love and pair attachment. Libido instigates sexual intercourse with a number of different partners. Romantic love however, drives us instead to focus on one particular individual. In a biological sense, this saves physical energy and time. Lastly, pair bonding motivates parents to stick together in order to raise a child from infancy and give it the best chance of survival. These three systems work together, as well as with other parts of the brain, to run the complex phenomenon we call love. The problem arises in the fact that our brains can hold these three different sections of love for three different people. For instance, you may feel intensely romantic toward one person, a strong bond with another and lustful toward yet another. All cultures have marital infidelity, and it is looked down upon in almost every one. According to researchers, there are two types of infidelity, romantic and sexual. Romantic infidelity may be what is generally called emotional cheating. This is when you exchange romantic behaviors, sentiments and gestures without physical relations. Sexual infidelity is a physical exchange, say intercourse with no emotional or romantic involvement.

Here is when things get murky. So many cultural, psychological and even economic factors are involved in the frequency of infidelity and how it is expressed. This makes studying the phenomenon a difficult process. One such instance is “Mate poaching.” This is a common phenomenon in America and 30 other cultures. Mate poaching occurs when one person tries to influence a possible mate away from a committed relationship, in order to be with them. Of single Americans, 53% of men and 60% of women admit to taking part in such a practice. Though it is often thought of as a sign that something is dreadfully wrong in the relationship, Fisher says infidelity even happens within happy marriages. In one study for instance, 56% of men and 34% of women who cheated rated their marriage as “happy” or “very happy.” This suggests that genes do play a role in marital infidelity.

A 2008 study set out to find out just how big a role. 552 couples took part in the study. They were either married or cohabitating and had been doing so for a minimum of five years. Men who had a certain gene, called a 334 vasopressin allele—located in a specific area of the vasopressin system, felt less attached to their partner, emotionally. Their scores on the Partner Bonding Scale were far lower. Men who had two of these genes had the lowest scores, compared to those who only had one. Those men who had the 334 gene had a higher likelihood of a martial crisis, including the threat of divorce. Those who had two of these genes saw their risk double. The men who had one or two of the 334 gene also scored lower on marital satisfaction. Though infidelity wasn’t directly measured in this study, factors that lead to infidelity were, and they were significantly elevated for those who had these genes.

According to Helen Fisher, marital infidelity was rampant among our prehistoric ancestors. Men who had more than one sexual partner reproduced often and their genes carried on. Women who engaged in more sexual partnerships, perhaps due to a partner’s death or disappearance, gained extra economic resources to better survive and help her children to do so. These extra martial partnerships also created more genetic variety, making early humans stronger and better able to adapt to their environment. But the advantages infidelity gave in the prehistoric age are hobbling our marriages and love lives in contemporary times. What will be interesting is to see if science finds a better way to negotiate the needs of love and marriage in modern society with the drives installed within us from our prehistoric past. For more on this fascinating topic, pick up a copy of Anatomy of Love by Helen Fisher.

Could a Once a Year Freebie Save a Marriage?

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Could a Once a Year Freebie Save a Marriage?

The wife of Brooklyn Nets star Andrei Kirilenko has an interesting outlook on marital fidelity. Russian pop star Masha Lopatova recently said that she allows her husband one night per year to spend with another woman, if he so chooses. Lopatova said, “If I tell my child, ‘No pizza, no pizza, no pizza,’ what does he want more than anything Pizza!” So far the basketball star says he hasn’t acted on it. “If something isn’t allowed you, you want to get it,” Kilienko said. “But if it is allowed to you, you will not need it.” Some female fans however are crying “Foul!” since the couple’s deal does not extend the same benefit to Lopatova. Still, this arrangement has got people talking. Could a once a year freebie save a marriage? Of course, this wouldn’t work for every couple. For starters, most would have to have a reciprocal arrangement, since the woman’s inability to meet her desires outside of the marriage, and his ability to do so, could build resentment which may undermine the whole relationship. Another problem might be that the husband could want to visit his paramour on more than one occasion. Still, there are so many marriages that are undone when one or another person cheats and the couple cannot overcome it. In those instances, this could be sort of a release valve.

Writer Ada Calhoun, in a New York Times essay published in mid-September, talked about her quasi-open marriage with her husband, and how it was put in place to allay his fears of her straying, or outright leaving him. Her husband even transformed his fear into something more than an interest. Calhoun writes, “It may seem eccentric that my husband has translated the common fear of being cheated on into enthusiasm for the idea, but he’s not alone. Type ‘cuckold’ into a pornography search engine and you’ll be greeted with countless scenes in which people play out that exact fantasy.” She explains too how she was more adventurous sexually than her husband before their marriage. “Because of this, my husband has at times fretted that I might leave him. What should he do with that anxiety? Maybe eroticizing it isn’t the worst strategy, especially if it gets us talking about what turns us on and keeps us in the loop about each other’s lives. Surely it’s better than the more mainstream reactions to jealousy: becoming paranoid or controlling.” There isn’t any real clear outline of the rules Calhoun and her husband have put into place. We don’t know if she is allowed to stray outright, or vice versa. The only clear rule posited is that both members should be completely honest. Her husband will never have to guess at what her intensions are, because he will clearly know. She will tell him exactly what is on her mind. But that goes for him toward her too.

One of the impetuses for this essay was the fact that her husband had strayed in the past. Calhoun writes, “Years ago, my husband told me he had fallen in love with someone else. He was deeply confused and scared by it. I didn’t even know who he was talking about; that’s how much of a secret he had kept his growing feelings. When he told me who it was, a co-worker, I felt as if I had been shot. I broke things. I threw him out. He ended the affair. Since then, I’ve forgiven him, and we’ve worked hard to figure out why it happened and what it meant.” So her option is somewhat of a quid pro quo. Psychologists say that it takes two special people to engage in an open relationship, those who can find ways to deal with and manage their jealousy in a healthy manner. Each couple needs to discuss in depth the ground rules, what they want to know, and don’t want to know, and guidelines about who it can be, where, when and safety issues, such as condom usage. Putting things into perspective, Calhoun writes, “The main thing that helped me get over the affair was realizing that attraction to other people isn’t necessarily a sign your marriage is bankrupt. In the course of being together forever, especially if you’re out in the world meeting new people, it happens. One of the challenges in a marriage, in addition to deciding whose job it is to do the dishes and how to balance the budget, is to figure out how to deal with lust or love for other people.” Certainly an open marriage isn’t for everyone. But some psychologists believe it can work for a select few. For more on this phenomenon and how to enact it pick up a copy of the classic, Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples by Nena O’Neill.