Love is a complex thing, but anthropologist Helen Fisher has tried to tackle its complexities by breaking down its aspects into several important concepts this lesson explores.
The Pattern of Falling in Love
Songs, books, poems, and films have been made about this. Even an entire industry – that of romantic novels – has succeeded in making lots of money on one thing: love. If it wasn’t for love and romantic novel covers, no one would know who Fabio is and why he can’t believe it’s not butter. Love is a very difficult thing to define, classify, and explain.
Thus, I’ll describe to you a theory on the pattern of falling in love put forth by anthropologist Helen Fisher.
Imprinting and Love
One part of Helen Fisher’s theory is imprinting, the way past life experience and genetic predispositions trigger a person’s romantic reactions. You’ve probably heard of baby birds hatching and imprinting on their mothers. They then focus their attention on their mothers like crazy and follow her everywhere she goes! That imprinting is genetically encoded.
We as humans may also have a genetic predisposition to imprint on a particular kind of person, be it based on their looks, mannerisms, or otherwise. Similarly, our past life experience plays a role. And no, when I say ‘past life,’ I don’t mean the life you led during the Middle Ages before you were reborn. Rather, I mean the past experiences in your life that may have caused you to gravitate towards a certain person, sometimes unbeknownst to you. You know, maybe you have a friend that for some reason only goes out with blondes.Well, when a man or woman is infatuated with someone for any reason, they focus their attention on that person in a manner like a baby bird to a mother goose. This behavior appears as imprinting to the other person being ogled.
In love, this kind of behavior is mediated partly by a chemical, a hormone, called norepinephrine.
Lust and Attraction
Actually, chemistry between two people is truly chemical in nature. This will probably break a few people’s hearts, but the idealistic theories of romanticism aside, love is truly all in the real-world chemistry. It’s not just norepinephrine, of course; it’s much more complex than that.
A person’s sex drive or libido, lust, is driven by other biochemicals, such as estrogens and androgens. Lust is about a general desire for sexual gratification with any partner you deem appropriate. Lust is different from attraction, which is passionate or obsessive love, infatuation. Here, a person focuses their energy and attention on a mating partner they prefer in particular.Varying levels of chemicals such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin seem to play a role in causing feelings of elation, euphoria, wanting an emotional attachment to this person, and constant thinking about the object of their desire. From a biological and reproductive standpoint, the theory goes that such emotions came to be in order to drive a person to focus their limited energetic resources on rooting out unsuitable partners, finding the most genetically superior one, and pursuing them until insemination has occurred.
Attachment and Love
Attraction may turn into attachment, deep feelings and emotional union, security, calm, and social comfort with a long-term partner. Not very shockingly, attachment is also mediated by chemicals, like oxytocin and vasopressin, which are released during sex and orgasm.This helps to explain why sex builds attachment between couples and why oxytocin is colloquially called the love hormone or cuddle chemical. The reason this specific system, that of attachment and its emotions, evolved is so that the people who are attached to one another stay long enough together to finish up their parental duties and, thus, help the human species survive for at least another generation.
The Complexity of It All
So, what is love? Don’t hurt me here, but the truth is no one knows for sure.
Helen Fisher readily admits the complex nature of love and how even the things we went over aren’t always cut and dry. The pattern of love can start with lust, proceed to attraction, and then move on to attachment. But it doesn’t have to go that way every time.Take for instance, a longtime friend you have been attached to, only to later fall in love and have sex. Conversely, casual sex doesn’t always work out to be just casual. People may first have sex and then, due to all those chemicals we talked about, they experience attachment and love thereafter.
Okay then, remember that imprinting is the way past life experience and genetic predispositions trigger a person’s romantic reactions. An individual’s infatuation with someone can be seen as a form of imprinting by the person of their desire. Sex drive or libido, lust, references a general desire for sexual gratification with any individual you find appropriate.
It’s different from attraction, which is passionate or obsessive love, infatuation, meaning, unlike lust, you focus your attention to only one person. Attraction may turn into attachment, deep feelings and emotional union, security, calm, and social comfort with a long-term partner. Attachment is influenced by a chemical known as oxytocin that helps couples build a bond during sex.
When this lesson is done, you should be able to:
- Understand the work of Helen Fisher and her theory about love
- Recognize the differences between infatuation and lust
- Describe the change from attraction to attachment
- Identify the chemical changes in the body when one is in love