Findings from a 2002 study by Dr. Helen Fisher revealed that “Lust evolved to initiate the mating process with any appropriate partner; attraction evolved to enable individuals to choose among and prefer specific mating partners, thereby conserving their mating time and energy; male-female attachment evolved to enable individuals to cooperate with a reproductive mate until species-specific parental duties have been completed.”
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Chemistry & complications
The science of love posits that these emotion systems enable us to develop simultaneous mating strategies. Our brain chemistry allows us to form a long-term relationship with one partner while practicing adultery on the side. Dr. Fisher added “Men and women can express deep attachment for a long-term spouse or mate at the same time they express attraction for someone else, and also while they feel the sex drive in reaction to situations unrelated to either partner. We are physiologically capable of “loving” more than one person at a time.”
However, in our modern society this brain architecture has led to a lot of complications for us. Dr. Fisher’s study found that “The evolution of these three emotion-motivation systems contribute to contemporary patterns of marriage, adultery, divorce, remarriage, stalking, homicide and other crimes of passion, and clinical depression due to romantic rejection.” Romantic rejection can also lead to sexual jealousy, physical assault and even suicide.
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Can love last?
Is chemistry everything in love then? Does this mean we are slaves to these three emotion systems? Can we actually have a lasting, meaningful, infidelity-free relationship? Well, it depends. But thankfully, it doesn’t depend entirely on your brain chemistry.
Dr. Fisher believes “Chemistry isn’t quantifiable,” as various other factors come into play when developing a romantic relationship.
Variables like personality, physical appearance, smell, skills, character and even temperament all determine who we feel attracted to and fall in love with.
She said, “Your character is formed by everything you grew up with. And your temperament is built by your biology. Together they create who you are.” Hence, it can be really challenging to determine how much role brain chemistry plays in relationships and how much influence other factors have. Fisher added “One moment chemistry rules and the next moment your upbringing will rule.”
Neuroscientist Dr. Gabija Toleikyte believes “love as a greater experience can last.” Whether you can have a committed and faithful partner or not depends on your perception.
Love makes us develop deep bonds and connections which can lead to lasting commitments as we willfully become part of an exclusive relationship. However, “If any steps have been compromised, for example someone learns that a person is completely different to who we got to know, that can change the experience,” said Toleikyte.
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The science of love and hope
But there is still hope. A 2011 study by Dr. Fisher discovered that couples in their 50s and 60s were still much in love with their partners when analyzed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). It was found that the primary brain pathways associated with romantic love were still active in the subjects. Fisher said “These long term partners still feel some of the early stage intense feelings of romantic love, so yes, it is possible.” However, she warned, “You have to pick the right person”.
Even with so much research done, we still understand very little about love and the science behind it. But we don’t need the science of love to understand or experience what love actually feels like. We all have our own definition of love. And although your brain chemistry may have a crucial role to play, how strong your relationship is and how happy your partner is with you, are still up to you.