When John was in college, he hooked up with a girl visiting from Venezuela. She was absolutely beautiful and gave him tons of affection. He was madly in love. Unknowingly to John, when Maria would smile, she would slightly tilt her head, a mannerism almost identical to his mother. Eventually, his time with Maria ended and John went on with his life.
A few years later, John met this stunning Columbian named Sofia. She reminded him of a lot of Maria. In fact, he fell deeply in love and ended up marrying her. Their marriage lasted 7 years until Sofia left him. John was devastated and heartbroken for years.
Ironically, John ended up running into Maria a few years later. Despite her being extremely excited to see him, John was completely unaware that she was still interested. By this point, he suppressed himself away from love because he believed that if he loved he would get hurt again. As a result, Maria stopped pursuing him.
For the early part of John’s life, he was able to unconsciously recognize the cues that resembled his early relationships with his mother and linked those cues (1) to the rewards of those emotions that predicted it. But when Sofia left John, John became naive to the cues Maria gave him when they ran into each other 10 years later.
What matters here is that we, consciously or unconsciously, must be able to recognize the cues linked to the rewards our brains predict.
Our brains are prediction machines
“Falling in love is a wonderfully terrifying sensation.” -Steve Maraboli
We desire to know what is likely to happen so that we can do something about it. If our ex-girlfriend is going to cheat on us and steal all our money, then we will want to leave her and protect our assets before it happens. If it is going to be extremely hot later today, then we will pack a pair of swim shorts so we can head to the lake after work.
Knowledge is power, and the most important reason why our brains insist on simulating the future even when we’d rather be here now, enjoying a goldfish moment, is that our brains want to control the experiences we are about to have. (2)
The problem with such predictions is our knowledge is rooted in our personal experiences. So if you were raised in a household with an alcoholic dad and a drugged mother, that was your normal family life. It’s in that sense that the abnormal is normal to you – therefore your unconscious may seek to fulfill your intimate relationships with similar characteristics.
Jake grew up with an alcoholic mother and swore to himself that he’d never drink or tolerate alcohol in his relationships. And he stuck to that. But he ended up marrying a chaotic songwriter, a match that fits his expectations and predictions of how a relationship should work. His attraction to this songwriter was created by his unconscious love map.
“No one ever fell in love without being a little bit brave.” – Mario Tomasello
An innate characteristic of brains is that they learn and remember. Our behavior is adapted to a large extent by our experiences. Our personal experiences condition us to pick certain sexual preferences that become as “natural and “hardwired” just as one’s food preferences. This associative conditioning does not occur overnight, but throughout our life, starting well before the awakening of our sexual arousal. (3)
Over time this love map becomes refined and fixed as we start masturbating and begin having sex with other people. The reward of a sexual relationship reinforces the already-established love map, further hardening the conditioning.
Sometimes we learn what not to do. When we are faced with a woman who rejects us, we learn specific cues and behaviors that signal to us that a woman may not be interested such as a fake phone number.