Is Love Something More?
A recent Time cover story swallows evolutionary psychology wholesale:
Losing our faculties over a matter like sex ought not to make much sense for a species like ours that relies on its wits. A savanna full of predators, after all, was not a place to get distracted. But the lure of losing our faculties is one of the things that makes sex thrilling–and one of the very things that keeps the species going. As far as your genes are concerned, your principal job while you’re alive is to conceive offspring, bring them to adulthood and then obligingly die so you don’t consume resources better spent on the young. Anything that encourages you to breed now and breed plenty gets that job done.
But mating and the rituals surrounding it make us come unhinged in other ways too, ones that are harder to explain by the mere babymaking imperative. There’s the transcendent sense of tenderness you feel toward a person who sparks your interest. There’s the sublime feeling of relief and reward when that interest is returned. … If human reproductive behavior is a complicated thing, part of the reason is that it’s designed to serve two clashing purposes. On the one hand, we’re driven to mate a lot. On the other hand, we want to mate well so that our offspring survive. …
Cultural customs that warn against sex on the first date may have emerged for such practical reasons as avoiding pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, but they’re also there for tactical reasons. Males or females who volunteer their babymaking services too freely may not be offering up very valuable genes. Those who seem more discerning are likelier to be holding a winning genetic hand–and are in a better position to demand one in return. The elaborate ritual of dating is how this screening takes place. It’s when that process pays off–when you finally feel you’ve found the right person–that the true-love thrill hits, and studies of the brain with functional magnetic resonance imagers (fMRIs) show why it feels so good.
But then the last paragraph retreats to delusion:
Survival of a species is a ruthless and reductionist matter, but if staying alive were truly all it was about, might we not have arrived at ways to do it without joy–as we could have developed language without literature, rhythm without song, movement without dance? Romance may be nothing more than reproductive filigree, a bit of decoration that makes us want to perpetuate the species and ensures that we do it right. But nothing could convince a person in love that there isn’t something more at work–and the fact is, none of us would want to be convinced. That’s a nut science may never fully crack.
Geez. Me, over here, I’m convinced. Joy, literature, song, and dance are just as easily explained as the other phenomena the article discusses.