Why do we humans “fall” in love and then become entangled in longer, but not everlasting romantic love? Why do we, not all of our species, but quite a large number of us, tend to express very deep emotions like that of grief and, especially, erotic sexual, i.e. romantic love in symbolic language? Why not tell the others, if at all, in everyday prose, about one’s extraordinary psychological experience of becoming “bewitched” by a loved person or of “falling” (again this word expressing uncontrollable fate) into deep despair? Obviously, the prose is not good enough a vessel to hold the most precious feelings, may they be of despair and grief or of elation, erotic tenderness, and sexual satisfaction or of mystical experience. Homo symbolic must express him/herself in special ways, in forms which lend themselves to increase the might of one’s experience, which draw others into a spell, gasping at the beauty of the daring metaphors and the unheard-of happenings. Possibly then, this transformation of emotions to an artistically shaped metalevel is also a biologically efficient enhancement mechanism: One may live one’s highs and peaks again and repeatedly by creating a poem or song capturing them. One’s feelings will, thus, become even more powerful. This could have been a base for its becoming an evolved trait.
Modern neurobiology, neurochemistry and evolutionary biology/psychology have been concerned with universal mechanisms, preferences and behaviours governing or accompanying human sexuality. In recent years, romantic love has come in the focus as well. H. Fisher’s writings have found a wide readership (Fisher 2001), the work of Esch & Stefano (2005) has shown how complex the neurobiology of love is and how similar, especially with regard to its main cerebral reward pathways, it is to other very positively experienced feelings and situations and how all this enhances wellbeing and health: a “… complex neurobiological phenomenon, relying on trust, belief, pleasure and reward activities within the brain, i.e. limbic processes.. oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, serotonergic signalling… endorphin and endogenous morphinergic mechanisms, coupled to nitric oxide autoregulatory pathways… beneficial neurobiological features… combining physiological aspects related to maternal, romantic or sexual love and attachment with other healthy activities or neurobiological states… stress-reducing, health-promoting…”. This latter idea has found its way, not surprisingly, into the channels of the popular press:
“Sex is good for body and soul” and other slogans have been created to transmit some of the main messages concerning erotic and sexual love to a wider public. One will have to see, whether this can reverse the trend for a reduction in libido (Csef 1997), which, quite dramatically, has occurred in the last decades. Could it be that spam-sex to which we are all exposed to on a day to day basis, is ruining our biopsychological drives, desires, negatively interferes with lived love? This may very well be so. A pity for us who are, by virtue of evolutionary forces, equipped with so well-tested mechanisms of falling in love, feeling it and consuming it.
The more we know about the underlying biology of our erotic, sexual and social feelings the more it becomes evident that the corresponding perceptions, feelings, and behaviours are common human heritage, basically part of all people, not likely to be dramatically altered by culture. I am sure that the universality of romantic love will be increasingly demonstrated by future cross-cultural and other research. In Donald Browns classic book on human universals, romantic love is not mentioned (Brown 1991). When I talked to him about this issue he nodded and said that romantic love was also a classic universal but that it was not yet included in the text, and ultimately love is something more like fingerprints different for everyone, even in the same species.
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