What is love? Oh, baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Ha! Good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the essay. Sorry, Haddaway on the brain when I wrote the title. Anyway…
We all want to be loved by someone great. We also want to have someone to love who is worth loving. Experiencing both of these is a fundamental part of our emotional wellbeing. But we’re faced with a problem.
Love isn’t easy and there doesn’t seem to be a blueprint to follow towards building a perfect relationship. (Believe me, I checked. The architect whose blueprint files I was snooping through yelled it at me as he threw me out of his office.) Our ignorance causes us so much anxiety because we know that we want this fantastic, beautiful ideal, and not knowing how to reach it is frustrating. We want love more than anything else in life, until the desire feels all-consuming, but we worry because if we don’t know how to get it, we can’t get it, and that’s just heartbreaking. Out of all the people in the world, who do we choose? And once we chosen someone, how do we make it work?
Worry no longer because there’s hope. We may not have an exact blueprint for every relationship we might get into, but if we understand how the system operates, and how people work, then we can understand the bigger blueprint for Life and Love, and that will give us a huge advantage in dealing with our own personal experiences. To dig deeper, always begin with the golden question: Why?
Why are romantic relationships so important to us? Why does practically every book and movie have a love story? Why does the romance genre dominate the book industry? Why is the net covered in sexy people putting huge, crazy things inside each other?
Because mating is our purpose. Yes, life really is all about sex. Or, to be more specific, what sex is used to accomplish. Our purpose in life is to secure our genetic heritage in future generations. We live to create offspring and give them as many advantages as we can in order to improve their own chances of survival and successful reproduction. Literally, the biggest part of our lives is about finding the best match and having babies, then giving those babies all the good food and education and tools we can so that they can have an even easier job doing the same. That’s how our species continues to exist. It’s our method of operation. All the anxiety and worry we have about love and relationships is, not-so-deep down, about making the best partnership to produce the best offspring and the best conditions for their future success. It’s about mating.
Most species go about this with far less fanfare. In Spring, it gets warm and there’s a rising urge to chase down members of the opposite sex, jump them and rut wildly. They don’t put much thought into it, they just go with their instincts. Equally, we treat the mating process of all other creatures with the same nonchalance. Spring comes around and we admire the way that the flowers of the peach tree scatter in the wind, and grumble as their pollen tickles our allergies. We don’t give any thought to the fact that we’re witnessing procreation at work. We don’t think about how, four months later, we’re biting into a peach that is really a baby, the product of two trees fucking. Technically, that peach used to be a sex organ. See a tree covered in flowers? That’s a tree with a hard-on and stiff nipples. Take a picture and you’ve just made tree porn.
It’s no big deal to us. Life multiplies. We don’t think about out, it just happens. Except when it happens to us – that’s another story completely. We don’t care if two birds mating are going to produce the best children, we just admire the cute chicks. But with our own mating, we over-analyze it like crazy. Then we romanticize the hell out of it and call it Love. We build monuments to it, write libraries full of books about it, compose millions of songs to it, worry over it every waking moment of our youth. We turn mating into Love and frame it as an Ideal, and cherish it, and give it Innocence (for some weird reason). Then when it comes right down to the actual act, we guzzle a bunch of alcohol to give us an excuse to forget all the cultural frills and just get down to the good, fun business of fucking.
Where does it all begin? One needs only look at kids and see how, at their earliest age, they’re vaguely aware of the mating process. Why else would a five year old boy get defensive if you ask him if he has a girlfriend? Why else would a six year old girl differentiate between male and female friends? Why do kids treat genders differently instead of treating everyone the same, at least before puberty?
Because we are instinctively aware of the mating process and from the moment we’re born we spend our entire youth preparing for it. While this is a vague idea at best when we’re little kids, once puberty comes, awareness hits us like a freight train and all of a sudden gender differences and being with the opposite gender take on an entirely new perspective. It’s all we think about.
Think back to your youth. Ah, remember the wild, heady days of young desire and the faint idea of love when you first began to experience it? Not, not you, you’re too young to wax nostalgically. I’m talking to older readers. People who have a few broken hearts and some perspective under their belt. Or in your pocket, or where-ever you keep important things like that. Remember how anxious we were about finding someone, even as just a teenager?
When we’re young, before we ever get into a real relationship, the prospect of one always seems so elusive. All around us we see movies and books full of love stories, couples everywhere, the internet full of porn. We are very aware that men and women are connecting everywhere and we’re still alone. Our purpose in life seems unfulfilled. At the tender, ignorant age of sixteen we lament that there’s something wrong with us because we’re not passionately involved with someone else (and on a biological level, we wonder why we don’t already have three babies when puberty hit ages ago). Our older, wiser, modern self will one day look back, slap their impatient younger self soundly across the face, calmly tell us that we’re being Utterly Ridiculous and ask us to please be patient. We deserved that.
Feels so real at the time though, doesn’t it? We’re so emotional as teens. Why do we feel this way? Because our still-growing brains are physically more sensitive to emotion at that age, and our inexperience makes us feel like things are more unique and a bigger deal than they really are. And, most importantly, because we know that mating is the most important thing in our life, so we’re anxious to get on with our main purpose.
Then we meet someone and everything changes. While we relentlessly pine for love while single, we when we do connect for the first few times with people it’s Romeo and Juliet and they must be The One. Suddenly everything is super serious and dramatic and tearful and we need to discuss it endlessly with everyone and write about it and sing about it and make this teenage fancy live up to Love The Ideal.
With young love, we’re always on the edge of our seat. We examine each word said, inflection given, words not said, and every single touch is a Very Important Detail. It’s an exciting, nerve-wracking, sometimes painful, often embarrassing, and hopefully occasionally orgasmic experience.
And then, two weeks later, we break up and: “Oh-my-goodness the sky is falling and I’m in pieces and I’ll never be happy ever again in the next seventy years of my life. Kill me now, it’s all hopeless, love is a lie!” Ugh. My eyes are rolling comically. Did you see that? Of course not, I’m an author and this isn’t television, it’s a book. Stop asking silly questions and read on.
Things aren’t meant to be this complicated, and they weren’t for the first two million years of human existence. Living as wild animals roaming the savanna, cave people were free to mate as other animals do. They probably didn’t put much thought into it. If a cave-guy saw a cute cave-girl he’d nudge his buddy, say, “Man, I really like the hairy boobs on that one.” and his buddy would say, “Yeah, butt I love the hairy ass on her friend.” and then they’d drag them to their cave for some really hairy sex. Babies would result, end of story.
There were a lot fewer people in the world back then, and they were more spread out. If you were lucky enough to run into a member of the opposite gender that wasn’t family, you probably hooked up.
(Honestly, you probably hooked up with family a lot too. Wanna see something neat? Go to the biggest online erotica site, Literotica, and check out their most popular stories ever. Almost all the top ones are about incest. Evidently, women secretly love fantasizing about it.)
But living in big communities necessarily means that the process is more complicated. We have to worry about competition, and not mating with other people’s partners, and caring about people’s feelings, when we have to live in productive harmony with them in the future.
We also have more choice. This potentially allows us to come across better matches, but it’s also a huge challenge. Science has shown that when faced with too many choices, humans have difficulty making decisions. The greatest anxiety comes about because there’s so much pressure to make the Best Choice. Ideally, we don’t like more than two choices at a time, so how hard is it when we live in a city of ten million to choose just one for a partner? Really hard. We’ll hesitate from making a commitment, boys and girls alike.
Even when we’ve made a decision, the urban environment provides a constant plethora of choices not yet taken, always at hand, always tempting, often leaving us with regrets or avenues to cheat. So we’ve had to adapt and create culture and systems to cope. But these coping mechanisms have obscured the natural mechanics of what’s going on, leaving us in ignorance about the simple ‘birds and the bees’.
It’s no longer about just boy meets girl and produces mini versions. We’ve turned the basic necessity mating into something very complicated and, in turn, it’s become much more emotional and confusing than it naturally is. When it comes to mating, we dress everything up, call it Love, invent Romance, write poetry, compose music, bestow meaning on everything, and create elaborate rituals.
Combine the following challenges we have in our youth that are already challenges we must work with:
- Emotional turbulence due to still developing biology
- High sex drive
- Ignorance about ourselves
- Ignorance about the other gender
- Ignorance about relationships
- Over-abundance of choice and the pressure to make the right decision
- Pressure of competition
Now add to that the confusion caused by cultural constructs; all the ways in which we actively make the process of mating more complicated and difficult, thereby increasing our confusion and stress and making finding love harder.
- Social norms
- Forced innocence
- Poor sex education
- Arbitrarily determined age of adulthood
- ‘Hollywood’ and ‘romance novel’ style fantasies which teach unrealistic things about relationships
It’s no wonder we’re so stressed. We’ve created an abundance of cultural rules that confuse the issue terribly. In fact, people growing up in this system have lost touch with the natural act of mating and what’s really going on. Culture can make falling in love with the best person, and making it work, extra challenging.
We don’t want to repeat a cycle of meet the wrong person then have a messy breakup, with its melodramatic ups and downs. We want something more successful. So where does that leave us? We’re lost. What do we do about it?
- We work hard on becoming better people. Attack our own ignorance and focus on building strengths and developing values. It’s pointless in trying to make a long-term match with someone if we’re still a blank slate. We need to get on the road to becoming who we want to be before we’re even ready to become a partner.
- We take careful study as we go through relationships, honestly analyzing ourselves as much as our partners. This requires a lot of communication in order to develop understanding.
- We turn to those with experience in order to benefit from their wisdom. No need to re-invent the wheel. Hence, essays like this one.
- We go to science. Biology and psychology are filled with useful information about what we’re going through. Studying that will help us understand what’s going on behind our feelings and actions. They all have rational explanations that we can understand, which gives us the tools we need to become better people and make better decisions.
Besides the pressure of making a choice, the other major cause of anxiety is Ignorance. The more we know, the less stressful our love life becomes.
Don’t fear that the science and biology of mating will take the fun or romance out of Love. The more we know about life, the better we can celebrate it.
What should we study? Here’s a list to start with:
- Evolutionary biology
- Evolutionary psychology
- Self Esteem
- Social, Economic and Sexual Capital
- Sexual Selection
- Cheating (biology)
- Competition vs Cooperation
- Gender differences (We are VERY different. We have different goals, different methods, different operating parameters. We cannot judge the opposite gender by our own perspective, we must learn to understand them from their own, and accept this difference.)
- Mate choice
- Interpersonal attraction
Wikipedia is a great place to start for any of those.
I love Love. It can inspire noble acts and create noble people in its name. It can inspire and motivate us to become better people. It adds so much hope and suspense to our lives, gives us things to live and fight for.
Because of culture, the mating game may have become more complicated than ‘wack girl on head, take girl to cave’, but it can also more fun to play now. And not just because girls are less hairy, although that’s definitely a huge bonus.
Finding Love feels hard because we’re not only dealing with natural challenges, but man-made ones too. But if we learn about them, we can turn them to our advantage. Modern society gives us so many choices it can lock our brains up and prevent us from choosing properly. But knowing that means we can focus on learning how to narrow our choices to the best ones. Modern cultural constructs confuse us, put social barriers in our way and increase our ignorance. But modern society can also be a fun playground to experience far more people and romantic relationships than we ever could as cave people. When we understand how culture works, we can better navigate through it, and improve it.
By understanding the underlying causes of our emotions and experiences, we can enjoy the game of love much more than when we’re ignorant. We’re not going to have fun playing a game when we don’t know any of the rules or the mechanics of it and we constantly feel like we’re losing. We’re going to have fun when we do understand these things and we feel like we have a chance to win.
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