Safe in Your Mouth
What Does Love Mean?
When the satisfaction or security of another person becomes as significant to one as one's own, then a state of love exists.
- Harry Stack Sullivan
The five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch
- Dr Gary Chapman
A group of professionals posed the question, "What does love mean?" to a group of 4 - 8 year-olds. The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone had expected.
Source: Internet spammed email
Why Do We Fall in Love?
by Mary Batten
What accounts for that love-at-first-sight attraction?
Love as an intense psychological state could have served an adaptive purpose in our ancestral past, ensuring that male and female mated, conceived, and stayed together in a harsh environment long enough to care for weak and dependent offspring. The environmental context in which love may be evolved has long since disappeared but the feelings and longings have been programmed in our genes. The contemporary emphasis on romantic love may represent a degeneration of what was once adaptive behaviour into a futile craving for flowery words and empty phrases. The feeling that we call love may be a kind of emotional appendix, a vestige of a former time.
Source: geocities.com Excerpted from Sexual Strategies © 1992 Mary Batten
Doctor of Love
by Jake MacDonald
Anthropologist Helen Fisher argues that romance, marriage and divorce follow predictable patterns as old as the species. The evidence is as near as your local bar.
It's raining in New York, and in the cavernous gloom of Penn Station, thousands of travellers pour down the hallways, the rustle of their feet and the echo of the train announcements combining into a kind of rapid-heartbeat rhythm that might be more exciting if weren't such a cold and drizzly winter morning. The fluorescent ceiling exudes an olive glow that makes everyone look like they died two hours ago, and when the blonde woman seated by herself in the departure lounge looks up and sees a man looking at her, she sends him a hard, wary glance that says, step forward if you're who I think you are; otherwise, get lost.
"Dr Fisher, I presume?"
Helen Fisher stands up and extends a small hand toward me. She's a trim 56-year-old with shoulder-length blonde hair, dressed in the head-to-toe black ensemble of the seasoned New Yorker. Her manner is courteous but guarded, and she walks quickly as she hefts her bag and heads for the train. She's a hard one to track down, this Helen Fisher. She has a policy of not answering her phone when she's writing a book, which is most of the time, and when she's not writing, she travels. She's just returned, for example, from Africa, where she spent a week living incommunicado with a clan of Stone Age hunters. Catching up with her feels like apprehending a fugitive.
During the hour-long train ride to New Jersey, where she teaches anthropology at Rutgers University, Fisher sits by herself, intently making notes and prepping for her first lecture of the new term. I sit a few rows back and look out the window. This part of New Jersey is all tank farms and swamp, and in the grey light of dawn it looks like some gigantic hillbilly's junk-strewn hayfield; a futuristic and extraordinarily brutal landscape that can't help but inspire unoptimistic thoughts about the human species. It's an appropriate backdrop for this journey however, because the human species is Dr Fisher's specialty.
When Fisher graduated with a PhD in physical anthropology, very few scientists were conducting research into modern human behaviour, or trying to separate innate behaviour from what is learned. Even less research material was available on human courtship. There was broad consensus that patterns of flirting, dating, sex and marriage were culturally determined, and therefore varied wildly from one country to the next.
For reasons of her own, Fisher didn't buy it. She launched her own investigation and, over the course of her career, assembled a remarkable body of evidence that human beings seek romance, select mates, marry, cheat on each other, and even get divorced in predictable patterns that are as old as the human species itself. More interestingly, she has determined that we all tend to behave in knee-jerk fashion when we're in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex. Put an eligible man and woman within 10 feet of each other, and they'll immediately launch into rote display behaviour that's invariably comic to watch, if you're schooled in recognising it, which most of us aren't.
Fisher's work has earned her a reputation that is both formidable and controversial, and she now teaches at Rutgers University, which has the most prestigious anthropology department in the world. The office across from hers belongs to Lionel Tiger, and the guy down the hall is the top fossil hunter alive. After she checks into her office and deals with a few minor emergencies, we make our way to her first class, where the room is already filling up with hundreds of students. By the time she clears her throat and starts the lecture, it's jammed to the rafters.
"I think I'm just beginning to get a reputation," she told me earlier. "I suspect some of these students might be here because they've heard about me."
Helen Fisher has dedicated her life to exploring and defining the innate qualities of the human species. Being a woman, and one who has lived through the final days of an old millennium and the dawn of a new one, she's particularly drawn to the inborn aspects of romance and sexuality. As she paces the stage, she begins to loosen up. With her hand propped on her hip, she throws a few one-liners at the crowd, and asks them if they have any idea why human males have such large penises. Nobody wants to touch that one. But when she tells them that a mature silverback gorilla has only two inches, a couple of big football players in the back row glance at each other, appalled.
Fisher's central message starts with the now-familiar notion that men and women are very different; not different because they've been raised that way by a callous and patriarchal society, but because four million years of evolution have saddled them with very different nervous systems, temperaments and brains. She says men, for example, are inherently much more aggressive than women, and this innate aggressiveness is one of the reasons men tend to dominate the worlds of business and politics. She says that furthermore, despite their protestations, women prefer such dominant males as sex partners and long-term mates. These views haven't endeared her to traditional feminists.
"The traditional feminists hate me," says Fisher, walking back to her office, "even though I'm a feminist myself. I've made a successful career in the male-dominated world of anthropology, and I've written books like The First Sex, in which I argue that women possess unique talents that will soon change the world. But traditional feminists don't read my books. They're too angry to step outside their paradigm. They think my ideas are harmful. They think I'm betraying the cause. But my cause is science. My job is to get at the facts."
When it comes to human behaviour, the "facts" continue to be in dispute. Back in 17th-century England, the philosopher John Locke famously described the mind of a child as a "tabula rasa," or blank tablet, upon which any imaginable life could be written. Then Charles Darwin came along in the 19th century, published the brilliant The Origin of Species, and turned Locke on his head. Darwin's theory of natural selection put most of the emphasis on nature, and that view prevailed until the 20th century, when his ideas were hijacked by the eugenicists and the Nazis, who argued that natural selection proved the white race was inherently superior. With the close of the Second World War, "social Darwinism" was discredited and thrown on the scrap heap, and by the time Helen Fisher was growing up in the Connecticut of the 1950s, she says, "virtually every social scientist worth his salt had gone back to believing that the dominant force that shaped us was culture."
She lived in New Canaan, in a neighbourhood of glass houses, and in the evening, her neighbours' homes glowed like tropical aquariums in the darkness. She remembers sneaking through the wooded backyards. "One of our neighbours lived in a Philip Johnson house," she says. "And I remember being a little girl, perhaps six years old, sitting on this rock in the woods, and studying the people, watching how they talked and laughed and argued and prepared their meals." Later, as a college student, riding the train into New York City, she found herself doing the same thing, staring into the windows of the homes at trackside. "It's still one of my habits," she says. "My friends are always saying, 'Earth to Helen, Earth to Helen ...' I've always been fascinated by people."
During the late '60s, she studied at the University of Colorado. The Vietnam War was at its height and American society was in turmoil. Feminism, gay rights, free love and black power were tearing up the streets. On campus, the prevailing doctrine was that all human beings were virtually interchangeable. Social equality could be achieved through proper training and re-education. Boys and girls would grow up alike if you took away the Barbie dolls and the G I Joes.
"I've never been a confrontational person," she says. "So I never debated these ideas in class. But I happen to be an identical twin. My sister, Lorna, and I laugh alike. Our gestures are similar. We like the same kinds of foods. Our older brother and sister grew up in the same household as us, but they don't share our uncanny similarities. So I knew there was biology in behaviour, but I didn't argue the point. I just quietly decided they were wrong."
She majored in psychology, but wasn't keen on the material. "In those days," she says, "everyone was very interested in psychosis and abnormal behaviour. But I was interested in what made people the same, not what made them different. A big discovery for me was reading Jane Goodall's book In the Shadow of Man. She was talking about chimpanzees, and you could clearly see that these creatures kissed and hugged, made friends, were jealous, had enemies, made war, made peace, jockeyed for political position. And as I read this book, I suddenly saw that here was a field of study that could explain both our physical origins and the origins of our behaviour."
At the time, it was generally believed that dating, flirtation, romance and courtship among humans were cultural constructs, and that marriage patterns varied wildly from one society to another. A big insight came in 1988, when Fisher was riding in a crowded New York subway car, reading divorce statistics. "These were UN statistics from 62 countries, going back to 1947," she says. "Incredibly, the statistics seemed to show that divorce peaks around the four-year mark." She kept rechecking the tables to see if she'd made a mistake. But whether the statistics were from Third World countries or highly developed Western nations, the pattern was the same.
"I was staggered," she says. "I couldn't believe there was a pattern, let alone a consistent one. Nobody had ever bothered to analyse this. To me, it clearly suggested that divorce might not be a cultural malaise, but an aspect of our inherited mating behaviour."
She looked at "pair bonds" in the animal world, and discovered that in many cases animals only stay together until the young are raised. "In humans, the period of infancy is about four years. Of course, it takes a while for the relationship to heat up, and it takes a while for things to cool down. But the average time required to raise a child past infancy is four years." Her investigation of divorce patterns led her into wide-ranging research of mating traditions in both the human and animal worlds, and over the next four years, the research grew into a book, Anatomy of Love. In that book, she examined the ancient drives that draw men and women together, weld them into a couple and, perhaps eventually, tear them apart. "Some readers were alarmed by that book," she says. "But I was not advocating infidelity, adultery or divorce, or trying to trivialise them. I was just explaining why they're facts of life."
Some couples, of course, survive the four-year crisis. What's the cement that holds them together? Is it friendship, dependency, sexual heat? Most of us assume these are all aspects of that complicated force called "love." But Fisher's research indicates that lust, infatuation and long-term attachment are distinct drives. Sometimes they're even incompatible drives. Lust, for example, is often celebrated in pop music as just a rougher, friskier version of romantic love. But Fisher says that's a mistake. "Lust is not love. Lust is driven by brain chemistry, plain and simple. Lust is the desire for sexual gratification, no more. But it's a dangerous game, sleeping with someone just for the sake of sex, because your levels of oxytocin and vasopressin will go way up, and you'd better be ready for the consequences. These powerful chemicals produce feelings of attachment, and you can become emotionally involved with someone who's quite inappropriate."
Romantic love, or infatuation, is associated with a different barrage of chemicals. Romantic love produces dopamine, which generates obsessive feelings about the sexual partner. From an evolutionary point of view, this natural addiction ensures that both parties will stick together and do the hard slogging if a pregnancy occurs. Infatuation is also characterised by persistent "intrusive thinking" about the loved one. "People who are infatuated testify that they're thinking about their lover at least 90% of the time," she says. "Dopamine produces feelings of elation and excitement, along with decreased serotonin, which causes anxious, obsessive thinking. One minute you're up, the next you're down. It's no wonder that people in love feel so messed up."
As we ride the train back to New York, Fisher seems more relaxed than she was this morning. She's relieved that her first day of class has gone well. "I don't have a combative temperament," she admits. "And I don't do well when people attack me in large-group situations. But I've taught myself to be calm, and stick to the facts, and not take it personally. When I was less experienced, I'd immediately feel like doing the girl thing, which is to run off and cry."
She explains that it's "the girl thing" because the male and female brain have dramatically different physiological responses to emotional stress. When you put a man in an MRI machine and ask him to think of something sad, a small part of his brain will light up. Ask a woman the same question and the response will be about eight times greater. The well-known tendency of men to "stonewall" is therefore not macho stubbornness, but brain physiology.
"Let's not forget that the human brain has been evolving for four million years," Fisher says. "For most of that time, it's been important for men to compartmentalise their feelings. If a hunter has to cut a gazelle's throat, empathising with the gazelle is actually counter-productive."
She says evolution favoured the man who could ignore discomfort, fear, danger, weariness, pity, et cetera, and focus on the task at hand. Hunting was a linear undertaking, with a pass-fail outcome. Women, on the other hand, evolved as "web thinkers." Everything was relative to everything else. The successful primordial woman was the one who could fetch the wood, feed the fire, separate the squabbling children, cook the meal and nurse the baby all at the same time.
She says we may not still be hunter-gatherers, but numerous lab experiments have shown women are still much better at multi-tasking than men. "Because women do not think in linear, step-by-step fashion as men do, men often regard them as less rational and less precise. This can cause real problems in the workplace, where women will discuss all kinds of variables and permutations of an issue. Men tend to regard this as dithering. Men 'hunt' for the goal, and they don't want to dwell on the process. But for a woman, sometimes just discussing a problem is the solution."
Fisher is working on a new book about the brain chemistry of romantic love, and says the laboratory results are so remarkable that she can't talk about them.
"I'm sworn to secrecy," she confides. All she can say is, she's been conducting experiments with colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, using volunteers who claim to be romantically infatuated. The subjects lie inside an MRI machine, and she monitors changes in their brain activity as they think about their lovers.
"We know a lot about the brain chemistry of lust, but we don't know much about infatuation. We know that lovers are literally intoxicated by romance, but the feeling fades. Why does it fade? I think it's possible the brain's nerve endings become habituated to high levels of natural stimulants, or the levels of chemical begin to drop. Either way, it takes from 18 months to three years for the feelings to subside. For some relationships, that's the beginning of the end. That's where all the sad songs and the poems leave off - at the end of love. But speaking as a woman, not a scientist, I don't regard infatuation as real love. I think that real love requires commitment and long-term effort. Infatuation is a free ride."
She says couples who survive the death of infatuation are those who can make the transition into what she calls attachment. "This is the warm, secure feeling associated with a comfortable relationship," she says. "As infatuation subsides and attachment grows, a new group of chemicals takes over. Unlike dopamine, which makes us all revved up and anxious, these calm us down. When two people are happily attached, they feel a sense of peace and security. This is the kind of relationship, I think, that most people are hoping for. I've had both, and I've found that even the most mundane long-term relationship is more satisfying than the wildest short-term affair. Long-term relationships allow for personal autonomy, trust and a real feeling of partnership. The challenge, of course, is in finding someone to share your life with."
Manhattan has a population of more than 65,000 people per square mile, the highest density in North America. As the city's mythmakers persistently contend, it's the world's premiere gathering place for the rich and beautiful, the best and brightest. You'd think it wouldn't be much trouble finding a mate in such a target-rich environment, but New York also has a remarkably low population of live-in couples. The average household has 1.6 occupants - and that includes many neighbourhoods with large immigrant families. Most New Yorkers live alone.
In the search for a partner, they go to such places as Scopa, a fashionable singles bar on East 28th. It's as good a place as any to try to meet someone, and tonight, Helen Fisher and I are going on a safari to study the humans. I pick her up at her home, a classy old Upper East Side condo building just across from Central Park, and we ride downtown to the singles bar, which on this Thursday night is as crowded as a waterhole on the Serengeti. The semi-gloom is filled with chatter and loud music.
"Singles bars are designed to facilitate sexual encounters," Fisher says. "I'm not sure the designers are conscious of this, but a good singles bar has a direct influence on the human brain. The brain has three basic parts: the cortex, which is the higher brain; the limbic brain, which is the seat of emotion; and the 'reptilian core', where a lot of our basic drives come from. A good singles bar has loud, rhythmic music, which allows you to lean in close, and smell someone's hair and skin. The loud, hypnotic beat of the music also depresses rational thinking and gets you down into your lower brain."
It's like a house party, with lots of milling around. The currency of exchange at a singles bar is personal space. "The idea is to meet people," she says. "But there are strict rules about approaching someone. Most people aren't conscious of the rules, but they instinctively know them anyway." She says women tend to do most of the roaming around. "That way, they can select who they want to interact with. A man will talk to any good-looking woman, but women are fussier. They're looking for a man of confidence, achievement, trustworthiness - qualities that may not be immediately obvious."
Fisher says two scientists named Tim Perper and David Givens spent several hundred hours in cocktail lounges, watching men and women flirt. Their research confirmed that, most of the time, women make the initial contact. This is true with other species, such as prairie chickens. Fisher says that in the springtime, male prairie chickens gather at a dancing ground, or "lek," where they bust a few moves and wait for the females to arrive. The females are in charge of selecting partners. The males dance on their spots, hooting and displaying their feathers, while the hens circulate, looking them over.
"Humans observe similar rules," Fisher says. "The male human has to look both impressive and non-threatening. If he inflicts his presence on a woman, he'll probably be regarded as a nuisance. So, often, it's better for him to just stand there. It's difficult to stand in one place and attract attention, so he'll use exaggerated gestures. He'll puff out his chest, roll his shoulders, and generally embellish his movements. Watch that young man over there, for example. Do you see his exaggerated body language?"
She nods toward a tall, young businessman who's standing by the bar. He's talking with a couple of buddies and holding a martini in his hand, which he's mixing with a lot of forearm action, as if stirring a can of paint. By studying his face, you can see he's keeping an eye on the buxom blonde who's standing about 10 steps away. Mister Big, as we, inevitably, name him, is nodding slightly in synch with the music, and laughing a little louder than necessary. When he lights a cigarette, he does it with real flourish, using a vehement gesture to shake out the match.
"He's claiming a large physical space for himself, advertising his self-confidence and status," she says. "If the blonde woman finds him attractive, she'll signal her interest with a glance. We have to watch for the glance. The glance is important. It's the first stage of the pickup."
In the 1960s, a German ethnologist named Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt travelled the world taking photographs of men and women flirting with each other. He used a camera lens that shot sideways, making it seem as though he was taking photographs of heritage buildings or waterfalls. He examined the many hundreds of photographs back at the Max Planck Institute of Behavioral Psychology in Munich, and discovered that, whether the subjects lived in France, Japan, or the Brazilian rain forest, they adhered to universal facial expressions and gestures - the woman first smiling at her admirer, lifting her eyelids in a swift jerky motion like an expression of surprise, then lowering her eyelids and looking away. "There are numerous studies demonstrating that these gestures are part of our innate behaviour," Fisher says. "They evolved over millions of years as a means of communicating sexual interest."
Five or six years ago, when cellular telephones were still a prestigious fashion accoutrement, Mister Big might have tried catching the blonde's eye by off-handedly checking the messages on a walnut-paneled Nokia. In the early 1990s, a British researcher conducted a study of "lekking behavior" in singles bars, and determined that when an attractive woman walked into the bar, the men would grab their cellphones, make a call or two, or just fondle the phones and hope she noticed. The amount of cellphone display behaviour was proportional to the perceived attractiveness of the female. The women carried cellphones, too, but tended to keep theirs in their purses.
Our view of Mister Big's campaign to catch the blonde's attention is momentarily obscured by another group, this one composed of three young people - a calm, intellectual-looking brunette with a boyish haircut, pretty blouse and a red leather skirt, and on either side of her, two young men in plaid shirts and khakis who look like they work on the creative side. The two men are bobbing to the music and chattering away, but she is gazing straight ahead. "She's an interesting one," Fisher remarks. "She appears to be buttoned-down and demure, but the red leather skirt adds a sexy touch. Watch her toes when the men are talking to her."
When the fellow on her right leans close and says something, raising his voice to be heard over the music, her toes twitch together. When the other fellow leans in and speaks to her, her toes twitch apart. "That's a perfect example of body talk," Fisher says. "She's unaware that she's doing it, but her toes are saying that she's interested in the man on the right. When he speaks, she goes slightly pigeon-toed, in a gesture of awkwardness. You can observe that sort of behaviour all through the animal world. The female will feign defenselessness in order to show she's available." As the two men take turns speaking, her toes go back and forth like dowsing wands. Meanwhile, her face is pensive and she's staring straight, taking an occasional sip from her beer. A few minutes ago, an onlooker might have guessed she was bored. But her feet suggest another explanation. Perhaps she's thinking, I wish this guy would give us some privacy.
A moment later, we catch a glimpse of Mister Big, and miraculously, the Blonde has moved over to join him. They're conversing face to face, laughing and preening. "They're involved in grooming talk," Fisher says. "Right now, it's not so much a matter of what they're saying, as how they're saying it. As soon as people open their mouths, they reveal all kinds of things about themselves - background, education, even aspects of character. These two are measuring each other for compatibility. If they like what they hear, they might move on to the next stage."
The next stage is initiated when a woman, with a seemingly casual gesture, touches a man on the arm or shoulder. This is an indication that she likes what she sees, and if he reciprocates, with a similar touch, they graduate to what Fisher calls "body synchrony" - nodding their heads in time, lifting their drinks in synch, and generally mirroring each other's behaviour. Fisher says couples that get to the stage of synchronous movement are usually quite taken with each other, and may move on to the next stage, the kiss.
In real life, however, it's rarely that easy. After 15 minutes of conversation, the Blonde courteously withdraws and returns to her friends. Mister Big looks deflated. During the interview, something must have gone wrong. Did he tell the wrong joke? Did he mention his three rambunctious kids? It's hard to know, but the mating dance can go wrong in many ways, and usually does. It's a long, hazard-strewn path from the initial glance of interest to the long-term relationship. After joining his buddies for a while, Mister Big finally puts on his trenchcoat and goes home alone.
Helen Fisher was married once, when she was 23. The marriage lasted six months. Throughout her life, she has had a series of "wonderful" long-term relationships, but she still lives alone. As we ride home in the taxi, she confides that she's seeing an older man right now. They go to off-Broadway plays, take long walks in the park. He reads poetry to her, and he's a wonderful lover. But he goes away a lot, on business trips to Europe, and she worries he's not being faithful. It's frankly a bit of a mess. "I'm okay with being a girlfriend rather than a wife," she says, choosing her words carefully. "But I would like to be the only girlfriend."
In the canyon walls overhead, thousands of tiny lights glitter in the darkness. Each one hints of lives we'll never lead, people we'll never know. It feels like a long life, sometimes, but less so when most of it is behind us. And one person's life is a mere eye-blink when compared to the long span of human evolution.
"There's a common perception that human beings are very different now than we were 10 or 20 thousand years ago. But we're not," she says. "The human brain is no different. The wiring hasn't changed. It's like a piano. We're playing different music on it, but it's still the same instrument. Sometimes, people ask me if I'm trying to demystify romance. I ask them, if you learn more about, say, musical theory, does that prevent you from being carried away by the beauty of a Chopin concerto?"
At a traffic light near The Plaza, she pauses in conversation for a moment and gazes at a happy-looking, well-dressed couple walking hand-in-hand toward their waiting limousine. Earth to Helen. She's still the six-year-old, trying to figure out the neighbours. "The mystery never goes away," she finally says. "It just deepens. Look at me. I've devoted my whole life to this. I'm supposed to be the world expert on love, and I still haven't learned how to do that - to fall in love and make it last."
Source: nationalpost.com Saturday Post 2 March 2002
More on Dr Fisher's work can be found in the article "Don't Call It Love, Call It Chemistry" on the previous page in this section.
Long-term, stable relationships contain four defining features:
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