How Romance And Reason Became Frenemies

Romance and reason are becoming estranged bedfellows (too bad—they were a cute couple). Does love’s logic now add up? Or is love like “happiness,” a low-resolution word (unhelpful in seeing key distinctions). Food for thought on love’s unrequited logic...

Does love’s logic add up? Like “happiness,” love is becoming a low-resolution word (blurry, unfocused). Some food for thought on love’s unrequited logic:

1. "Love is a kind of war” wrote Ovid. Can one of its opposites illuminate love? Stephen Pinker’s book on war and violence provides “Better Models of Our Nature.” His ideas on the complicated couplings between our biological drives and our behaviors, apply also to love.

2. In love, do we fall for Freud’s "hydraulic" error? Hunger is hydraulic: Its pressure builds, requiring regular relief. The logic of fighting can’t work that way—it’s evolutionarily adaptive only if used strategically. Is love more like food, or fighting?

3. In mating models, are we too tempted by the evo-irresistible error? Is our evolutionary fate to constantly fight conflicting impulses? The mechanics of non-hydraulic drives require self-command, an evolved (culturally configurable) capacity humans have always had.

4. All our drives play out on an ever-social stage, shaped by norms, rules, and cued “scripts.” Our hydraulic food habits are heavily culturally scripted. As is love’s relationship to sex ( = very variable).

5. We absorb our culture’s, often tacit, rules, norms, and scripts for love. And pop-culture makers (psychologists all) have superseded novelists (Stalin’s “soul engineers”) and poets (Shelley’s “unacknowledged legislators”) in both describing and patterning our behaviors. For example a Dylan song taught one listener “about heartbreak before [he’d] suffered any.” [Aside—film/video’s visual patterns trump language, going directly to System 1).

6. Grappling with love’s logic, Socrates called it the fourth form of “divine madness.” Greeks gripped by passions imagined themselves possessed by gods, but ideally sought “the perfect combination of human self-control and divine madness.” Reason’s role is self-command, precisely to guide our drives towards long-term goals (vs short-term pleasures).

7. Short-and long-term “love” now seem easily divorced. Scientists hook up them up separately to wobbly evolutionary stories. Maybe today’s plain old biology is enough, and here food analogies help. Could junk love be like junk food? Is sex love’s sugar? Sweet but never free? Never a complete diet?

8. We can’t choose to have a short-term relationship with doughnuts. Their long-term effects come whatever we decide (biochemical karma). Likewise, perhaps there’s no such thing as casual sex: All sex is causal—it always causes biochemical changes. Divorcing pleasure from what it unavoidably causes, causes food woes. As might the biochemical bondage sex likely evolved to tie us up in.

9. Perhaps it’s a misconception that two generations of contraception can override 10,000 generations of biochemistry. Though we can, and do, ignore biology’s signals (e.g. ignoring biochemical satiety = widespread obesity).

10. The logic of unshort love requires loyalty (“love is not love which alters when it” easier alternatives finds). We once were connoisseurs of commitment (our self-deficient survival required it). Today’s norms/scripts can counter commitment, encouraging co-omit-ment, we jointly omit to commit (uncool to ask = a form of don’t ask don’t tell dating).

Romance and reason are becoming estranged bedfellows. Too bad—they were a cute couple.


Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions 



LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less