|Artwork by Joseph Lorusso|
“I do hope we stay together for ever”, she said to him, “but you know we might not”.
As they had only just met while sitting at adjacent tables in the coffee shop,
the likelihood of them lasting was pretty slim.
I give them a week. Tops.
Let’s look at love and marriage in the cold light of statistics: nearly half of all UK marriages end in divorce. Relationships are difficult, even intelligent, confident people who go into them with their eyes open and the best intentions end up in situations which leave them powerless, heartbroken, asking themselves what went wrong. Again.
Science knows very little about love. A key insight is that love has three distinct modes or phases: attraction, lust and attachment. Humans are messy, the attraction, lust and attachment phases get blended together. Every loving relationship can be seen as a unique combination of these three modes. They form a ground on top of which the cultural and individual variants of love are built. This is the simple but rather melancholy observation that, when you knock away thousands of years of ritual, poetry, myth and song, love is just another neurobiological process, like sweating.
Long-term relationships are problematic for modern humans because we aren’t built for them. We’ve evolved to successfully procreate, not to enjoy deathless romance. During our long hunter-gatherer existence, life expectancy is thought to have been about 30 years. This means that, assuming we coupled off as teenagers, for the great majority of our species’ history, at least half of all relationships would have ended within 15 years. Today, the median length of a marriage is 11 years, which fits surprisingly well with our human ancestors’ 15 years. As we live ever longer, it seems that we are condemned to outlast the possibilities of love.
So, the next time you end up fighting over who gets to keep the Homeland DVD box set, blame human evolution.
With grateful thanks
to great chunks from an article in the
guardian weekend 09.02.13.