The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

The True Love’s Kiss Series: “Love sucks”

So stereotypical, right?

So stereotypical, right?

In the eloquent words of our amazing and genius editor (she told us we have to call her that… or else), “love sucks.” We’ve all heard it and felt it- but why? In my second post of the True Love’s Kiss series, I’ll be delving into the really shitty aspects of love and emotions, and what my Godless take on it is.

EVOLUTION! As any regular readers will quickly learn, I’ll look to evolution for complicated answers faster than a Christian can say “God works in mysterious ways.”

Most of what we think about when we feel like love sucks is the pain we feel when it’s not returned, or the absolute hell we often put ourselves through for our love interests. And there’s a pretty good reason we feel like this. You’ll need some background first, so just bear with me.

The easiest way for me to think about this is to follow our ancestral history from around the time we split from chimpanzees up through the present. It’s pretty well established that we went separate ways at least 6 million years ago, so let’s start there.

As Dr. Bernard Chapais (anthropology, University of Montreal) discusses in his book Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society, the ancestor that we both came from must have had a mating structure that could lead to both the modern chimpanzee system and the modern human system. The ancestors that started down the path to chimpanzees were more successful with males that competed intensely for mating rights in groups of sexually promiscuous males and females, while our predecessors fared much better with something closer to monogamy, allowing for greater parental devotion. And what better way to promote teamwork than forming a physiological and psychological bond as partners?

If we fast-forward to the point in time where the genus Homo is already bipedal and developing a big brain, we’ll see the logic of the dramatic shift in sexual practice. It was at this point, around two million years ago, that our ancestors’ brains grew at an astonishing rate- about 10,000 neurons per generation (at 1 million neurons per mL, an increase of 1000 mL, and 100,000 20 year generations), as the benefits of the intellect required to navigate complex social systems far outweighed the detriments of losing our physical defenses like large canines and muscle mass; we only have access to so much energy, and it was better devoted to mental prowess.

Think for a moment about other species’ babies, like foals than can gallop alongside their mother within a day. Then think about our babies, weak little helpless worm-things that can’t even hold up their own head for months. What gives? Modern humans have brains the consume about 20% of the calories we take in, and babies’ brains can gobble up to 60% while they soak up information like a sponge. This is necessary to survive in a system where social navigation is the key to success, but obviously it comes at a price: the parents (and often immediate family) must dedicate immeasurable energy and resources to keep the infant alive until it becomes less wormy and more humany.

But Katie, you ask, what the hell does this have to do with love? I’m getting there, I promise.

Our ancestors didn’t have government-sponsored help for single mothers, or daycare centers. Fathers were all but required to invest more and more in their offspring as babies became increasingly helpless (or “altricial”). If they didn’t, their offspring were much less likely to reach reproductive age. Both males and females were much more successful if they stuck together to care for their worm-things, and experiencing a strong bond encouraged that behavior. For the sake of the genes, we started falling in love.

And leaving love sucks. It makes sense. We’re chemically addicted to love, and the pain of losing it (or never having it reciprocated in the first place) is akin to withdrawal. It’s why we do stupid things for our partner and make bad choices and ignore our friends telling us what a douchebag we’re dating; we’re high on oxytocin.

It can be a beautiful thing, my most favorite feeling, but its devastation is ruthless. There’s not much you can do about it, but maybe understanding why it happens can be comforting; it is for me.


About khuddlestonsmith

I'm a Mizzou student majoring in Biology and Psychology, minoring in Anthropology, and earning an Honors College degree.

5 comments on “The True Love’s Kiss Series: “Love sucks”

  1. rocketkirchner
    June 22, 2013

    nothing wrong with a little speculation . but this take makes about as much sense as the christian one . for both are speculation . neither view can be proven to be absolute . it is one womens view. Love is a very very complex subject better left to poets to express rather than theorys to be expounded upon . the importance of this article is that at least SHASHA’s blog is branching out into the very hard questions of life instead of just assuming certain things. and for this i see it as a good thing …for answers are these easy part , its questions that rasie the doubts. good job Kate.

    • khuddlestonsmith
      June 23, 2013

      I appreciate your compliments, thank you! However, I must disagree with your assertion that this makes as much sense as the Christian idea of love, because my anthropological speculations have hard scientific fact behind them.

      • rocketkirchner
        June 23, 2013

        kate , thank you for your reply . acutally i have thought much about your article since i replied . i know christians that are happily in love, and it has lasted…so that may be some hard data. even though i am a christian practioner , the whole notion of the romantic side of it is a bit of white noise to me . i just dont get it . but i see it in others , no matter what they believe. ….so i leave it up to the poets to express it in an aesthetic manner. i am willing to accept absurdity if it works for the well being of people . just one man;s view.

      • khuddlestonsmith
        June 23, 2013

        Oh, I absolutely agree that Christians can be in love, I hope I didn’t appear to be saying otherwise. What I disagree with is the idea that there’s a “God’s match for you” out there, nor do I see any validity in religious ideas about what love is. Many of these ideas are very restricting and oppressive, and often harmful. In the article I was trying to focus on the scientific reasoning for biologically why we love.

  2. rocketkirchner
    June 24, 2013

    kate , yes ..the oppression of my fellow christians to each other about love –romantic is everywhere. i get where you are coming from . and i alwyas appreciate you being the loyal opposition . i am with you half way on this one . the half way part is the oppression and illusion of love . where i disagree is that i dont think that reducing love to a biological imperative is absolute. it is an important view , but absolute ? i remain as skeptical of that as the emotionalism and fairy tale nonsense of romantic love. and as far as family values , well it just aint in the new testament . the writers that wrote about jesus show him to seek to widen the family unit where abuse exists to the communal universal family of humanity of unconditional acceptence of all and shall i say the word ?–love .

    as far as the topic of LOVE , please allow me to state as a christian that i see love as” action ”. what do i mean by this ? simply that to be a real christian one must follow jesus . the jesus model is to feed the poor , love ones enemies , be against war , the death penalty , visit prisoners , etc.. to me that is love . now you may agree with me but you may say that it is an evolutionary chemical bio thing . that is your paradigm . i think it is an subjective inspirational thing that transcends pure reason in the Kantian sense of his critique of pure reason .

    either way — we christians and athiests can light on and agree is if we are humanitarian , we must act and make this world a better place to live for others , escpecially those on the margins of society . this is where i choose to spend my time . romantic love is white noise to me . now , sex ..well …that is more concrete , and that is pure chemistry . that i believe in . ..hahaha !

    BTW — why arent more people replying to these great article on this blog . i think Facebook is stealing away good debates , dont you ?

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