Valentine’s Day was inspired by the pagan holiday Lupercalia. This celebration of fertility would occur in the middle of February. During the holiday, men would strip naked and sacrifice a goats and dogs. Young men would take strips of the hide from the sacrificed animals and whip young women to promote fertility. For those new to the holiday, most of us have since replaced animal sacrifice & whipping with mushy poems, candy hearts and flowers.
Many of us have partners that we love and are looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day in new ways with them now that sacrifice and whipping are firmly in history’s rear view mirror. We know that we love our partner but why do we love them? Why do we even love at all? In the words of Haddaway, what is love? I am usually more inquisitive about who we choose to love but today’s question is why exactly do we love at all? Why did we evolve the innate desire to create such a deep bond with another person? Why is the pain of heartbreak so great when things don’t work out?
Romantic love is a commitment device to motivate us to pair bond. That is pretty clear. Physical attraction is enough to get us to fornicate but how does nature get us to stick around and form long term bonds. A male must extend tremendous resources to provide for a family group while the female is generally immobilized for at least a few months of her pregnancy. Assuming she survives childbirth, the next few years of caring for a child together are not easy even for modern couples. Think about our ancestors before modern medicine and the sheer loss of life related for mothers and young children. Families would have half a dozen children just to increase the odds of one or two of them few making it into their thirties.
The vast majority of us are wired to seek long term partnership even in a time when life is much more survivable. The emotional benefits of a healthy pair bonded couple are great. Some of us seek monogamous relationships, some seek polyamorous relationships. Some seek partners from our same gender and others seek partners with a different gender. This equips some partnerships for procreation and some partnerships are incompatible for mating due to their gender mix. Regardless of compatibility for procreation, we are hard wired to experience love. Romantic love is comprised of three parts.
Love as Attachment
Romantic love is an attachment process, a biological process by which affectional bonds are formed between adult lovers. These bonds mirror the affectional bonds established earlier in life between a child and their parent. This attachment builds a level of responsibility for depending on someone. This type of love builds security which many women crave over genetic compatibility. Just the other night my friend Megan was talking about her Tinder date and said “He is short, but he drives a Tesla.” Now you don’t know Megan and she doesn’t read this blog but Megan in that moment accepted a compromise of a man’s display of wealth over his genetic characteristics. I don’t mean to imply that Megan is a gold digger, she isn’t. Megan unwittingly accepts that she is wired to believe that material possessions such as houses and cars imply a greater sense of security if a relationship is to be negotiated with this particular Tinder date. To a great extent, she isn’t wrong. A man who can provide for a family will be able to pay for college for her unborn and medical bills if she was to get sick which really leads us to the next type of love.
Love as Caregiving
Who will wipe my butt when I am old? This is something my mother said to me many times. Age has many adverse effects and we all must come to terms with the fact that we often do not age gracefully. Our bodies break and we need the care of others to make it through our day. Knowing a partner will help us through injury and illness is important. This is enforced with the obligation and responsibility of attachment based love. Caregiving for a partner can be emotionally draining if it is not reciprocal. Many of us are givers by nature and often gain more benefit by giving than the recipient does from the gift or service that was received. When a husband or wife begins to require care due to the effects of aging, the dynamics of their relationship will inevitably change. The pair bond matures and the couple adapts to their new conditions. Some partners thrive in a caregiving situation and others become drained and depressed. Love can still thrive if the caregiving partner can find ways to maintain other social connections despite the change in the role of the relationship.
Love as Sex
Sex is fun. Sex builds the bonds and creates an environment of intimacy and vulnerability. A sexual connection is one of the most important parts of most romantic relationships. Sex happens for many reasons aside from the obvious. Many couples enjoy the act of pleasing their partner. Bodies change as they age and regular sex helps to cement the couple’s emotional bond. Research shows that a couple who experiences regular sex has better communication, openness and commitment than couples who do not. Is this a result of regular sex or is regular sex a result of the above. The whole causation, correlation dilemma. I like to think that it might be a little of both.
What About Infidelity?
What happens when one of the partners strays? When she seeks physical intimacy elsewhere, what does this do to the “love as sex” part of the relationship. How does that bleed into the caregiving and attachment types of love? Infidelity is like morality in that it is defined by each couple. Many couples choose to include a third in their bedroom. This may be a woman who desires the touch of another man to bring the butterflies back and quite literally reignite the chemistry in her body as her sex drive dwindles. This may be a man who desires the touch of another woman to boost his sexual confidence or self image. Infidelity is rarely about love.
When a couple decides to pursue a sexual bond with another, it devalues physical touch in that it is no longer exclusive to their love-bond. Partners can subconsciously withhold parts of themselves once they know that physical intimacy is no longer exclusive. This is probably a defensive mechanism and is subconscious so it takes a heightened sense of self awareness to address properly. Another downside of a separate sexual relationship is a reallocation of resources. When a man pursues another woman, he will allocate resources to someone other than his primary partner. This resource may be money, gifts or even his time and attention. This is why an emotional affair is so much more hurtful than one that is purely physical.
Love is a wonderful thing and I believe that having a primary partner and soulmate is not only important but essential to my happiness and sense of well being. I trust my partner with my heart and I believe that my partner always has my best interest in mind with the decisions that he makes. I cannot say this about my parents, siblings or even my best friends. This is of course why betrayal by one’s partner hits so hard. As a resolution for the upcoming pagan holiday, make a commitment to not betray your partner. Communicate with him or her and be the best partner that you can. Happy St. Valentine’s Day everyone!