A post by Blue on high dating standards puts forth the question of selectivity in the area of relationships. Compatibility, interests, religion and goals are mentioned as important criteria for partner selection and congeniality; as well as increasing the probability of building an acceptable mutual future. On a more recent post, Blue mentions the phenomena pertaining to when people fall in love with the wrong person. Both these subject matters are related.
The function of mate selection in the human species has established neurobiological substrates which in turn have genetic determinants. These neurobiological factors have a direct expression through neuroanatomic brain structures and neurotransmitter physiology. At its most basic expression we find the physical characteristics that attract us in the opposite sex, characteristics that indicate from a primal stance those qualities that would make a specific person a good partner with whom to have offspring. We are hardwired to seek indicators of strength and health and avoid possible weaknesses or illness. Much of our sex drive is motivated by the conditioned response the species has to specific physical attributes in the opposite sex.
Apart from the basic but incredible complex biological function of sexual arousal (desire to mate), there is a powerful emotional component that comes into play when attraction between two individuals is established. A primary and usually initial component is characterized by the overwhelming desire to be in the presence of the other individual, to feel acknowledged and reciprocated by them, as well as to have exclusivity. This is an ideal time to establish initial sexual contact as receptiveness to pleasure is primed and favors mutual satisfaction. Past this stage, multiple exposures to sexual stimuli of repeated nature will cause the interest to wane.
At almost the same time a different emotional component will start to develop as the two individuals develop a sense of trust and safety in the other. This emotional trust fosters a feeling of well being and diminished stress levels when in company of the individual. Predictability is an important element for the sustained growth of trust, which will make possible the establishment of accepted exclusivity. Coercive exclusivity cannot be trusted.
It is usually in the context of the mentioned primal responses that people “fall in love”, “fall in love with the wrong person”, are “unfaithful”, or take unsustainable decisions.
Next, we find a more complex and hard to describe aspect of human relationships; the one concerning complex cognitive functions (“what” and “how” we think) which has to do with the way in which reality is interpreted, how the individual interacts with his cultural environment and how problems are understood and solved. It is important to point out that by reality we mean the whole of the situational conditions in which the individual is immersed, independently of the subjectivity pertinent to the human experience. If X-person has to deal with an inner reality conditioned by very real and intense emotions for Y-person, this will have a definite influence in which X-person interprets personal, social and biographical circumstances.
These are the ways of love.
In addition to all this we must consider the importance of social and cultural aspects that are learnt as the individual matures in a given society. These cultural aspects have the purpose of promoting the establishment of functional couples in society and stress the desirability of traits such as beauty, intelligence, wealth acquisition capacity, dependability and productivity. These characteristics are important to foster and protect offspring and hence their importance. Factually, it has been the female of the species that has dealt with procuring protection for the precious offspring while males are intent on attempting to mate with as many females as possible. On a side note, it is not as rare as could be believed for women to have a child with a man who has certain desirable physical characteristics but to establish a long term protective relationship with a more dependable man in order to raise the child.
Being “choosy” is therefore the result of a complex series of elements that interact in order to produce the best possible result of sustained survival and prosperity.
These concepts have been amply studied and described by proponents of the gene-centered view of evolution, which I have heard about on Discovery.
So, are we all polygamous by nature? Are men hopelessly hooked on porn because their frontal lobes can’t correct primal functions that are incapable of differentiating between a woman and an image on a computer screen? Is marital fidelity conditioned by dopaminergic curves? Is the desire to have different sexual partners conditioned by neurobiological dictates that seek the greatest genetic variety in order to ensure survival of the species? Why don’t they teach this in school?