Why We Love: The Nature and Future of Romantic Love

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A groundbreaking exploration of our most complex and mysterious emotion

Elation, mood swings, sleeplessness, and obsession—these are the tell-tale signs of someone in the throes of romantic passion. In this revealing new book, renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher explains why this experience—which cuts across time, geography, and gender—is a force as powerful as the need for food or sleep.

Why We Love begins by presenting the results of a ...

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Overview

A groundbreaking exploration of our most complex and mysterious emotion

Elation, mood swings, sleeplessness, and obsession—these are the tell-tale signs of someone in the throes of romantic passion. In this revealing new book, renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher explains why this experience—which cuts across time, geography, and gender—is a force as powerful as the need for food or sleep.

Why We Love begins by presenting the results of a scientific study in which Fisher scanned the brains of people who had just fallen madly in love. She proves, at last, what researchers had only suspected: when you fall in love, primordial areas of the brain “light up” with increased blood flow, creating romantic passion. Fisher uses this new research to show exactly what you experience when you fall in love, why you choose one person rather than another, and how romantic love affects your sex drive and your feelings of attachment to a partner. She argues that all animals feel romantic attraction, that love at first sight comes out of nature, and that human romance evolved for crucial reasons of survival. Lastly, she offers concrete suggestions on how to control this ancient passion, and she optimistically explores the future of romantic love in our chaotic modern world.

Provocative, enlightening, and persuasive, Why We Love offers radical new answers to the age-old question of what love is and thus provides invaluable new insights into keeping love alive.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Written in a deceptively simple manner, in language that is over nobody's head, Why We Love mixes her new research with prior scientific findings to build a thesis with startling ramifications. If, as Fisher states, 90 percent of prairie voles stick with one mate for life because they're good dopamine producers and have a sprig of DNA that enhances loyalty, and if norepinephrine automatically floods the brain of a ewe who's on the prowl every time she sees a slide of a ram's face, and those same chemicals burble through the human brain in love, will people one day be able to modify and medicate passions we once regarded as ungovernable? Will not only lust but love be buttressed, cured or even created with a prescription? — Liesl Schillinger
The Washington Post
Anthropologist Helen Fisher's Why We Love is another highly ambitious attempt to decipher what love is, why we go about loving the way that we do, why we suffer and why, so often, our spurned or frustrated feelings turn to hate. Through a rich combination of psychology, neuroscience, literary readings and cross-cultural and cross-species comparisons, Fisher seeks to define and understand love right down to the molecular level of the brain chemicals that produce it. This is an original and uniquely contemporary approach to a sensation that, for millennia, has been considered purely emotional -- "the pulsing rush of Longing" for Homer, "a deity stronger than I" for Dante, "an involuntary passion" for George Washington, "that furious storm" for Walt Whitman. And it makes for often fascinating reading. — Judith Warner
Publishers Weekly
Anthropologist Fisher argues that much of our romantic behavior is hard-wired in this provocative examination of love. Her case is bolstered by behavioral research into the effects of two crucial chemicals, norepinephrine and dopamine, and by surveys she conducted across broad populations. When we fall in love, she says, our brains create dramatic surges of energy that fuel such feelings as passion, obsessiveness, joy and jealousy. Fisher devotes a fascinating and substantial chapter to the appearance of romance and love among non-human animals, and composes careful theories about early humans in love. One of her many surprising conclusions suggests that, since "four-year birth intervals were the regular pattern of birth spacing during our long human prehistory," our modern brains still deal with relationships in serially monogamous terms of about four years. Indeed, Fisher gathered data from around the world showing that divorce was most prevalent in the fourth year of marriage, when a couple had a single dependent child. Fisher also reports on the behaviors that lead to successful lifelong partnerships and offers, based on what she's observed, numerous tips on staying in love. And though she's certain that chemicals are at love's heart, Fisher never loses her sense of the emotion's power or poetry. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805069136
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/4/2004
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.62 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Fisher, Ph.D., is one of this country’s most prominent anthropologists. Prior to becoming a research professor at Rutgers University, she was a research associate at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History. Fisher has conducted extensive research on the evolution, expression, and science of love, and her two most recent books, The First Sex and The Anatomy of Love, were New York Times Notable Books. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

From Why We Love:

All of our basic drives are exceedingly difficult to control. It is impossible to sublimate or redirect thirst or hunger. It is difficult to quell the maternal instinct. And it is very tough to control one’s persistent craving for a sweetheart. We need food. We need water. We need salt. We need warmth. And the lover needs the beloved. Plato had it right over two thousand years ago. The God of Love “lives in a state of need.” Romantic love is a need; it is a fundamental human drive.

The drive to love has produced some of humankind’s most compelling operas, plays, and novels, our most touching poems and haunting melodies, the world’s finest sculptures and paintings, and our most colorful festivals, myths, and legends. Love has adorned the world and brought many of us tremendous joy. But this passion is fickle. When love is scorned, it can cause excruciating sorrow. Romantic rejection, crimes of passion, and high divorce and adultery rates are prevalent in societies around the world.

Romantic love is one of the most intense of all human experiences; blissful when it is requited; devastating when it is spurned. I think it is time for a serious attempt to answer Shakespeare’s question: “What ‘tis to love?”

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Table of Contents

To the Reader
1 "What Wild Ecstasy": Being in Love 1
2 Animal Magnetism: Love among the Animals 26
3 Chemistry of Love: Scanning the Brain "in Love" 51
4 Web of Love: Lust, Romance, and Attachment 77
5 "That First Fine Careless Rapture": Who We Choose 99
6 Why We Love: The Evolution of Romantic Love 126
7 Lost Love: Rejection, Despair, and Rage 153
8 Taking Control of Passion: Making Romance Last 181
9 "The Madness of the Gods": The Triumph of Love 209
Appendix 220
Notes 237
Bibliography 257
Acknowledgments 287
Index 289
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