Romance plays out in innumerable different ways. There is no “right” way to fall in love or to proceed with a relationship. Some people have many different partners. Some marriages are arranged. Some people are workaholics who find love an inconvenience or distraction, and some prioritize finding love above all other parts of life. Regardless of these individual differences, though, romantic love is truly universal.
Love Around the World
There is a reason that poets and philosophers have been devoted to love since time immemorial. In every culture, in every time, love has been a universal truth. The Kama Sutra was written in India sometime between the first and sixth century AD. Star-crossed lovers in ancient Japan sometimes chose shin ju, or double suicide, when forced to marry other partners. The troubadours of 11th to 13th century France wrote ballads dedicated to the pleasure and pain of falling in love.
Love is no less real in the jaded modern world. In surveys conducted across 168 vastly different cultures around the globe, researchers found evidence of romantic love in a stunning 87%, while they forgot to ask about romance in the remaining 13% of cultures. Clearly, love is here to stay.
Despite propaganda to the contrary, gay men and lesbians report falling in love, as well as falling in love at first sight, just as frequently as heterosexual people. They equally desire a committed relationship, and show exactly the same brain activity when gazing at photos of their beloved. There is absolutely no scientific difference between people who identify as gay or straight when it comes to romantic love, beyond the gender of the beloved.
The Animal Kingdom
Interestingly, romantic love is not only a human experience. Many animal species also show behaviors that demonstrate romantic love. Lions, giraffes, and foxes show extended periods of tenderness toward each other. Elephants cuddle for hours. Higher primates such as chimpanzees and baboons form lasting pair bonds that endure even outside of the female estrus cycle.
Animals sometimes even fall in love with another species. A home-raised American gorilla showed distinct signs of infatuation and lovesickness for different human males over a period of time. A moose in Vermont fell in love with a cow, trailing her everywhere for a stunning 76 days before giving up the chase.
Across the animal kingdom, research repeatedly shows that mating is not random. All animals have their favorites and refuse to consider others, even among species that do not form lasting pair bonds.
Romantic love has been the stuff of poetry and ballads since time began. Across cultures and time periods, across different ways of mating and relating, and even across the animal kingdom, romantic love is a universal trait. Regardless of who you are, your position in society, or your family’s expectations, the heart truly wants what it wants, and you may be driven to extremes in your quest to obtain it.
Looking for verifiable information on the science of attraction and relationships? We’re a neuroscientist and a biological anthropologist eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your own life.
Written by: Lisa FritscherNEXT