The Science of Love and Betrayal, By Robin Dunbar
Beauty is in the mind of the beholder
Sunday 08 April 2012
In the first throes of love, it is easy to forget that one's perfect partner is often an illusion. As the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar suggests in his instructive study: "No one individual will be perfect on every single dimension." It is a salutary warning for those who have decided to hold out for Mr or Ms Right. Dunbar drives his point home: "We do not operate in an ideal world, we operate in a market." In choosing a mate, we are constantly in competition and unconsciously make compromises. As we age, our choices diminish and we are forced to settle for second, third or even fourth best.
As well as looking at the science of attraction – what happens in our brains when we fall in love – Dunbar offers an engaging analysis of the differences between the sexes in their choice of life partners. He argues that younger, fertile women are often the ones in the driving seat, suggesting that their choice of partner comes down to "cues of gene quality" such as facial symmetry and masculinity. At the same time, women want someone who will help to care and provide for their offspring. These desires, however, are often in conflict.
Dunbar gives reasons for the rise in internet dating, which, despite the success stories, can end in heartache or worse. The euphoria of meeting someone online feels safe, as with the unquestioned acceptance of religious love: "You can invent the perfect partner. Your dreams can never be contradicted by the intrusion of brute reality. The Beloved is tailor-made for you ... There is no blemish of character or form, because you can construct the Beloved to mirror precisely the traits you long to have in the perfect partner." In religious love, you are unlikely to be betrayed. In virtual reality, you can be seduced and scammed by strangers adopting a persona.
Dunbar covers familiar ground, such as our inclination towards partners who resemble our parents, and how passion tends to wane three years into a relationship, but he always offers a refreshing take. One interesting observation is that on beginning a new relationship, we often drop two of our most intimate friends – the intensity of feeling divides our time and attention.
The Science of Love and Betrayal is an empowering read. Only by better understanding why we act in certain ways or what is prompting a particular emotion can we make the necessary choices to improve our love lives.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'