Falling in love is tricky. It’s even harder to find the right partner. Avoid big mistakes, toxic relationships and heartbreak by learning more about your brain.
If you’re sensible, you probably select your romantic partners based on love, looks, character, and compatibility, but you might be surprised to learn that you also unconsciously choose for a few other reasons that would be important to know about.
Mate selection is as old as our species, and quite honestly not much has changed. Our ancestors picked viable partners for survival and procreation purposes, and while we would all like to think that we have evolved beyond those primitive instincts, we are still picking our short or long term partners for some of the same reasons.
Before the onset of technology, there was something called flirting. Remember that concept? You would see someone across the room, have a moment of connection and send a whole slew of signals that could easily be interpreted as interest. But what is it that pulls you toward that one potential mate as opposed to all the others in the room (or on your current dating website)?
If you ask anyone they would say that the most important part of selecting a partner is chemistry. People have to feel attracted to the person before they’ll even consider them as a viable option.
I recently attended a relationship conference where I heard a keynote presentation by Helen Fisher, Ph.D. Dr. Fisher is a Biological Anthropologist who has spent an enormous amount of time studying pair bonding and the human relationship as it relates to love and desire.
She describes romantic love as the most powerful brain system, and her research has shown that it’s not any different than our pre-wired fear system. Not surprisingly, romantic love is universal, It’s not gender specific (although men fall in love faster), and it’s actually considered to be a physical drive just like the one that tells you to eat.
Dr. Fisher presented her research based findings on why we pair bond. Turns out that 97% of mammals don’t pair up at all, so this idea of choosing a life partner is very unique to the human species. Originally our ancestors partnered up because survival and raising children would be nearly impossible alone, but we now know that this primitive form of partnership has evolved into much more with greater demands on each partner’s role, and the level of needs that have to get met.
While our conscious reasons for choosing that special someone have evolved along with the modern day purposes for a life partner, there is still this unconscious and very evolutionary selection process happening beneath the surface, and it’s based on three motivations.
MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) refers to a particular set of genes you inherit in your immune system, your body’s chemical defense system against intruding aliens. Each of us inherits our own version of this complex set of genes. According to Dr. Fisher, we are regularly attracted to individuals who have a different genetic profile to ensure bearing more varied young and co-parent with a wider array of parenting skills. We do this through the sense of smell, so we can literally sniff out the partner that is most likely to be the most different genetically. In other words, this is a way to prevent inbreeding, and it also insures that your children will be healthy and have strong immune systems.
One of the main reasons you choose a partner is because you are designed to have children whether you want them or not. While you can shut down your conscious desire to produce offspring, the system in place that pulls you toward a partner that will give your children the best genetic advantage and chance of survival is an instinctual process that is still at play. When you find yourself attracted to someone there’s a part of your evolutionary system that is focusing on build, body type, facial shape and ability to either provide (hunt/gather) or nurture (caregiving). Something to consider when you find yourself attracted to a particular type that may not actually be the best fit.
Some of the most interesting work Dr. Fisher has done involves understanding the brain chemistry behind romantic love. There are certain parts of the brain and particular Neurochemicals that get triggered when you feel attracted to someone, and ultimately fall in love. The Neurochemical Dopamine, which is part of the reward system in your brain triggers the sex drive and the wanting system that pulls you toward a lover and ultimately into a relationship as the reward transitions into bonding and attachment. This system of brain chemistry evolved for the survival of our species, and it still kicks in today regardless of your longer term intention or how you ultimately feel about the person.
While these factoids on your love life may not be too romantic, it’s always helpful to understand what’s going on beneath the surface so you can be more in control of your behavior, emotions and decisions when it comes to finding a suitable partner.
Too many of us end up in the wrong relationship with someone that appeared to be right only to realize that what you saw in them didn’t turn out to be what you got.
Dr. Andra Brosh May 19th, 2016