An Evolutionary Insight Into Human Love

Richard Burton refers to his sister as that green-eyed, black hair gypsy beauty whom he adored as a child. Later in his life, he said “I saw her in another woman and I realized I had been searching for her my whole life.” Richard Burton didn’t realize that he looked like a masculine version of his beloved Elizabeth Taylor, a woman with an uncanny resemblance to his sister. In the new book Furious Love about Taylor and Burton’s romance, the authors, Kashner and Schoenberger, state that Richard Burton, Mike Todd, and Senator Warner all bore a strong resemblance to one another. (p403)  They are aware that Taylor had a type; what they failed to observe was how the men for whom she had most passion also had features that resembled her own. But the evidence is not just anecdotal. We’ve documented how various scientific disciplines buttress the theory of similar features; here, evolutionary anthropology offers insights into our romantic proclivities and preferences.

Darwin was among the first to seek to understand the evolution of human mating behavior and his theory offers a compelling and brilliant explanation for how and under what circumstances species have developed. The propagation of the homo sapien relied on a couple of crucial advantages, among them natural selection (to preserve and pass on positive mutations) and adaptation (designed to ensure habitat suitability). Since sexual reproduction is the method by which genes are passed into future generations, mating was and remains of significant concern to evolutionary biologists. Darwin’s focus on sexual selection and reproductive advantage gives us powerful clues into mate seeking even when love and desire are the primary coupling motivations. We humans are constantly host to a wide array of impulses, some innate and others socially constructed, but there are certain evolutionary phenomena, which, if better understood, might help us in our current quest for successful partnerships. Dr. O’Neil, Professor in the Behavioral Sciences Department of Palomar College, states that “the most common non-random mating pattern among humans is one in which individuals mate with others who are like themselves phenotypically.”

Men are more visual and often seek attractiveness (as it connotes health and fertility), but in a particular face, usually a prettier version of  themselves but a facial feature match. Women are also drawn to their facematch but often someone stronger and better resourced (connoting protection). Since, there are not a lot of candidates who have similar features, we find evolutionary sense in the fact that we are innately drawn to only a limited number in our lifetimes. Imagine the mayhem and conflict that would ensue if many men were drawn to the exact same woman. I don’t mean celebrity fetishizing, I am mean truly drawn to someone. The narrow pool of prospective partners helps ensure civility and, hence, greater opportunities for procreation and longevity. It also promotes greater diversity insofar as not everyone seeks the same type. Once partnerships are established, the nesting desire sets in and that promotes families, communities and civilizations.

Richard Burton & ELizabeth Taylor, Cecilia Burton (Richard’s sister) & Taylor, Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Hillary Swank & James Campisi

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