- Julia Brown
- BBC News Brasil, Sao Paulo
In Western societies, love is often presented as a cliché of two halves coming together to feel complete. This story is often reproduced in literature, film, and television, but can be very harmful when brought to light in reality.
So thinks anthropologist Anna Machin, who has devoted nearly 20 years of her career to studying different ways of love.
According to the researcher from the University of Oxford, UK, overestimating romantic love – which exists between two partners or manifests itself in the emotional attraction to another person – can make us forget the importance of other types of love.
“We don’t need romantic love in our lives,” the academic says. “There are many other forms of love that can satisfy our needs.”
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“In many countries, romantic love is the most important source of love, and this discourse is often repeated in movies and on social media. But this is not the truth, and unfortunately, many people spend a lot of time and energy looking for a romantic partner and end up neglecting types of relationships. other”.
In February of this year, Machin published Why We Love: The New Science Behind Our Closest Relationships, in which he discusses the many reasons why humans love them. The affection between two partners is only one, but there is also love between friends, and between parents and children and even love of the sacred.
According to her, an overemphasis on romantic love can also create the misconception that everyone needs a romantic partner or a superstitious relationship, leading to disappointments.
He said, “Romantic love can bring great times, that’s right. But there are also hard times and there are people who won’t find someone who has that experience or even wants to live.”
“We’ll do children and young adults a great service if we start to get more realistic about what romantic love really is, because we need to reset the space it occupies in our lives.”
In his book, Machin defines romantic love as a social construct. According to her, until the middle of the 18th century, humans only cultivated what scientists call reproductive love.
“We began to call it romantic love only when, around the eighteenth century, poets decided to romanticize it and the ideas of romantic love we know today began to take shape in literature.” The expert explains.
Moreover, the picture built around romance also varies greatly depending on the culture. “Fifty years ago in China, the concept of finding a soul mate was completely unknown. Today, young people talk about romantic love and know more about it, because they have been exposed to other films and documents produced in the Western world,” explains the anthropologist.
“Romantic love is a cultural construct. It’s not based on science, it’s just a story we made up about what reproductive love should look like.”
Population studies show that romantic love is already losing, to some extent, its importance in our lives. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the number of people living alone is expected to rise by more than 10 million in the country by 2039. Moreover, around one in six Britons still believe in the idea that there is a “one good person”.
“There is a growing recognition that romantic love actually shouldn’t be the end goal of our lives,” says Machin. According to the anthropologist, this development is mainly due to women, who feel more free to live their lives without a partner at their side.
“Changes in politics, in society, and in our understanding of what love is or what constitutes a family, are slowly changing the way we view and value romantic love.”
At the same time, many people have opened up to other forms of romantic relationships. “Polygamy and other types of non-monogamous relationships gained momentum. Likewise, the arrogant, that is, those who would not experience any form of romantic love, felt at home.
why do we love
Anna Machin in her book devotes ten chapters to revealing the many answers to a question that has been raised so many times in our society.
“There is no single answer to this question and it all depends on the context we are analyzing,” explains the anthropologist. “The amazing thing about human love is that it can address very different people and beings: we can love our friends, our family, our children, our lovers. But we can also love God, our pets, and even celebrities we don’t know.”
According to the researcher, the purpose of love at its most basic level is survival and a guarantee of development. Humans need to pass on their genes, while mothers need a support network to raise their children.
“But beyond that, love is also an addiction, supported by a group of neurochemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and beta-endorphins, that make us want to be with the person we love,” says Machin.
There are also social and personal components that determine the reasons for our love. We don’t all experience love the same way and we don’t all want to achieve it for the same reasons. Where we were born, how we were raised, and even genetics can influence our choices.
“Love is generally said to be an emotion, but it is actually something more complex than that,” says the Oxford researcher, who used genetic, brain imaging and neurochemical analyzes, as well as in-depth interviews, to develop his thesis.
Honesty and tenderness or suffering?
According to Anna Machin, the social context in which we grow up and live as adults has a huge impact on how we feel and show love.
The anthropologist explains in his book that our relationship with love can change depending on the relationships we observe around us and that we take as an example for ourselves. Culture can have a huge impact in this area.
“Where we are born also affects our definition of love and even the words we usually associate with it,” she says.
The expert cites as an example a study published in 2016 in the academic journal Psychology in Russia among people from Central Africa, Brazil and Russia. While Brazilian respondents often used the word honesty to describe love and associated this feeling with morality and family, the terms most cited by Russians were suffering, confidence, and self-sacrifice.
On the other hand, the people of Central Africa use the word “tenderness” to talk about love – for them, this feeling is closely connected with the spiritual side.
“Studies also show that the body language that appears when we’re in love or when we show our love is culturally specific,” says Machin.
But unfortunately, it is impossible to know exactly how other people live love. “You’ll never know how I feel about love, just like I’ll never know how you feel when you’re in love,” says the expert.
For this very reason, the means most used by researchers to study the topic are brain and chemistry tests, as well as interviews and observing body language.
“We analyze some objective points to get a vague idea of the other person’s love experience. People’s brain activity, for example, can be different depending on the intensity of feelings, as well as the neurochemistry of the body,” explains Mr. Machin.
What is the effect of genetics?
Although the scientific community has already delved into this topic, the impact of genetics on the way we feel and show our love is probably new to many.
According to Anna Machin, the genes studied in her research are linked to neurochemicals that promote love.
“These are called receptor genes – neurochemicals in the brain bind to these receptors and cause feelings or trigger behavior,” the anthropologist explains. “The amount, location, and ability of receptors to contact chemicals influence how humans experience love.”
“Suppose a person has too many oxytocin receptors in their brain – they will feel a much stronger feeling of feeling loved than someone with fewer.”
In her book, the expert explains that genes can make some people more empathetic and affectionate physically or even more attached to their loved ones.
Anna Machin insists that we can only love or have romantic relationships of any kind when there is a relationship between two beings.
“We cannot love things, only people, animals or other religious entities. Some people may have psychological disturbances in which they say they like something, but in these cases there is no neurochemical release or any kind of brain evidence that they are in love. Explains the anthropologist.
Likewise, self-love is incompatible with the definition of love used by science. “Love is a reciprocal or a two-way relationship and you can’t have such a thing with yourself.”
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