As a species, we have a unique ability for loving. We love and care for our partners, our children and grandchildren, and sometimes even people that aren’t related to us. We live longer than most species, eventually enduring menopause which gives us quite uncommon situations, where nature is concerned, and a special relationship with our grandchildren.
Sexually, we’re mostly, a monogamous species, which is a rare situation amongst the majority of the animals, and even other monogamous ones seem to have sex with different partners, as some recent DNA studies had shown. However, for our species, this goes further than sex and providing for children, as we have the complicated social, institutional and legal parts of our system and society, accounting for this.
The “ideal” situation changes regularly, depending on the time and culture of each population. It can go from a lifetime of being faithful, to a complete and total freedom. Objectively, none of them is perfect, one partner might become boring and multiple partners might lead to jealousy and problems eventually.
Monogamy and parenthood
Regardless of the sexual arrangement, the link between sex and love is deeply “ingrained and widespread in human culture” (Gopnik, 2016), but pair-bonding is extremely correlated with “paternal investment”. Our babies are very fragile and “needy” and not that long ago child mortality was a big issue amongst our species.
Humankind didn’t need much time to realize that due the specific characteristics of our babies it was better to have fewer children and more resources for each one. Cooperation between men and women (even with different roles) would give our infants better chances of survival. This might explain our monogamous tendency.
An overwhelming love
Romantic love is known for being almost hallucinogenic, being said to alter your consciousness, making you perceive the person you love as far more perfect than they actually are. Same happens with babies. You can’t hear your newborn crying and stand indifferent to them unless you’re terribly ill.
Many of our babies’ characteristics help us love them irrationally. They are small and cute and somehow, we want to protect them. But our nature went further than that and made sure oxytocin had something to do with it.
During labor, women are flooded with oxytocin, a very important neurotransmitter that leads us to a caring behavior towards the newborn, and this act of caring will refill our oxytocin levels. It’s a cycle. Of course we’re never really this simple and our brain, our genes, and experiences will interfere with this cycle, but generally speaking, this is how it works.
“Children are the purest example of specific long-term commitments and attachments.” (Gopnik, 2016) And to deal with that, nature made us love them more than ourselves.
GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.