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Anatomy of Love: The Mysteries of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray
This is a work on evolutionary psychology, or in other words, hoping
to understand human nature through understanding animal nature.
Unfortunately, this line of thought tends to be more accurate than
we're comfortable admitting.
Fisher offers some very interesting ideas - and some bitter-yet-healing
medicine for incurable romantics who tend to sigh and muse that
most "love" has absolutely nothing in common with, say,
two dogs in an alley. Yet if you are looking for anything more than
that, there is nothing here that will solve any real relationship
problems or lead one to love and
"We're all animals."
That idea - that we humans are, at core, basically critters, the same as dogs, cats, goats, sheep, armadillos and yaks - may not be the most flattering thought in the universe . . . but then again, as uncomfortable as it might be to admit, it's not too easy to completely dismiss, either.
Though endorsed by Deborah Tannen as "a thought-provoking new theory of the evolution and future of human pair-bonding . . ." Fisher - despite the hugely misleading title - is not writing a self-help book on love, relationships, or how to make relationships work. Rather, Fisher is in the camp of "evolutionary psychology," and has written this book to share the basic ideas that have come out of this field.
First of all, every young, starry-eyed teenager, just before making that perilous journey through puberty, should read this book. Why? So they are made fully, fully aware that the "love" that they are all about to fall so hard into . . . well, it isn't exactly what it seems to be. Yes, it seems to be a cosmic, magical, deeply spiritual force that is unique to them in all the universe - where seemingly the hand of God Almighty is leading them Personally into a fascinating obsession with the opposite sex.
Nope. Sorry. It's just hormones.
This solid grounding in reality that Fisher offers - guaranteed to pop at least a few of the phony-romantic bubbles that so easily float through existence - is worth the price of the book, and the time of reading it.
But what if you're not the starry-eyed teenager? What if - say, as the title tries to dupe you into buying, you're really trying to understand "love", or why we marry, mate, and stray?
Well, better use that frontal cortex to think twice.
A core premise of evolutionary psychology is that we have evolved, and our animal heritage explains a great deal of psychological makeup. In other words, we have more in common with animals that we'd typically like to admit. This area, over the past several years, has been growing in popularity.
In The Anatomy of Love, she uses the findings
of this field to cover such topics as courting, infatuation, monogamy,
adultery, divorce and the "Four-Year Itch" . . . and draws
her conclusions from a keen analysis of chimpanzees, spiders, baboons,
mud turtles, possums, and drunk teenagers. At least, unlike most
university types, she does leave campus every once in a while.
We LiveReal Agents were drawn to the book by it's
provocative-yet-hugely-overstated title (a real "anatomy"
of love? breaking this mystery of "love" down into it's
fundamental elements, it's underlying structure, and making some
sense of all the madness surrounding this chaotic area of life?
Who could resist?) . . . After all, the idea seemed so compelling,
the subjects covered so important, we were compelled to check it
out . . . like a male wolf spider hunting for his mate . . .
"We are all animals."
True enough, especially if you hang out much in public, or in frat houses, or watch more than a few minutes of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos . . . yes, it's often extremely hard to tell exactly where the chimpanzees end and where "human dignity" begins.
The drawback of this idea, of course, is how people typically interpret it: because we have a great deal in common with animals - which we undeniably do - we therefore have an excuse to act like them . . . and even use them as role models.
For example, (something this particular LiveReal Editor has heard from many females) - many folks hear some version of this story:
"My boyfriend cheated on me. When I asked him why, he said "I'm a male - I'm supposed to be this way. I'm built this way. Guys are built to be polygamous. That's the way it is in nature - males are polygamous; females are monogamous. It's hard-wired."
He had probably been reading some Helen Fisher.
Of course, Helen can't be held completely responsible for all the ways her message is abused. Yet, this is exactly where many individuals - being the cunning and socially-ambitious folks that they are - use evolutionary biology, and other work such as Fisher's, only to rationalize their behavior and to argue others into excusing it.
Of course, the opposing argument to this line of thought is that . . . yes, we may be animals to a degree, but we are supposed to rise above our "animal nature," not to use animals as a model for how we are supposed to live. Using animals as role models is getting it ass-backwards. Even if it's true that most of us act like animals, that is not all we need to be.
But then again, that raises more questions (why are we here? than Helen probably wanted to delve into.
(For example: If we are all programmed by nature, for example, to be gold-diggers . . . does nature have our best interest at heart . . . or hers? Or is - as the widely respected biologist Richard Dawkins suggests - nature merely using us for her own purposes, as gene-machines? Or . . . is Nature . . . The Matrix?)
Fisher raises many other interesting (and more down-to-earth, so to speak) questions as well (is monogamy "natural"?), draws on an extensive range of information, and provides a great deal of material for some interesting intellectual discussions (although . . . this is still the type of "intellectual discussion" that is pretty much taboo to toss into cocktail party conversations. Comparing a cousin's courtship behavior to, say, a zebra monkey, may get a few laughs, but is more likely to make everyone around you grip their napkins with an uncomfortable embarrassment ("am I like a zebra monkey?").and shuffle off to the bathroom. If we are nothing but animals - despite all the copies of Girls Gone Wild that have sold - we definitely seem to have a hard time admitting it.)
While The Anatomy of Love probably won't solve any
relationship problems, help a marriage, or help prevent a divorce
(although it might give you a new way to explain the behavior of
your ex - i.e., "He/she is such a pig - and now I have proof"
- still, get a copy for anybody, young or old, who has a tendency
to think too highly of "love." If anybody has a tendency
to glamorize and romanticize the calls of their hormones, it's good
to remind them that sometimes it's just nature calling.
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