The Seven-Year Itch: Musings on the nature of love


 

What is love? Is it the greatest force known to man? Or is it simply a neurochemical con job? Either way, love is arguably the most dominant theme in popular culture: theatre productions, movies, books, music- it is clear to even the most cynical of cynics that love truly does make the world go round.

Contrary to what the title may suggest, this article is not about dermatological irritations. The ‘Seven Year Itch’ refers to a psychological theory put forth by Professor Helen Fisher, which suggests that (due to biological predispositions) the romantic passion within a marriage almost certainly declines before a couple’s seventh anniversary (Maestripieri).

Hopeless romantics, avert your eyes: the following ideas will, undoubtedly, disturb and dishearten you. Biologists have fortified the aforesaid psychological theory by observing and exploring mating patterns and behaviours among primates (Bernard Chapais). They discovered that primates display similar ‘itch’ tendencies, after a breeding and bonding period of four years- as soon as their offspring becomes more independent, and less prone to attack by predators. After this period of adorable kinship and illusive security, the male leaves his female partner, and proceeds to distribute his DNA to other younger (and, in his eyes, more attractive) individuals. So essentially, primates are genetically predisposed to be ‘players’…

While certain optimists will find themselves vehemently protesting against this notion, and arguing that true love does exist (just ask Bradd and Angelina! Oh, wait…) science proves that romantic love is centred on physical attraction. Research into the neurochemistry of love proves that there are three main stages to ‘falling in love’, which are initiated by the first stage: venereal desire. This directly corresponds with our evolutionary instincts- self-preservation and fulfilment, and, of course, reproduction. The other two stages to ‘falling in love’ are emotional attraction, followed by emotional attachment. However, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey claim that the central driving force is lust: to put it simply, humans seek partners with desirable genetic traits, in order to produce good, strong offspring. It comes as no surprise, then, that the word ‘love’ itself is derived from the Sanskrit and Latin words for ‘sexual desire’.

It is easy to insist that love at first sight is real, regardless of the evidence that suggests otherwise. Though it can be said that romantic love is a mere neurochemical machination, some choose to maintain the view that ‘love’ is as inexplicable a force as it is a magical one. We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with idealistic portrayals of love in the media- from Facebook, to Instagram, to soap operas, and even children’s TV programmes, romantic love is portrayed as the single most desirable abstract possession to have. Since the average Briton consumes over eight hours’ worth of media content per day (Miller, 2014), it is ridiculously easy to indoctrinate people (young minds in particular) with this message. As Christian from Moulin Rouge states:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”

While I certainly believe that this statement holds true for platonic love (such as the kind embodied in familial ties and robust friendships) I do not believe that it is necessary to have a romantic partner in order to be happy, though this exact idea is habitually thrown at us, through the media.

In the past (as shown through numerous examples of classic literature) men would often become attracted to beautiful women, and would almost devote their entire existences to them. Women were pursued by men, and there was less pressure and competition, due to the lack of social media platforms: nowadays, romantic love is an almost transactional endeavour. Sometimes finding love is as easy as swiping right.

Apart from basic survival instincts pertaining to reproduction, romantic love is a social construction that we humans have conceptualised, and have forced ourselves into agreeing that it now forms part of the very fabric of our collective existence- much like money, or the education system.

Works Cited

Bernard Chapais, ‎. M. Kinship and Behaviour in Primates.

Maestripieri, D. D. (n.d.). The Seven Year Itch. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201202/the-seven-year-itch-theories-marriage-divorce-and-love

Miller, J. (2014). Britons spend more time on tech than asleep. Retrieved from BBC News Technology: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28677674


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

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