National Geographic : 2006 Feb
world confirm that, indeed, passion usually ends. Its conclusion is as common as its initial flare. No wonder some cultures think selecting a life long mate based on something so fleeting is folly. Helen Fisher has suggested that relation ships frequently break up after four years because that's about how long it takes to raise a child through infancy. Passion, that wild, prismatic insane feeling, turns out to be practical after all. We not only need to copulate; we also need enough passion to start breeding, and then feel ings of attachment take over as the partners bond to raise a helpless human infant. Once a baby is no longer nursing, the child can be left with sis ter, aunts, friends. Each parent is now free to meet another mate and have more children. Biologically speaking, the reasons romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine that accompanies passion and makes us fly. Cocaine users describe the phenomenon of tolerance: The brain adapts to the excessive input of the drug. Perhaps the neurons become desensitized and need more and more to produce the high to put out pixie dust, metaphorically speaking. Maybe it's a good thing that romance fizzles. Would we have railroads, bridges, planes, faxes, vaccines, and television if we were all always besotted? In place of the ever evolving technol ogy that has marked human culture from its earliest tool use, we would have instead only bonbons, bouquets, and birth control. More seriously, if the chemically altered state induced by romantic love is akin to a mental illness or a drug-induced euphoria, exposing yourself for too long could result in psychological damage. A good sex life can be as strong as Gorilla Glue, but who wants that stuff on your skin? O nceupon atime,inIndia,aboyanda girl fell in love without their parents' permis sion. They were from different castes, their relationship radical and unsanctioned. Picture it: the sparkling sari, the boy in white linen, the clandestine meetings on tiled terraces with a fat, white moon floating overhead. Who could deny 44 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . FEBRUARY 2006 these lovers their pleasure, or condemn the force of their attraction? Their parents could. In one recent incident a boy and girl from different castes were hanged at the hands of their parents as hundreds of vil lagers watched. A couple who eloped were stripped and beaten. Yet another couple committed sui cide after their parents forbade them to marry. Anthropologists used to think that romance was a Western construct, a bourgeois by-product of the Middle Ages. Romance was for the sophis ticated, took place in cafes, with coffees and Cabernets, or on silk sheets, or in rooms with a flickering fire. It was assumed that non Westerners, with their broad familial and social obligations, were spread too thin for particular passions. How could a collectivist culture cele brate or in any way sanction the obsession with one individual that defines new love? Could a lice-ridden peasant really feel passion? Easily, as it turns out. Scientists now believe that romance is panhuman, embedded in our brains since Pleistocene times. In a study of 166 cultures, anthropologists William Jankowiak and Edward Fischer observed evidence of passion ate love in 147 of them. In another study men and women from Europe, Japan, and the Philip pines were asked to fill out a survey to measure their experiences of passionate love. All three groups professed feeling passion with the same searing intensity. But though romantic love may be universal, its cultural expression is not. To the Fulbe tribe of northern Cameroon, poise matters more than passion. Men who spend too much time with their wives are taunted, and those who are weak kneed are thought to have fallen under a dan gerous spell. Love may be inevitable, but for the Fulbe its manifestations are shameful, equated with sickness and social impairment. In India romantic love has traditionally been seen as dangerous, a threat to a well-crafted caste system in which marriages are arranged as a means of preserving lineage and bloodlines. Thus the gruesome tales, the warnings embed ded in fables about what happens when one's wayward impulses take over. Today love marriages appear to be on the rise in India, often in defiance of parents' wishes.