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Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher

In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet tells Ophelia: “Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move his aides, Doubt truth to be a liar, But, never doubt I love.” Here, Hamlet proclaims that anything could be doubted but his love. For centuries, philosophers and thinkers have deliberated on love; the greatest minds have tried to explain its nature; sonnets and symphonies have been inspired by this powerful emotion. Yet, not many have come close to answering the question, What is love?

Centuries later, in 1996, Dr Helen Fisher, an American biological anthropologist and one of the brilliant minds of our time, made this question her life’s quest. To know what love is, and how it is different from affection and lust, Dr Fisher took recourse to science and recorded her empirical findings in Why we love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. According to literary critic Liesl Schillinger, the book is “a thesis with startling ramifications.”

Dr Fisher’s novel can be thought of as a rope, braided with three strands. First one is lust, which according to the author is primordial and unpredictable. An innate human nature, the cravings for sexual gratifications is closely entwined with the euphoria of love. Yet, the book claims, lust and love are two different entities, and the distinction between love and lust is not a big mystery. “A few people in Western societies confuse the elation of romance with the longing for sexual release. People in far different cultures also easily distinguish between these feelings,” writes Fisher. Where people lose the thread is how romantic feelings trigger lust and whether it’s a one-way street, as seen in most cases.

The author says, dopamine, the love hormone, stimulates the release of testosterone, the hormone of sexual desire. This ‘chemistry’ between dopamine and testosterone, explains why couples tend to become comfortable with each other’s bodies and emotions. Dr Fisher’s explanation of the interplay of hormones and how they impact the course of a relationship is certainly an eye opener for many.

Lust perhaps, is a gift from nature that allows some people to keep the flame burning longer than others. But can it rekindle the lost spark? In other words, can lust trigger amour? Maybe in movies like Friends with Benefits it can, but in real life, lust rarely “ignites the furnace of love”. Again, it is the brain’s wiring that perhaps keeps the pathway between lust and love blocked. But Dr Fisher writes that there are exceptions where casual intimacy leads to romantic feelings in people—where testosterone stimulates the release of dopamine. That is why relationships are often seen as a red flag by two people who don’t intend to take their friendship to another level.

Why we love is a go-to novel for people who enjoy the euphoric high of love; those who call themselves romantic fools and everyone else who has tasted love, for better or for worse.


The second strand of Why we love, is the evolution of love. This is the thread where the author turns back the time by eight million years to find the origin of romantic love. Some readers may wonder why we need a crash course on history to learn about relationships or breakups that are basically a part of modern culture. For people scratching their heads, as Dr Fisher underlines, our ancestors used to French kiss their partners long before they came down from trees and started living on land.

That is why Dr Fisher’s dive into the early days of humans, when our ancestors used to have “favourites” instead of lovers. It was when monogamy was becoming the norm, where a man used to protect a woman while she nursed his children. As the brain evolved and time changed, people realised the need for a long-term companionship. In this section of the book, Dr Fisher has traced the evolution of romance as Homo Sapiens matured through the ages and how that has changed the way opposite sexes look at each other.

The third strand of Why we love is about making romance last. It could be the most important and informative chapter of the novel as it holds the key to a human’s heart. Everyone wants to know how to increase the lifespan of their relationships or how to heal the wounds from a love that died prematurely. It is a broad subject, but the author has done a remarkable job in explaining the nitty-gritty of relationships and breakups through facts and personal stories— maintaining her lucidity throughout the book.

Why we love is one of those novels that everyone from a teenager to a greybeard can read. After all, age is just a number when it comes to love. No one knows it better than Dr Fisher who weaves science with the art of love so meticulously that reading her novel becomes like watching a National Geographic documentary—informative and captivating.

Why we love is laden with heavy research. Surveys, social experiments, lyrics, poetry, and countless quotes from literature and famous people. Although each conveys a point, scores of statistics could make the readers weary, especially those who seek philosophical reasoning for an ineffable subject such as love. But above all, Why we love is a go-to novel for people who enjoy the euphoric high of love; those who call themselves romantic fools and everyone else who has tasted love, for better or for worse.

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