Romantic love was invented by troubadours during the Middle Ages. You might have heard that before.  Until recently, that view was widely held by anthropologists, sociologists, and historians: Love is a western cultural construct. Now, most researchers believe love is a cultural universal. Literature, music, and artifacts from everywhere and every time show humans falling in love. But why do we fall in love? Why does love cause us transcendent joy? Why is it devastating when our relationships fall apart?

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    Researchers discover romantic love

    Brain scan

    Head to your local university library, and you’ll find shelves of books on courtship and marriage in history and literature, and even more books about sex. But scholarly books about love? Not so much.

    If you want to read about love, you’ll find a lot more in the self-help section of the local bookstore. Books on why people fall in love with the people they fall in love with. Books on how to win love, how to keep love alive, and how to get over heartache.

    These questions have fascinated the public for centuries, but only recently have they begun to seem like questions worthy of the attention of academic researchers. Historians, anthropologists, English literature professors, and even neuroscientists have started taking love seriously.


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    TRBQ Podcast #2 — Love in Shanghai

    marriage market

    TRBQ pays a visit to the marriage market in Shanghai to talk with parents who are looking for mates for their adult children, and host Dean Olsher talks with scientists about brain scans of people who are in love. The question is, does “love” mean the same thing in different cultures? And it appears the answer is yes. And no.


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    Dear younger me


    Do not get married! Think it through…love is not always enough.

    Would a love-struck, soon-to-be-married 35-year-old take this advice?

    What if it was a message from the future, from her 43-year-old self?


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    TRBQ Podcast #1 — The science of love

    We look at brain scans of people who are madly in love. We talk with the neuroscientists who did the scans. And we talk with writer A.J. Jacobs, who compares his love for his wife to a ride on a Segway.

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    Is a “date night” a good idea?

    We talked with historian Stephanie Coontz a few days ago, and she told us something surprising. She studies the history of marriage and she’s read a lot of research about relationships. She said she wished the public knew that most of the manuals out there that promise to improve your marriage are not peer-reviewed. They’re not even fact-checked.

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    Can you be in love with two people at once?


    We’ve been asking a lot of experts about love, and one thing we wondered was whether it’s possible to be in love with two people at once.

    A lot of people who write pop tunes seem to think this can be a problem. But researchers we talked to aren’t so sure. Anthropologist Helen Fisher says people have three mating drives: lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment. You can love one person and still lust for another, she says, but you can’t feel romantic love for two people at the same time.

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    Why do people fall in love?

    Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher told us humans evolved romantic love because they needed to pair up to raise their helpless infants. Fisher co-authored an article arguing that romantic love is a drive that humans evolved to aid in reproduction. (more…)