The New Age Of Relationships: Sex, Love And Attraction In 2011

happy couple on beach

A conversation with Dr. Helen Fisher about relationships in 2011.

My colleagues aned I do brain scanning. Our most recent experiment was with 17 people in their 50s who were all happily married and all said they were still in love with their partner—not loving, but in love—and sure enough we found activity in the same region linked with feelings of romantic love, but here's the difference between the early-stage intense romantic love and the later stage intense romantic love: In the early stage we found activity in a brain region associated with anxiety. And in those who had been married a long time we found no activity in the region associated with anxiety, and instead there was now activity associated with calm.

My guess is that's what's really going on in long term love is that you always feel the deep attachment but the romantic love comes and goes. It's a regular day, you're both tired, you watch some news and you go to bed. Not terribly in love, but deeply attached. Following day, it's a Saturday, you go out and go hiking together, he says something seriously funny, and you suddenly feel that intense romantic love for him. In the long-term relationship, that early-stage intense romantic love begins to decline somewhat, and you're left with feelings of being in love, but without the intense craving and anxiety.

Eighty percent of people reported that sexual attraction is necessary to fall in love, so that means that 20% think it's not necessary to fall in love. What's going on here?

I finally understood this when I spoke with my nephew. He said, "Helen, my wife is not the sexiest women I've ever gone out with. But she's wonderful to our daughter, she's hilariously funny, I really respect what she does for a living and I'm really in love with her."

There are some people who do not regard sex as important in a relationship. They value things like loyalty, working together, feeling of responsibility, building kin networks, all kinds of other things.

On the other end of the spectrum, people over 40 were more likely to say that sex could sustain a relationship for a lifetime, and people over 50 said that as they aged lack of romantic love had become the greatest turn-off.

My hypothesis is that the young have to have babies! If someone does not have children they do not pass their DNA on to tomorrow and in terms of survival they lose. So the young have some priorities that are even more important than romance and sex. The old don't have any other priorities. They probably also have a very good, stable social network, they've worked out the money problems, and they don't want to change their whole life—they're not desperate. It's really just great. This survey trashes myths about age, about men, about women.