Every Break-up Has a Lesson

Primates are picky about their mates, but we learn from each relationship

Posted Feb 10, 2013

There is no free love in the state of nature. Animals are incredibly picky about who they mate with. We have inherited the neurochemics that drive this behavior. That's why the fieldnotes of a primatologist sound weirdly similar to the lyrics to a country-western song. A biology textbook sounds uncannily like a soap-opera script. Our romantic ups and downs are often hard to make sense of, but the mating behavior of earlier species helps clarify our non-verbal impulses. Here are a few primate lessons about the ons and offs of relationships.


You might think this has nothing to do with you, since you are not trying to spread your genes. But the underlying point is this: animals don't make with just anyone. Animals are very picky about who they mate with. They have strong inclinations toward one individual and not another, despite all the frustration it causes. When we feel that frustration, we look for "good reasons" to explain it. It helps us to know that our strong feelings about mate choice come from neurochemicals that were naturally selected for reproductive success rather than "good reasons."

There's a lot more on this in my book I, Mammal. For a free pdf of the chapter called "Sex and the Status Hierarchy," contact me at  www.innermammalinstitute.org.

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