"I always knew the boy I love would come along/and he'd be tall and handsome, rich and strong
/now that boy has come to me/but he sure ain't the way I thought he'd be"
-From "The Boy I Love" by The Crystals
So I've already discussed whether on not religious belief is controlled by free will here and whether or not political beliefs are here. But what above love? That complex emotion that so many works of art have explored and celebrated; surely we must have free will when it comes to love. Right?
Human beings are animals, and like all animals, the drive to reproduce is one of our most powerful instincts next to eating and drinking. Often, the rules of attraction are changed by this reproductive instinct; a recent study of female strippers found that for certain times every month they made substantially more more money than at other times. A quick study as to why this happened found that they made more money during their time of ovulation than not; it appears that during the height of fertility, women undergo subtle but definite physical and behavioral changes that make them more attractive to men. Conversely, women themselves have been found to be attracted to different kinds of men at different points in their monthly cycles, with more classically masculine features being more attractive to them at their most fertile times. So just being attracted to someone in the first place could just be a question of timing.
|Ok, not always|
And not only are all animals driven to reproduce, they are also driven to have the healthiest possible offspring. Now when a woman has a child, she passes on a large number of traits, one of them being the natural antibodies that we all need to ward off sickness. But a child only gets half of those antibodies from the mother, the other half comes from the father. For a child to get a good full set of antibodies, there shouldn't be any overlap; that is, the half coming from the mother and the half coming from the father should mesh into one full set. But how exactly does a woman find a man with the proper set of antibodies? Asking for a blood test is far from romantic.
In 1995 Swiss researcher Claus Wedekind did a study to find out: first, he picked a random group of young men and an equally random group of young women. Then, he had blood tests done to determine which women should be reproducing with which men to have the healthiest possible children. Then he had the men wear the same shirt for a week without showering or bathing, and he made sure that they exercised and got sweaty in that shirt. Finally he took those shirts to the women and had them smell them (I know this sounds gross, bear with me) and say which shirt smelled the sexiest to them. As you might imagine, the results were spot on; that is, the shirt that came from the man that a woman should have a child with smelled the sexiest to her. Like many other male animal species, men put out a naturally occurring pheromone that attracts certain women to them. This explains what's going on when a woman says, "I don't know what it about him that attracts me, he just has a certain something." We know now that that something is a pheromone. This really explains a lot; look at online dating, often a woman will look at a picture of a man, find him attractive, like his written profile, and then loose interest upon meeting him in person. Or conversely, reluctantly agree to go out with someone that she finds herself immediately hitting it off with.
So am I saying that the best way for a woman to find the right mate is to go to the gym and walk by all the men on stair masters until she finds the one that smells the best? Well, love is obviously a more complicated emotion than that, although that may be a good start. But there's an added wrinkle to the whole pheromone thing: the researchers did a second version of the sweaty shirt study, but this time all the young women in the study were using birth control pills. Since the pill fools a women's body into thinking its pregnant already, she is no longer instinctually looking for a mate, and a result, when picking the sexiest shirt the chances of it being from the ideal man to reproduce with were no better than chance. This has lead to some interesting theorizing: the birth control pill was first introduced to women in 1960, and shortly thereafter divorce rates began to skyrocket. It would appear that often a single women would be on the pill, be attracted to a man, marry him and then go off the pill to have children, and then discover that once she's off the pill she's no longer attracted to him. Sadly, a positive invention like the birth control pill may have wound up having an inadvertent negative side effect.
Now again, human relationships are complicated things, and narrowing down a complex emotion like love entirely to pheromone release seems to cheapen it; the higher rate of divorce since 1960 may have as much to do with the creation of no fault divorce in 1953 and women's increased economic independence as it does with the creation of the pill. Human beings are both animals and something more because our sense of reason and knowledge gives us analytical skills beyond any other animal (that we know of), and all of those skills come to play in our pursuit of and happiness in romantic relationships. So I like to think that free will does play a factor in love, but just how much of one is difficult to say.