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Experts say the western ideal of romantic love is constantly disappointing us. Which is a shame because our culture loves romantic love. It’s an idea that pervades pop music, novels, TV and film. Somewhere out there our perfect match is waiting to meet us, so the theory goes. But maybe love isn’t really about The One. Maybe the early films of Richard Curtis don’t have all the answers.
So what is love, actually? There are many answers to this question, says the anthropologist Anna Machin, but let’s start with an evolutionary explanation. Basically, love helps a species to cooperate. “We need to cooperate to survive, to subsist, to learn, to reproduce and to raise our children,” she says. “Romantic and parental love is essentially the neurochemical reward for cooperating, which is cognitively quite difficult.” It’s a kind of biological bribery, in other words.