The Echoes of the Mind – Relationships


We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~ American media maven Orson Welles

Humans bond through communication: sharing experiences and thoughts. Interpersonal relationships are emergent patterns: formed by redundant, interlocked message cycles, continually negotiated and co-defined into a culture.

Human relationships are like a dance of interactions situated in time and characterized by constant change, fluidity, and movement. ~ Aubrey Fischer and & Katherine Adams

All relationships are defined by the dynamics of interpersonal sharing, giving, and taking. Emotional bonds are established and sustained through these transactions, which are effected via communication as much as by deeds. Communication establishes the parameters which bound interpersonal connection, especially dominance or equality.

Women get things done by building relationships. Men build relationships while working on tasks with each other.

Without growth via new infotainment relationships grow stale. Without interactivity relationships become dormant.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it does nothing for the vitality of a relationship. Instead, by substituting memory for interactivity, a relationship risks decay, even as emotional commitment may stay strong.

The sharing of emotions most strongly binds people together. The more intense the shared emotional fervor, the tighter the bond. While mutual affinity is the strongest glue, shared pain also bonds.

Painful experiences can promote cooperation within social groups. ~ Australian psychologist Brock Bastian et al

Those that share harrowing experiences feel a mutual bond, regardless of personal dissimilarities that might otherwise preclude such emotional conviction. Vocationally, combat veterans, police, and fire fighters close rank owing to fear and stress in shared experiences.

Friends may be a kind of “functional kin.” ~ American sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis & American social scientist James Fowler

Though similarities outweigh differences, males and females establish same-sex relationships of different timbre. Women typically establish closer, more intimate relationships than men.

The bonds between men are generally slighter, as males are less expressive, at least in those emotions naturally associated with bonding. When males express intimacy, it often looks more like aggression than affection: they may punch or slap one another, or play fight, much like canine pups.

In same-sex relationships, whereas men do together, woman are together.

From a man’s perspective, there is no distinction between emotionally expressive communication and task communication; sharing a task or activity is expressive communication. ~ Peter Anderson

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First impressions are the fundamental drivers of our relationships. In a sense, it’s a little like the principle of chaos theory, where the initial conditions can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome. ~ Frank Bernieri

How people perceive one another determines the quality of their relationships. Once a person labels another as possessing certain traits, consistency is assumed; but this assumption of constancy is seldom so warranted. Human behavior is heavily context dependent. People may behave much differently depending upon the situation and those involved. The tendency to assume consistency in others is a heuristic that affords a sense of predictability, however ill-founded.


To err is human. To blame someone else is politics. ~ American politician Hubert Humphrey

Relationships run on comity. Greasing the wheels of comity requires the occasional apology. Some people have trouble producing this lubrication.

Unsurprisingly, compassionate and agreeable people have no problem forking over an apology when they feel it appropriate. By contrast, those with low self-esteem are less inclined to say they are sorry, even as they may sorely feel it. Narcissists are also reticent to make amends.

More surprisingly, those with a strong sense of justice are reluctant to concede error – the mental legalism of confessing to wrongdoing gets in the way.

To err is human; to forgive, divine. ~ English poet Alexander Pope


Anybody who believes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach flunked geography. ~American author Robert Byrne

Female roundworms always prioritize finding food over mating. In contrast, male worms would leave off feeding for sex, even if they would starve to death as a result. In that, men resemble roundworms.

When a man loves a woman, he’ll spend his very last dime tryin’ to hold on to what he needs. ~ American singer Percy Sledge in the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1966)

Beyond social relations serving as a vehicle for connecting with desirous objects, the sex drive has nothing to do with sociality. Though an embedded evolutionary device, the psychic tentacles of sexual desire extend far beyond innate impetus. Sex is but one of many social activities used for self-gratification. That it can trigger intense psychophysical reactions and is an interpersonal encounter of unique intimacy, on top of being a primal instinct, puts it in a class of its own. The interpretive effects of sex demonstrate its psycho-symbolic power.

Sex is emotion in motion. ~ American actress and sex symbol Mae West

The perceptions around sex are a tease. Without them, no one would bother with this messy activity fraught with life-changing complications.

The biological byproduct of sex – offspring – is at best a mixed blessing, as any parent can relate. Throughout history, most children brought into the world have been unintentional.

Sexual desire is a psychological, subjective state; experienced as an interest in sexual objects or activities. When directed toward a specific other person, desire is manifested as sexual attraction. ~ American psychologists Sandra Metts, Susan Sprecher, & Pamela Regan

Sexual desire can be about various emotional wants, including a desire for closeness, a hankering for a feeling of status or power, out of boredom, or merely a recreational habit.

To avoid oppression and scorn in times when women were essentially chattel, women learned to seduce men, to secure favor by taking advantage of male dependence for sexual pleasure. Such seduction tempered brutality and gave rise to the idealization of feminine beauty.

Writing in 2 bce, the Roman poet Ovid offered advice to women on how to dress, walk, conceal their physical shortcomings, and express their emotions to enhance their sex appeal. Selfsame advice pours out of contemporary women’s magazines and books on how to become a “man trap.”

The seductive power of women makes men ambivalent about them. Whereas women who sexually gratify men within the confines of a monogamous relationship may be well-treated by their male partners, women who flaunt their sexuality, use it manipulatively, or demand payment for sexual services are stigmatized. Thus, women are both exalted and condemned for their sexuality, creating a pedestal-gutter dichotomy.

To elicit benevolent sexism, women must guise their sexual desire as romantic love or risk being labeled a “slut.” People who endorse such sexism seldom sympathize with the victim of rape if she dressed or behaved “improperly.”

Women who implicitly like men implicitly like sex. Conversely, women who associate men with threats and violence implicitly dislike men. As women’s preference for men and heterosexual sex are linked, male aggression reduces women’s liking sex with men.

Whereas men who are satisfied sexually like women, men who implicitly like sex but are sexually frustrated view women negatively. Hence, the traditional scripts for both genders – men’s aggressive use of power (being sexually demanding) and women’s passive use of power (sexual teasing or withholding sex) – negatively affect gender relations in diminishing liking the opposite sex.

Thus, on the sexual front, the “war between the sexes,” is based, in part, on the traditional ways in which men and women attempt to exert power over each other, to their mutual detriment. ~ Laurie Rudman & Peter Glick

The affect aspect of sex is fleeting, but its associations, positive or negative, can be profound. Sex as a pair-bonding behavior can be a high point of intimacy. Conversely, unsatisfying sex radiates in various ways, affecting self-esteem and/or attitudes toward sexual partners, and even the other gender in general.

At the most extreme, rape is a violent violation which may inflict long-term psychological damage upon its victim. But rape is not sex. It is instead brutality at its most intimate.


Males and females follow different reproductive strategies. ~ American psychologists Douglas Kenrick & Richard Keefe

To enchant a potential mate, male vinegar flies display an elaborate courtship dance. Females choose a partner based upon intuition. Though the details differ, the gist of human mating is selfsame, including the decision process.

The predominant patterns of mating attraction in humans are biological, not cultural. Further, human sexual relationships are like many other animals with monogamous propensities. The Collective are, after all, just animals following their instinctual urges.

A woman’s beauty is much more important to a man than a man’s physical attractiveness is to a woman. Worldwide, men prefer young, nubile females. This is sheer sociobiology at work. Besides the breeding prospect, having a physically attractive mate is a status symbol for men.

Although having a handsome man is an attraction, wealth and social status are much more important to a woman. A woman wants a good provider. (For this reason, women still prefer strong men: a biological throwback to when physicality mattered for survival.) This too reflects biological impetus, as the primary caretaker of offspring seeks a source of support. In a world dominated by men, where women are still 2nd-class citizens, it also makes economic sense.

The greater female preference for mates displaying cues to high resource potential and the greater male preference for mates displaying cues to high reproductive capacity represent adaptations to sex-differentiated reproductive constraints in our evolutionary past. ~ American psychologist David Buss

Young American men and women were asked to select from a list of desirable attributes in a partner. In order of importance, here is what women want in a man: 1) achievement, 2) leadership qualities, 3) skill at his job, 4) earning potential, 5) a sense of humor, 6) intellectual acumen, 7) attentiveness, 8) common sense, 9) athletic ability, and 10) good abstract reasoning.

The priority of qualities American men sought in their woman: 1) physical attractiveness, 2) sexual prowess, 3) warmth and affection, 4) social skill, 5) homemaking ability, 6) fashion sense, 7) sensitivity to others’ needs, 8) good taste, 9) moral perception, and 10) artistic creativity.

There is a caveat to the mating preferences biology provides. Whereas men prefer physically attractiveness, irrespective of cultural gender equality, in cultures where women are socially empowered, their preference to partner with a man for material resources is lessened.

While physical attractiveness is the starting point for many relationships, the winnowing process begins in earnest with not having repulsive traits, such as unattractive appearance, dissimilar attitudes and belief systems, and disagreeable mannerisms. Once a potential partner has been screened for disliked characteristics, level of attraction becomes the allure in having the relationship last.

Whereas men seek a trophy and women want a piggy bank, they both prefer mates who are similar to themselves, at least within cultures with a decent degree of gender equality. Similarity breeds not only attraction but also understanding and mutual respect. It is therefore unsurprising that couples in countries with greater gender equity are generally more sexually satisfied than those with low gender equality.

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Women actively engage in more grooming and captivating dress during ovulation, as their sexual motivation waxes. The closer a woman is to ovulation the more seductive men find her. An ovulating female’s scent forms part of the subconscious allure.

More generally, males and females are partly attracted to one another based upon body odors, which are particularly related to immune system compatibility. Even facial attractiveness is connected to scent.

Sexual asymmetry extends beyond mating preferences. The dynamics of relationships reflect the different communication and behavioral inclinations of the sexes.

When a wife is satisfied with the marriage, she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life. Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives. ~ American sociologist Deborah Carr

Relationships are extended conversations with shared experiences as primary talking points. The more intimate the relationship, the more the partnership becomes a functional arrangement.

Cohabitation is a culmination of getting along conversationally. The need for high-quality communication in close quarters is obvious to anyone who has ever savored or suffered through the experience.

Assumptions are the termites of relationships. ~ American actor Henry Winkler

Romantic Love

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. ~ Aristotle

Romantic love involves intense emotional attachment between two people: provoking lust, protective instincts, and a craving for intimacy. In this people are no different than many other animals. Zebra finches, for example, mate monogamously for life, and share the burden of parental care. Female finches choose mates individualistically.

The best thing to hold onto in life is each other. ~ English actress Audrey Hepburn

In romantic relationships a feeling of intimacy is related to empathic mentalizing. The sense of similarity and self-other overlap contributes to bonding behaviors, even when the perceived resemblance is illusory, which it often is.

People are happiest in their relationships when they believe they have found a kindred spirit, someone who understands them and shares their experiences. As reality may not always be that accommodating, however, intimates may find this sense of confidence by egocentrically assuming that their partners are mirrors of themselves. ~ American social psychologist Sandra Murray et al

Cultural stereotypes become so inculcated that they automatically influence perception and behavior; so too ideologies about romance, particularly gender roles in romantic relationships.

Traditional romantic ideology involves prescriptive cultural scripts as to how love should unfold and be enacted. These scripts are gender specific. From an early age, females are encouraged to view their worth in terms of their ability to attract males.

Media propagates gender stereotypes related to romance. Novels popular with women cast men as desirable mates if they are bold breadwinners. In contrast, ladies are luckiest when they beautiful, friendly, and timid. While television and movies now portray women in a variety of roles, advertising retains a heavy reliance on gender stereotypes and sexual objectification of women. When it comes to tales of romance, media depictions usually stick with the stereotypes found in romantic fiction, at least for the lead characters.

Accepting romantic folkways can constrain, both in choice and conduct, and so circumscribe the establishment of a relationship and diminish its quality. Further, role-based behaviors represent an obstacle to gender equality, as tradition encourages the “fairer sex” to limit her personal ambitions in exchange for professed love and paternalistic protection.

Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end you wish you had a club and a spade. ~ American greeting card

The emotional residue of a romantic relationship lingers after the sense of intimacy is gone and the bonds tattered. Unresolved conflict leaves a bitter aftertaste. Unfulfilled desire leaves longing.

Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid. ~ Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Modern Western romance got its start in 12th-century France, in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Inspired by the feudal system, and first adopted in the spirit of play, knights courted ladies of higher birth by performing services in return for tokens of affection. Knights would kneel to receive their romantic boon; a ritual that survives in men’s practice of kneeling before a woman to propose marriage.

The folkway of men putting women “on a pedestal” dates to the medieval origin of romance. It created a cultural romantic role that remains to this day, constraining women to passivity.


A family is a group who extensively practice altruism – cooperatively sharing resources and providing emotional support – and feel committed to maintaining the group as a unit. Members of families are typically bonded emotionally; though, in dysfunctional families, relations may sour and its members become estranged.

The term nuclear family refers to an emotively bonded dyad and offspring. The traditional nuclear family is a married couple (husband and wife) and their brood.

Families are part of a broader social web of affinity: kinship systems, which have variable cultural forms. Kinship systems shape the inheritance of property in society. Historically, patrilineal descent is most common but there have been exceptions. Among native Americans, family ancestry is traced maternally.

Jewish descent is also established along the matrilineal lineage. One is considered Jewish if born to a Jewish mother. This practice evolved under early Talmudic law, owing to widespread persecution and military conquest of Jews. The prevalence of rape of Jewish women occasionally made paternity difficult to establish. Hence, a child’s religious identity became dependent upon the mother’s faith.

Nowadays, bilateral kinship systems – descent traced via both father and mother – is common, albeit with a residual patrilineal bias.

Around the world and throughout history, men have enjoyed higher status than women. On the home front, only women are expected to surrender their family name when they wed; couples value male more than female progeny; and children are more likely to be named after their fathers than their mothers, irrespective of their sex. ~ Laurie Rudman & Stephanie Goodwin


There is a ubiquitous taboo against incest. Cultures vary in closeness of kinship for the taboo, but parent-offspring sex or between siblings is universally condemned; though brother-sister marriages have been practiced throughout recorded history with some regularity.

In the United States, 30% of girls and 17% of boys are sexually abused by a family member. Almost half of child rapes are by someone in the family.

The consequences for the victim are life changing. Sexually abused youth are twice as likely to have criminal records, mental health problems, and commit suicide. 95% of the teen prostitutes in the US were first raped by dad.


Marriage is an exemplary kinship system. Marriage contracts and ceremonies in Mesopotamia date to at least 4,000 years ago. In the ancient world, marriage primarily served as a means for preserving power, by producing an heir. Daughters were married off to forge alliances and to acquire land. Even among the lower classes, women had little say over whom they married.

Love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible. A Roman senator was expelled from the Senate in the 2nd century bce for kissing his wife in public: behavior which the essayist Plutarch condemned as “disgraceful.”

From the 12th century, the European aristocracy viewed extramarital affairs as the highest form of romance, untainted by the grit of daily existence. As late as the 18th century, Montesquieu wrote that any man who was in love with his wife was probably too dull to be loved by another woman.

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In ancient Rome marriage was a civil affair, governed by imperial law. When the empire collapsed in the 5th century the church stepped in and elevated marriage to a holy union.

As the church’s power waxed in medieval times, so did its influence over marriage. In 1215, marriage was declared one of the church’s 7 sacraments, alongside rites like baptism and penance. The marriage ceremony as public spectacle, performed by a priest, only became decreed in the 16th century.

As a norm in the West, marrying for love arose with industrialization. Arranged marriages – via relatives – remain common in several Asian countries. In some such cultures, the bride and groom may not even see each other until shortly before they are wed. That such marriages regularly succeed owes to low expectations, and that coming from the same culture at the same social status provides a foundation for mutuality that may mature over time into affection.

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For millennia, into the 20th century, custom and law subjugated wives to their husbands. Only from the late 19th century did the women’s-rights movement erode the sexism which had long defined marriage.

By 1970, marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy. ~ American historian Marilyn Yalom

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Marriage rates in the 21st century have fallen in Europe, China, Japan, and the Americas, for both cultural and economic reasons. Young men in the lower economic classes in many countries simply have not been able to afford a bride.

In China, there are simply too few brides to be had, thanks to a skewed sex ratio. China’s 1979–2015 one-child policy invoked widespread female infanticide, as boys were prized. (Though never tallied, the scope of female infanticide in China had to have been tremendous. With this single exception, females have outnumbered males in populations throughout history.)

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In modern societies, marriage is recognized as a union of 2 individuals, most commonly a man and a woman. In more traditional societies, marriage may be viewed as an alliance between kinship groups, usually of 2 extended families.

(Until the 13th century, marriages between 2 men–”spiritual brotherhoods”–were common in churches across the Mediterranean. Along with incest and sorcery, homosexual marriages were outlawed as unchristian by Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II in 1306. That proscription has weakened in some societies only since the 21st century.)


The Bonaro are an indigenous tribe in eastern New Guinea, organized into patriarchal clans. A young woman must give birth before she can marry, and she cannot marry the father of her child.

Marriage is an exchange of women between exogamous patriclans. The choice of a husband is up to a girl and her mother. Bride-price – payment to a man for taking a wife – is required.

The Bonaro place great faith in magic as a means for manipulating the natural and supernatural worlds. The most important presences are the ghosts of ancestors and sundry spirit beings.


As with other animals that have strong patriarchal hierarchies, some human societies practice polygyny: a man having multiple female mates as a culturally-acceptable arrangement. Historically, polygyny has been most common in agrarian societies, where a large labor force is favorable. In the United States, Mormons practiced polygyny with church sanction until 1890, when it was prohibited by the church, having already been outlawed under federal statute. (Lecherous Mormon church founder Joseph Smith had ~40 wives, including marrying one who was only 14 at the time.)

Muslim men in several countries still practice polygyny. Polygyny remains legal in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and most north African nations. In other Islamic countries polygyny is restricted or banned, albeit still practiced illegally. Polygyny is practiced throughout much of Africa.

Men hoarding wives leaves less-fortunate men without mates. Unsurprisingly, polygynous societies are bloodier, more likely to invade their neighbors, and more prone to collapse. Polygyny features in all of the 20 most unstable countries in the world.


Oddly for a species of highly-altricial offspring, monogamy in humans is more social convention than it is innate. Infidelity is common, more often by men than women (though not by much).

Historically, men in dominant groups have been prone to coerce women with few resources and scant power into sexual relationships.

Despite laws against miscegenation – mating across racial lines – in the old South of early America, sex between male slave owners and enslaved females was widespread. One well-known example is “founding father” Thomas Jefferson’s repeated rape of his favorite slave, thereby producing 6 illicit offspring (along with 6 by his wife Martha). Jefferson started having sex with the enslaved Sally Hemmings when he was 44, and she sweet 16.

Humans are like many mammals in an ostensible monogamy honored in the breach. It is a considerable contrast to the true fidelity found in swans and several seabirds.

More significantly, despite the contribution to descendant fitness that fathers might make, their direct input into offspring well-being is often incidental, especially in comparison to mothers, who are far and away the primary caretaker. This too is typical of other mammals.


Historically, companionship and sharing resources have seldom been the sole occupations of marriage. Folks breed.

In preindustrial times, child labor was a considerable convenience to their charges, as the little ones could help with the chores. At the turn of the 19th century the average American family included 8 children.

With industrialization offspring increasingly became a financial burden. By the 21st century it cost over $200,000 to rear 1 child in the United States, including college.

Economic imperatives spelled a decline in parental care among the general population in industrialized nations. As couples struggle for a comfortable standard of living, child-rearing represents yet another time burden, on top of the financial drain. Though parents wished to spend more time with their young, financial considerations limited their commitment. Children who fend for themselves after school – latchkey kids – became a common phenomenon.


The altricial needs of human offspring are demanding, especially in their earliest years. So, to encourage their keep, babies are designed to look adorable.

An infant’s head is proportionately large. The eyes are significant saucers in the center of a plump face. In absolute size, children have larger pupils than adults.

Limbs are short and fat. All told, babies look like disarming cartoon characters.

Infant smiles and coos are affecting. In contrast, their cries wrench compassion from caretakers. If not, wailing away drives an adult to distraction, provoking action to pacify the racket-maker.

Baby babble and crying is compelling partly because it is done in the mother tongue. Babies cry in melodic and rhythmic patterns that they have learned since womb-time.

Babies have another, most important, advertisement. They tend to bear their father’s visage more than their mother’s. This is consistent with other mammals.

As dad is less inclined to care for a tyke, a baby that looks like heritage incarnate acts as inspiration for attention from a man who cares his legacy; further proof that evolution is adaptive, sometimes manipulatively so.