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Chemicals, Relationships, Weddings, Stories

mcurrie's picture
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Marriage, a ceremony performed by a priest or government official to confirm a union between a bride and groom.  Almost every girl has thought about their marriage to the man they love.  In her picture of a perfect wedding she will wear the perfect dress, invite all of her friends and family, and live happily.  Back in ancient times, women were unable to pick their husbands and have a ceremony with their friends and family.  They were unable to look at a man's traits and figure if he would be a loyal husband and a good father.  Marriage was seen as a way to ensure bloodlines and produce the heir.  From ancient Rome to modern day the marriage ceremony has changed from a male dominated decision to a fully communal consent of both the male and female.  But behind the matches there is also the action of pheromones and characteristics of both the male and female and the Romance novels that emphasize the attractive features. 

Even without marriage there are four different patterns that an individual can chose to form a relationship.  The first is social monogamy where a male and female form a long-term bond and mate for life.  This can be one of the mating patterns that a male and female can strive for, to find their one true love.  Although the pattern is rare, only 16% of the world's pre-industrial cultures practice monogamous marriage6.  The second mating pattern is serial monogamy where the male and female form a pair-bond long enough to raise a few offspring and then form a new pair-bond later with another individual.  The average pair-bond lasts around 5 years6 or by the time a child can learn to walk, talk, and at least try to learn the ABC's.  Studies have shown that by the time a child becomes four they are viable or able to survive7.  The last two mating pattern are within the polygamy category.  There can be polygyny which is where a male mates with multiple females or polyandry where a female mates with multiple males.  In each of the mating patterns no pair-bond is formed or the individuals don't feel attached to one another.  The different mating patterns can result in certain evolution of sexual ornaments or physical characteristics. Monogamy leads the evolution of sexual ornaments in both males and females.  Polygyny leads to evolution of male ornaments and polyandry leads to females evolving sexual ornaments and promiscuity.  In whichever pattern some individual will evolve to attract more attention.  In order to find attraction both parties begin to seek out potential spouses by dating.  After dating for a certain period the couple decides if they would like to stay together or separate.

The union between a man and woman has become a part of culture.  Behind the marriage ceremony is the choosing of the bride or groom.  Each individual goes on the adventure of finding the perfect mate.  Both males and females look for certain criteria in one another in order to ensure the survival of their offspring.  With many organisms it is the female that chooses her male partner.  With humans it is with the equal choosing of both parties that results in the union.  Although in some cultures the woman does not have a choice in who they marry and are placed in an arranged marriage. 

Although marriage can be a ceremony of happiness and joy there is also the biological reason behind a union between a male and female.  When looking for the perfect "male" a female will rely on certain cues from a male to determine if they will have the potential for commitment and investment to their future family.  In order to figure a man's potential a woman will look at his material resources, physical characteristic, and personality.  A female looks for a man with money or the potential to take care of a family and giver her healthy children.  It is with a man's material resources including money and social status.  If the man at the certain point in time doesn't have much money or status a woman will calculate the male's potential to obtaining the resources.  Although with men there is also the question of if they are willing to share their fortune with the woman and their children6.  Women may also look at the male's physical features and health.  In order to ensure their offspring's survival a male and female need to pass genes that will give their children the tools to survive.  In the survival of a species health is key.  This ties into the genetic benefits a woman will look for in a male.  It is with their physical characteristics that a female will try to see if a male has "good genes" and is fertile.  The female reads a book by its cover.  They first look at the physical features or the picture displayed and then decides if they would like to figure out the personality or plot within the pages.  Studies have shown that women prefer symmetry of the facial features and body6.  It is considered attractive if eyes are equal distance apart and both sides of the male body are similarly figured.  Women also see if the man has a rugged look with more rough-hewn and masculine features which can indicate a male with a high level of testosterone7.    High levels of the hormone can indicate a strong immune system resulting in the ability to create healthy offspring. 

There have also been studies about pheromones or the odor emitted by males and females.  It is the MHC gene (Major Histocompatibility Complex gene) that results in the individual odors that each male and female emits4.  Women seem to prefer a male that has a heterozygous MHC gene6.  Although another study has concluded that an individual prefers a male or female with the same MHC type4.  With each experiment the scientist would get a sweat sample from individuals and have the test subjects rate the smells.  The statement that the nose knows or follow your nose may be correct.  It is the smell that can determine a person that you are attracted to.  On the other hand not all females will follow their nose and instead look for other characteristics. 

A woman will also look for personality traits.  The ideal male has high openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and low neuroticism or one that is less obsessive.   It has also been argued that intelligence, creativity, musical aptitudes, and a sense of humor are indicators of a male's fitness6.  Most women like to communicate, a man who can hold a conversation is beneficial.  Another useful ability is to make people laugh.  Most females don't look for humor within a male, but when they encounter a guy with a sense of humor it increases their interest.  When you are happy you release endorphins which are also thought to be connected to releasing sex hormones1.  A man that can make a female laugh is an added bonus in releasing the happy hormone.

Women are not the only ones to be judgmental, since a relationship is usually a mutual choice; a man will also look for certain traits in a female.  Men look for cues that may imply a woman's maternal investment and good mothering to her children and him.  It is the image of the perfect wife, as a loving mother, a household manager, child caretaker, and clothing provider that a male will look for in a female.  Like female's, males also prefer a woman to be symmetrical which increases when woman are fertile. The high levels of estrogen increase the symmetry of the females face and breasts6.  When smelling odor, males tend to prefer the scent of a woman that has the opposite MHC gene from their own.  Men may also have a mechanism that detects a woman's ovulatory cues as scientists have seen that chemicals similar to estrogen stimulate the male hypothalamus responses6.  This stimulation has not been found in women.  Men may also be able to detect the pheromones secreted by a woman when ovulation occurs.  When studying a woman's physical features a man will look at their waste to hip ratio, looking for the hourglass shape that can indicate wider hips which can be capable of easy birth6.  If a woman has motherly qualities, an hourglass shape, and symmetry she has a higher chance of attracting males.

In choosing a partner, males and females don't just look and sniff, there are other chemicals within the brain that result in love and attraction.  When an individual falls in love their dopamine levels rise resulting in intense energy, exhilaration, focused attention, and motivation7.  The dopamine may aid the individual to make the leap into a relationship to figure out if they have found a person to spend their life with.  There is also increased level of serotonin.  Serotonin is a hormone that is connected with affecting ones mood and is used to treat depression.  Another interesting fact is that a person in love and someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have the same levels of serotonin in their blood7 which may link love to mental illness.  But love doesn't last forever or at least the dopamine levels decrease.  When the passion dies down another hormone take its place.  Oxytocin induces attachment as it promotes the feelings of connection and bonding.  When a woman has an orgasm oxytocin is released and she feels more linked with her partner.  This may conclude that in order to keep a working relationship the couple should have sex to maintain the feeling of connectedness.  After choosing a mate a marriage proposal can follow to end in the marriage that represents their union.

While today there is a greater chance for a female and male to choose their spouse, in the beginning of ancient times a majority of unions were arranged.  In Roman and Medieval times women were the property of their guardians or husbands.  The guardians would form an arrangement for economic liaisons, to keep their bloodline "pure" or to increase their social connections, and of course money.  Although when forming a contract the female can have a dowry that is given to the groom or the female has a bride price that the groom must pay to the bride's family8.  In order to confirm the arrangement there is the continued ancient tradition of the engagement ring.  The ring represents the union of the bride and groom and their never ending bond.  It is the sign of eternal commitment8.  Although even in Roman times a male could ask for a divorce and end the eternal bond. 

Beginning in the Roman Era there was the common law marriage or free marriage.  A free marriage was a ceremony without a priest involved. The father would set up a contract with the groom and they would both sign it before witnesses. Once the contract was signed there was a dinner or ceremony and the couple was escorted to bed to consummate the marriage1.  In some marriages the individuals didn't even need a ceremony; they just had to live with each other for a year.  This was a result of the Justinian Code from 527-565 A.D. which stated that by saying the male and female were married was enough.  In Ancient Israel the purpose of marriage like all others was procreation.  Unlike Europe's monogamous marriages the Israeli males were able to have multiple wives to ensure the continuation of the family name.  The contract for the Israeli was for the groom to pay the bridal price, then a ceremony, ending in the bride moving into her new home1. 

The Medieval marriage kept the Roman belief that in order for the marriage ceremony to occur the consent of both individuals was needed.  At first the Catholic Church supported virginity and sexual abstinence over marriage.  But in order for the Church to continue they needed members.   In order to have members they needed people to reproduce.  In the 12th century priests asked to be included in the marriage ceremony in order to bless and say a prayer to the couple while the couple also said their own prayers2.  In 1563 the Council of Trent changed the opinion of the Church and the marriage ceremony.  The Council stated that the marriage must be celebrated in the Catholic Church by a priest and in front of two witnesses2.  They now believed that marriage was a way to save a male and female from being sinful in performing a sexual act together before the wedding.  The Church then banned divorce and was the only ones that could give consent for a separation by an annulment, in order to state the marriage as null and void.  In order to avoid an annulment or deception, when giving the ceremony the priest would announce an invitation of for anyone to come forth with any knowledge of "why these two should not be wed."  One of these reasons could be that one of the individuals was a first or second cousin.  The Church had proclaimed that no one could marry anyone above a third cousin2.  Another could be if the woman is not a virgin.  Biologically men can never be one hundred percent sure that a child is theirs.  As a result men would demand loyalty from their wives and males today look for loyalty and kindness to signify the woman has a good mothering trait.  The Christian Church had made the ceremony into a religious act and created the rules to be followed in order for two people to be married.

As a new religion emerged the marriage ceremony was modified.  With the rise of Protestantism, Martin Luther stated that individuals had the right to marry their cousins which today is discouraged.  The Puritans in an Act of Parliament announced that a priest was no longer needed for the ceremony and instead a justice of the peace could stand in for the minister2.  Similar after the French Revolution a magistrate or government official were the only valid form of marriage in the western world2.   Today a couple can decide if they would like to marry in a Church with a priest to perform the marriage ceremony or go to the mayor's office.  Other marriage practices were the Oneida community where every male was married to every female in a complex marriage.  In the community loyalty didn't matter since they all shared their partners, but the community did pair up the couples by physical and mental health2.  Then there was also Mormon Polygamy where the men had multiple wives.  This practice was persecuted, harassed, and ridiculed and the members abandoned their practice of polygamy but kept their religion2.  Today in Utah the Mormon Church does not practice polygamy but continue with their religious beliefs. 

Also today in India, arranged marriages are still performed.  They believe romance to be a danger and have cast systems to preserve their bloodlines and lineage.  First comes marriage then comes love is their motto and punishments have been performed if the rule is broken.  For example, an Indian boy and girl of different castes that have gotten together are hanged.  A couple that has eloped is stripped and beaten and other couples have committed suicide when they were not allowed to wed.  In China, men from Taiwan come to the country to find wives.  In order to obtain a wife the man interviews potentials and then chooses the female he will marry in three days and bring back home.  We also have the internet to try and find the perfect match.  By using pictures (physical features) and personalities, some of the biological characteristics that people look for, a company give a list of potentials.

Along with marriage there are the stories of love and the journey to finding the perfect match.  "We have relied on the stories to explain the complexities of love, tale of jealous gods and arrows,"7 these stories explore all sides of how a person falls in love.  Women fantasize about the perfect man that will sweep them off their feet and the perfect marriage that will be the beginning of their happiness.  All is fueled by the written word.  With little girls the tales of happily ever after as the prince whisks his lady love to his castle, tell about the perfect couple that are in love.  Romance novels with the hero and heroine also fuel the fantasy of love and marriage, usually ending with pregnancy or the birth of a child.  The novels even describe the perfect man, tall, large, strong, muscular and even his odor.  In one description "he smelled like dust, horses, and sunlight . . . a sweet essence that reminded her of freshly mown hay"3 while the hero detected "a faint flowery overture."3 Some will state that the male has their own smell under the scent of leather and cigar smoke.  There are also the talks of attraction or sparks when the hero and heroine stare into each other's eyes.  A study was done where two strangers, a male and female, were placed together in a room and told to exchange personal facts.  After a few minutes of talking the two would stare into each other's eyes for two minutes.  At the end of the study many of the couples stated that they felt an attraction between them7.  The romance novels use eye contact as a form of attraction when the hero and heroine stare into each other's eyes in defiance or when talking to increase the feeling of attachment.

When the romance novel was first written the story focused on the male perspective, in time the romance novels changed to the female perspective until modern day where authors place both on equal footing5.  This is similar to the evolution of marriage in the transition from the father or groom choosing the bride, to mothers and daughters choosing a man to pursue as the male also looks for a wife.  When on the hunt for a husband or wife both will look for a family in good financial straits.  In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth's mother talks with other women of the town to figure out the two bachelors, Bingley's and Darcy's, yearly salary.  With the marriage of two of her daughters to the two men she see it as a good match since the gentlemen have enough money to take care of their wives. In other novels the hero and heroine alternate in describing each other's physical features.  The heroine will focus on the man's height, shoulder width, stating that the man has a hard jaw and a muscular physique.  While the hero focus on the heroine's soft hair, her hourglass shape, and her beautiful eyes. A study has shown that females prefer a man that is larger than them6.  Both hero and heroine look for the biological characteristics that can help in their attraction to each other. 

The tales of love, first comes lust and love with the release of dopamine, as the two stare into each other's eyes and detect each other's scent.  Then love and even obsession as the hero and heroine keep picturing one another remembering each other's physical features of eye color and body shape.  With the declarations of love comes the wedding within a Church with the priest at the altar and the exchanging of the rings.  Or if they decide otherwise the two come together at the mayor's office with only their two closest friends or family in attendance. As the love and lust die down oxytocin steps in to keep the connection, the eternal bond that the ring represents.  After the two have children the couple may depart and divorce or they live together for the rest of their lives with a growing family surrounding them.

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1)      "Endorphins." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 11 May.

       2009 <>.

2)      Haeberle, Erwin J. "History of Marriage in Western Civilization." The Sex Atlas 1981

       Web.8 May 2009. <>.

3)      Kleypas, Lisa. It Happened One Autumn. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publisher Inc.,


4)      Martins, Yolanda. "Preference for Human Body Odors Is Influenced by Gender and

       Sexual Orientation." American Psychological Society 16(2005): 694,698-699.

5)      Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia, PA: University

       of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

6)      Sefcek, Jon A.. "The Evolutionary Psychology of Human Mate Choice: How Ecology,

       Genes, Fertility, and Fashion Influence Mating Behavior." Journal of Psychology

      & Human Sexuality 18(2007): 1-20. Print.

7)      Slater, Lauren. "Love." National Geographic Feb 2006Feb 2006 Web.8 May 2009.


8)      Stritof, Bob and Sheri. "History of Marriage: How Marriage Has Evolved."

       2009. 8 May 2009   




Paul Grobstein's picture

romance, marriage, biology, stories

"behind the matches there is also the action of pheromones and characteristics of both the male and female and the Romance novels"

Sort of amazing that anyone actually gets married in contemporary western culture, no?