I have a hypothesis that the sensation we describe as love is actually a feeling of relative safety that another individual provides. The "relative" part is important. Allow me to expand on this idea.

Humans are essentially animals that somehow learned to read. Our most basic instincts for survival are still very much intact. We are living danger detectors. That feeling of stress you experience so often is your early warning system.

Danger can come in many exotic forms. One form of danger involves physical safety, and here we can see that our loved ones would be the most reliable when it comes to protecting us in a dangerous situation. When the bear goes after you in the forest, your coworker tries to outrun you, but your spouse is likely to grab a tree branch and join the fight.

You will be tempted to argue that an armed hunter who happens to be in the general area during the bear attack would be more beloved than your spouse, according to my hypothesis, because only he can shoot the bear and revive your feelings of safety. But I think the hunter example supports my argument. If the hunter kills the bear and saves your life, you will in fact feel an immediate and deep affection for him that is a lot like love. For cultural reasons, you won't define your feeling as love, but it will feel spookily similar. And you know that after you thank the hunter, he will no longer be your protector. Your feelings for him are temporary.

Likewise, there's probably a good reason that women are often attracted to men in uniform, particularly the ones in lifesaving professions, such as police, military, and firefighters. As further evidence for my hypothesis, a cool uniform doesn't benefit doormen or waiters in the love department. For women, it must be the feeling of safety that makes a difference. It probably also helps that healthy-lookin men are more likely to produce healthy babies, which in itself makes a mother safer as the children get older and can help out.

Danger comes in many forms beyond physical peril. For example, one of my worst fears involves the risk of loneliness, or the risk of not being seen as useful to others. For me, that would be worse than death. Our loved ones are the best protection from that sort of danger. As long as you have a good relationship with your family, significant other, and friends, you feel safe from the dangers of loneliness. And you always feel potentially useful.

From a species perspective, our fear of eventual death is closely related to our impulse to spread our genes and create a sort of immortality. We feel love for the person we see as baby-making material, even if we override the instinct for reproduction for practical reasons, such as economics, age, etc. We're simply wired to feel safer, gene-wise, when we're around someone who might help us reproduce.

Religion also supports my hypothesis. The pious don't simply prefer God, or find it convenient to obey God. They literally love God. This is consistent with my hypothesis because the opportunity for an afterlife is the ultimate safety net. Even if things go pear shaped during life, believers still feel safe in the long run, and therefore they feel love.

Your dog appears to love you above all others, but it's no accident that you are your dog's main protector. You feed it, shield it from bigger dogs, shelter it, and let it sleep near you at night for group protection. In return, you know your dog will make you feel less lonely. We're a species that relies on group size to keep us safe. The more creatures we have on our side, the less likely we will be attacked.

A cat is harder to explain by my hypothesis. A cat makes you feel less lonely, but it has little or no protective qualities beyond sensing approaching danger faster than you can. I think that explains why an unusual number of men dislike cats: Cats don't have your back when the trouble comes down.

Love has many flavors, of course. You experience different kinds of love for a spouse, a family member, a friend, a pet, a hero, and a deity. My hypothesis is that each of those flavors of love is related to how safe each individual makes you feel. A little bit safe feels different from very safe.

That's my moist robot explanation of love. I hope I didn't ruin it for you, or minimize its importance. Making another person feel safe is the most perfect gift you can give. Love is the glue that binds society. If my hypothesis is correct, love is how you know you're doing things right.
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Apr 11, 2012
And then there's Mr. and Mrs. P. Mantis
Apr 11, 2012
You made me think of a funny article in The Onion a few years back with the headline "Housewife Charged In Sex-For-Security Scam"
Apr 11, 2012
Interesting point Scott. I think that safety could be an underlying factor for love. If your theory is true, when people don't feel safe anymore, they stop loving. If that's true, most divorces would be ultimately caused by one spouse or the other not feeling safe.

However, what safety is defined as varies from person to person and from culture as perception and point of view are important. Therefore some actions that would have love producing effects on some people or in some places would have completely the opposite effect for other people and other place.
+23 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2012
"Cats don't have your back when the trouble comes down."

I would go beyond this and suggest that in some cases they may be actively plotting your demise. That's why I don't like cats.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2012
"I think that explains why an unusual number of men dislike cats..."

Unless she's Catwoman. Any actress, I don't care.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2012
Probably... Yeah.

The best test of a theory is what it leaves out.

I'm gay, so I love a man because he makes me safe, but also because i am sexually attracted - with no link to children.
So sex is probably related to our feelings of love as well.

If someone offers safety and sex, then you choose to continue to 'use' them and only/predominantly them for those two for a time, I think that's a relationship. (and a great one at that)

Just DNA mentioned the vatican - Priests probably love God more than plebs because there is no sex, where a pleb loves their spouse more than God because it's sex and safety. But does a priest love god more than a pleb loves their spouse? :-)
Apr 11, 2012
What amazes me about your writing is how simple and accurate you can make ideas seem. The more I read, the more I find myself seeing the logic.
Apr 11, 2012
Yes and no.
The main problem is that you try to define all types of love as the same thing, which is to overly simplify things.

The connection and comfort you feel from people you've known a long time has little to do with romantic love.
Romantic love is also many-facetted.
One part is physical attraction, this is a large component.
The second part is, well, infatuation, meaning you are on an emotional high by just being close to the person you love.
The third part is familial love, and that is the part you are talking about.

Infatuation is always lost within 6-36 months, there exists no people (without hormonal errors) who are permanently infatuated.

Physical attraction is not that important to feel the true bond you feel for people, case in fact, you generally lose most physical attraction in a long relationship (sex turns more and more into an act of togetherness instead of an act of attraction).

Familial love is based on protection though, economic, emotional and physical.

Love towards cats are based on us seeing them as babies, nothing more, nothing less.
Apr 11, 2012
The reason cats seem to disobey this general rule is because they are mind-controlling aliens who infiltrate our governments and make us their slaves. Seriously though, I think cats just project an attitude of confidence that causes us to feel confident too. Also, I've been using the wet robot model of life a bit too often, and it's started to weird out my friends. Well, at least the normal one. I live near Santa Cruz, so weird is fairly normal here... @_@
Apr 11, 2012
Love is an artificial emotion. Infact, all high level "emotions" such as love, respect, hatred all are artificial, a byproduct of civilization. Our basic instincts are same as those of animals: survival. A baby instinctively learns how to have his/her way: emotionally blackmailing the parents, fighting with other babies, etc etc.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2012

Warning: I am making up the following fairy tale to test your hypothesis. No harm intended.


Once upon a time there lives an aethist in the Vatican City.

He remains unnoticed by the people at large because no one in the community ever questions each other's faith. They call it unconditional love.

Everyone is free to have his own ambitions. The aethist hopes to become the Pope one day.

So it happens that on his ninety-second birthday he is elected the pope. He performs the rituals with great dignity and grace.

Finally he comes out in the famous gallery and addresses the people:

"Dear ones, " he says, "I stand here to preserve and protect your devotion and your faith. Not my own.

'I dedicate my life to this solemn order in all the humility that it deserves.

'The love and passion amongst us is a universal absolute. It is its own cause and its own effect. Like music in a lifeless instrument.

'May this love prevail forever. Amen."


Now, your hypothesis says love is a feeling of 'relative' safety. My test says, this aethist will be flung out into the open spaces within 15 minutes of such a speech.

May be I am wrong.

Can a hypothesis be tested by a hypothetical case study? Not in a rational world I guess...


Apr 11, 2012
My hypothesis is that the feeling we call love is a product of the amount an individual sacrifices for another being (or beings). If the theory of love = safety was correct, then children would love their parents way more than parents love their children, but in actuality it is the other way around. Parents sacrifice so much for their children, and love them as intensely as can be. Parents provide their children with the ultimate safety, and children (especially after a certain age) often can barely tolerate their parents. Religion also supports this theory: a central part of every religion is the requirement that individuals sacrifice of themselves in the name of their god(s) (and it seems clear that those whose religious beliefs require more ardent sacrifice to their god tend to "love" their god more ardently). Even outside of institutions such as family and religion, think of the situations where intense feelings of love tend to arise among unrelated people, i.e. military troops and sports teams. These are situations that are predicated on the individual sacrificing of himself for his fellow soldiers, teammates, etc., and the result is intense feelings of love for those with whom, and for whom, one sacrifices. I think that love = sacrifice is a better explanation than love = safety.
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