Recently, I did some interesting work for a client whose start-up helps identify and remove human bias from decision-making. This got me reading about biases. That in turn, made me connect bias and one of my favourite subjects: love. But before I go any further, let’s refresh our minds on how biases work.
Here’s a situation. You like those who have knowledge of English Literature. Two candidates come to you for the post of General Manager. Both pass the test. Both pass the interview. One of them actually fares better in the interview and seems more mature. But you choose the other one because she has a degree in English Literature, a factor that doesn’t have much to do with the job of a General Manager. This is how a bias plays out.
But what does that have to do with love? Well, the same kind of “flawed” thinking plays out in love. Here's a situation. Two people come to you with a marriage proposal. Both are equally intelligent, kind and responsible. In the end, you may choose the one you love over the other, even if you “know” they are less suitable in the long run for some reason.
Let’s examine that a little more closely. So, the way to recognize a bias is that all factors being equal, the candidate who reflects your bias will be chosen (knowledge of English Literature). The way to recognize love seems strangely similar; all factors being equal, the person we love gets preference.
Could it be possible, that love and bias follow the same cognitive pathway or pattern?
But we are not trained to think of love as a bias. That would be sacrilegious. Imagine telling parents and lovers around the world that what they’re feeling is not “love” but just a beautiful, ennobling bias. They’d turn on you like a pack of wolves.
But what if it’s true? What if what we call love is a sort of necessary bias, developed as an evolutionary advantage to help us choose one over the other in the long-run, thus creating social advancement and stability. In other words, the tendency to love may not always be a conscious human decision but an evolutionary outcome. At least, that’s how it could have started. And, little by little, over centuries, we gave it the hallowed language and customs and expectations of “love”.
If you told this to a loved one, they may ask you, “So, does this mean you don’t really love me?” You might then have to reassure them that you do indeed love them but that your decision to love them may not be something emanating from just you in the here and now; it’s probably thousands of years older than you. Of course, that specific line of thought is bound to be construed by some as “romantic” which would justify the theory’s premise – that we may have turned an evolutionary cognitive advantage to stabilize our families and our species into a highly desirable life value that invites so much emotion, expectation, and pressure. Love, love, love.
So that’s a thought for the lovestruck and the lovesick. When love fills you up or drives you crazy, remember it’s probably not just you; its millions of years older than you. Just a hangover from a more turbulent period when Nature wanted us to be less chaotic and more discriminating. A hangover that we as a culture have glorified excessively with our poetry and our diamonds and our precious, fragile ideals. That should help us approach love with a slightly lighter touch. And before you think I am anti-love (or a communist), here are some timeless verses on love by Louise Gluck to make you smile and to remind you that I like a good, old-fashioned love song more than anyone else:
“Why love what you can lose?
There is nothing else to love.”