In Ghanaian Culture, Love Is Helping and Caring for Others

Many studies have shown that despite cross-cultural similarities, cultural conceptions of love vary across societies (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019; 2022). Culture influences how individuals experience and express love, as well as social norms prevalent among communities (Fiske & Taylor, 2013; Kaufmann, 2011).

For instance, individualistic cultures tend to value experience and expression of passionate love more, while collective cultures tend to value the experience and expression of companionate love more (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Passionate love focuses on how love makes one feel, while companionate love focuses on feelings for and caring for others.

Love in the Cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa

In the collectivist societies of Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural norms associate love with experiences and expressions of affect towards others, social relationships, and material provisioning (Coe, 2011; Cornwall, 2002).

Love entails a commitment to sharing and reciprocity in social relationships, as well as the supply and allocation of material resources (Keefe, 2016). These qualities of love expression were referred to by researchers as “real love” (van Eerdewijk, 2006) and “materiality of care” (Coe, 2011).

Interdependent Life and Love in Ghanaian Communities

Ghana, a country in West Africa, presents an example of this conceptualization of love in its culture. A Ghanaian understanding of love entails meeting the needs of close others.

What are the origins of these cultural beliefs?

The majority of Ghanaians express their sense of identity through duty-based interpersonal interactions. Individuals are born into close-knit families that place a strong emphasis on socially required interpersonal responsibilities. Ghanaians care about preserving their interdependence in relationships and regard themselves as interdependent (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

The allocation of resources is the fundamental basis of our daily existence. The extended family structure has historically provided support and care for both young people and the elderly. People must reciprocate obligations, duties, and responsibilities toward family members for this system of care to function effectively. Ghanaians show this facet of love through diverse social actions and interactions. Material expressions of love are valued in Ghana, sometimes, above emotional expressions of love (Coe, 2011).

The Impact of Christian Beliefs on Ghanaians’ Understanding of Love

Religious beliefs influence the notion of love among people of faith. They express their best human qualities based on the universal ethos of honesty, care, and brotherhood (Prince, Denis, & van Dijk, 2009).

Christianity is a major part of Ghana’s culture and has an impact on many people’s daily lives. How do Christian beliefs influence Ghanaian cultural understandings of love?

Christians make a distinction between eros love and agape love. A desire for something or someone drives eros love, whereas respect for and concern for others drives agape love. The eros type of love is self-oriented, focusing on benefits to the self, while the agape type of love is other-oriented, emphasizing benefits to the other person. Ghanaian Christian churches influence Ghanaian society’s conceptions of love by promoting love in relationships and family life.

What Did a Recent Study on Love in Ghana Show?

Researchers looked into how Christian Ghanaians view love in relation to family in a recent study on love in the West African nation of Ghana. Let’s look at some of the main themes that 61 participants—men and women aged 20 to 70—reported when anthropologists interviewed them (Osei-Tutu et al., 2018).

In a previous blog post on this site, I explained how Ghanaians express and fulfill their love by attending to the needs of those close to them.

Helping Others Who Are in Need

Among those others, informants mentioned friends, strangers, and elderly people. Many participants (70%) regarded love as providing help to individuals in need, including the elderly, friends, and even complete strangers. For example, participants stated:

… if you go out and you see an elderly person who is not even from your own family, if there is anything to assist them with, you help them. If you have the means to support them, you do as much as you can.

(51-year-old female)

Supposing a friend is having a problem, losing a loved one or in need of some money, you take care of it or give her something.

(37-year-old male)

If you think somebody needs your help and you have the means, either you know the person or don’t know the person, you should show the person love… either in kind, in physical terms.

(34-year-old male)

As one can see, the Ghanaian Christian participants expressed their beliefs about agape love in their responses. They considered acts of love, such as fulfilling familial and neighborly responsibilities, to be the most important expressions of love. This aligns with Christian principles that prioritize compassion and the well-being of both one’s own family and others.

Love Is Care

Many Christian Ghanaian respondents (48%) in the study viewed love primarily as caring actions towards others, such as “showing concern.” Participants shared the following examples and provided comments:

…in school I’ve made a lot of friends… sometimes when you’re not well, they call…. When you’re on holidays, this long vac [vacation], they’ll be calling and checking on… So that’s love.

(21-year-old female)

…when you are sick they [people] visit you in the house, when you are promoted they show appreciation they congratulate you; it’s a way of showing love.

(40-year-old female)

Other Expressions of Love Among Ghanaians

Several participants (10%) mentioned kissing (children), hugging (children and husband), and touching (husband). Furthermore, a small percentage (7%) claimed that love entails openness, transparency, and not keeping secrets. Only a few participants mentioned these, so the authors did not assign them to a specific theme.

Love as Agape in Ghanaian Christian Culture

It is worth noting that these Ghanaian Christian participants made few references to eros (a type of passionate love) and instead emphasized agape (kind and caring actions toward others). They described love from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as illustrated by biblical examples. These definitions of love go beyond close relationships and intersect with the definition of what a good Christian or person should be.

How Assertion and Hesitation Help Sustain Love in Bicultural Marriages in Japan

Authors: Clifford H. Clarke and Naomi Takashiro

Intercultural partners experience many challenges in building and sustaining love in bicultural marriages. In the previous article, we reviewed the key problems that Japanese and American partners encounter in their bicultural marriages. We explored those cases of third-culture marriage in Japan by observing their interactions and interviewing them.

We clarify misinterpretations through the use of kotowaza, or proverbs and sayings that illuminate the values behind cultural interactions. Understanding the deeper values leads to modified interpretations of each other’s behavior that become more isomorphic and mutually acceptable to partners committed to constructing together a successful Third-Culture Marriage.

In our recent chapter 51 in the International Handbook of Love (Clarke & Takashiro, 2021), we elaborated on the eight primary qualities of third-culture marriage interactions. They are important when partners commit to constructing together a successful intercultural marriage.

Here is one more advice.

Context of the Interaction Assertion and Hesitation in Bicultural Marriages

Partners in bicultural marriages have varying degrees of action-oriented versus being-oriented inclinations (the oft-noted ‘A’ or ‘B’ type personalities). When these are not in sync they cause tension. For example, in planning everyday schedules, leisure trip activities, even with the pace in which house chores or shopping get done, and many other occasions in which joint preparations are desired.

Time Is a Key Value

Time is a commodity in both cultures however it is worshipped differently.   Preciseness of departure times or eating times or sleeping times cause communication issues when there is a significant difference between marriage partners’ commitments to preciseness or being laissez-faire toward time (letting things take their own course.) But proper timing is also important and that can vary by context and objective.  

The kotowaza, Seite wa koto o shisonzuru or ‘Hasty ones make blunders’ reminds us of the issue of proper timing, such as when to end or leave a conversation or party. This also suggests the importance of enryo or hesitation as a pause before sasshi can occur (Miike, 2003) as in giving consideration or guessing a meaning.

Necessary Elements of Place

Besides the perspective of ‘time’, there are also considerations of ‘Place’ that bicultural couples must appreciate and resolve.   There is an appropriateness of time, place, and occasion, “TPO” to speak honestly in private with honne or tactfully in public with tatemae. 

Tatemae & honne (public & private speech) create style ambiguities that result in challenging attributions that question each other’s integrity, based honesty, shōjiki, or on harmony, “Wa, as the primary value in society (Prince Shotoku Taishi, 604; Clarke, 1992; Nawano, Annikis, and Mizuno, 2006; Oosterling, 2005; Pilgrim, 1986).

Here Is an Example of One Scenario

A long-term U. S. man, a professor, complained often of his Japanese partner never having an opinion of her own, even about where to take a weekend trip or what to eat.  The American wanted her honest feeling regardless of potentially having her opinion overruled.  Having “no opinion” created comfort in the Japanese woman while not in the U. S. man. It rather limited the scope and depth of the bicultural relationship.  The man did not value awaseru, to adjust, adapt, or match, as the woman did because without ‘the truth’, her shōjiki, how could he know that he was pleasing her? 

She on the other hand was practicing enryo, hesitation, in order to let him choose.  Whatever his decision, she was sure that she was happier to awasu, to adjust to his preferences and would easily gaman, endure, the consequences.  She would be ‘the wise hawk that hides its talons’ – No aru taka wa tsume o kakusu.

Here Are the Tools for Cultural Exploration

Kotowaza (sayings and proverbs – some are the same as sayings and proverbs in English) can uncover deeper values and assumptions, which are often unknown to non-Japanese (Galef & Hashimoto, 1987).  Kotowaza, like those from Confucius or Musashi, reveal models for strategic thinking and behaviors and can provide a basis for conversations about different styles of communication. 

In this case the Japanese wife chose to enryo, hesitation, and awasu, to adapt to his expressed wishes.  The husband chose to act in a way that could have conveyed rikutsuppoi, argumentative, or display what she may have perceived as ki ga tsuyoi, strong mindedness, and jikoshucho, self- assertiveness, not characteristics admired in Japan.  

Learning Through Experimentation

Differences across these two cultures due to assumptions about integrity, honesty, persuasion, and adjustment often result in dissatisfaction within the marriage. However, just deeper understanding is inadequate without exploring the necessary changes in attitude, accepting the conflicting values, and experimenting with new behaviors.

One Pathway to Conflict Resolution

There are two social paths by which to display integrity.   One is by being honest; the other is by being harmonious.   In Japan, Prince Shotoku Taishi wrote in 604 A. D. “Above all, there is harmony” in what is known as Japan’s first constitution. 

Honesty is not as core a value in Japan as in the U.S. due to the predominance of tatemae rather than honne in the language, which enables the construction of greater harmony. 

One kotowaza shows the necessity of what Americans call lying; Uso mo hoben, similarly, ‘a white lie is a necessary evil’ teaches us that lying is sometimes expedient in order to save face and build harmony, as in diplomacy or office politics.

A Study Shows How Modern Single People Can Be Happy

Traditional cultural stereotypes have taught us for decades that marriage is the ultimate destiny for young men and women. They should find the right partner (as in love marriages), or someone should find them the right partner (as in arranged marriages) for a marital relationship.

Due to these cultural stereotypes, people told men and women they should marry to be happy. It appeared, however, that fewer and fewer young men and women believed in this myth. Many preferred to stay single rather than marry. Even though they stayed in a relationship, they started to postpone their marriage until later. Sometimes, they never married, preferring to live in a relationship without marital registration.

The overall decline in marriages was an alarming trend in the late twentieth century. In the late 1970s, divorce rates were high, and the number of people remarrying after divorce was decreasing. It became commonplace for couples to cohabit without registering their union. Between 1970 and 1999, the number of unmarried couples living together in the United States increased seven times.

I wrote about these tendencies in another article, What Happened with Marriage in the Late 20th Century and How Marriage Evolved Into Singlehood in recent several decades.

Does it mean that modern single men and women are less happy because they are not married?

Is it okay to be single? Another reasonable question researchers ask is whether marriage brings us happiness or whether we ourselves bring our happiness to make the relationship happy.

Singlehood in the 21st Century

In the 21st century, the number of people who are single continues to go up. While in 1990, 29% of adults in the U.S. did not have a partner, in 2019, the percentage increased to 38%.

The traditional cultural stereotypes, however, tell us that something is wrong with those single men and women. Many people believe that unmarried men and women are immature, self-centered, insecure, and unhappy. They believe that married people are more mature, kind, stable, and happy.

According to some research, people who are married or in a committed relationship tend to be happier overall than those who are single. But averages don’t tell the full truth because people are individuals.

Single People Differ from Each Other in How Happy They Feel

The findings of a recent study by Lisa Walsh, Victor Kaufman, and their colleagues from the University of California have demonstrated that single people have many individual differences in how they live and feel.

Researchers surveyed 4,835 single adults ranging in age from 18 to 65 who were single at the time of the survey. The results of the survey identified 10 distinct groups of single people, some of whom were happier than others.

The findings showed that 14% of single adults said that they were extremely happy. In fact, they felt just as happy as the happiest couples reported in other studies. Another 40% of singles were moderately satisfied, 36% were somewhat dissatisfied, and only 10% were extremely dissatisfied.

In contrast to popular stereotypes, the majority of singles (54%) were happy and satisfied with their lives. As a result, singles can experience happiness on par with couples, challenging the misguided stigmas often associated with singlehood.

What Makes Single People Happy

By focusing on typological groups of single people, researchers were able to learn more about what makes them happy.

The single people who were the happiest had strong relationships with their friends and family, a high sense of self-worth, and good personality traits. Besides, the happiest singles had a high level of extraversion, which means they were friendly and outgoing, and a low level of neuroticism, which is a tendency toward negative emotional instability.

On the other hand, the singles who were least happy had poor relationships with family and friends, low self-esteem, low extraversion, and high neuroticism.

Who Are Moderately Happy Singles?

We found interesting variations among moderately happy singles between these two extremes. They frequently keep an emotional balance between the good and bad sides of their lives. The happiest singles were those who had wonderful friends and family, but they did not have to have both to be content. Strong friendships but strained family ties characterized one happy group, while the other happy group displayed the opposite trend.

Another happy singles group had high neuroticism, but they overcame this challenge with high extraversion. To put it another way, there are numerous ways for single people to be content. One general stereotype cannot be used to describe all single people. There are several different kinds of single people, each with their own distinctive characteristics.

So, Living Single Is Not Necessarily Bad for You

What are the main conclusions the researchers came to?

We are not doomed to a life of misery if we remain single. In fact, a lot of single people are as content with their lives as their married counterparts. Additionally, there are numerous options for single people to live their own unique version of the good life. Some singles are lucky to have low neurotic traits, while others have a high sense of self. Some singles treasure their friendships. Others find comfort in their families.

So, it appears that the traditional gap between happy couples and unhappy singles is not as straight as previously believed. Currently, that gap may be narrowing as singlehood gains greater acceptance and prominence in modern societies.

We shall acknowledge that happiness doesn’t hinge on romantic or marital relationships. We shall cherish the diverse ways that we can find happiness in life, whether being married, in partnerships, or now.

Is It Okay to Be Single?

Since the middle of the 20th century, marriage and family have changed dramatically and surprisingly. The “golden age of marriage” and “sexual revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s promised that men and women should be happier in their love marriages. Being able to marry their romantic lovers and live with the partners they love should make them happy.

All these cultural ideals should make them presumably happy together for life: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.”

Nonetheless, in the late 20th century, unpredictable shifts in marital and family relationships flipped the cultural script on those ideals of love and commitment. Marriage and family as love unions have lost their value in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies, while singlehood has grown in value.

Nowadays, approximately half of all Americans are single—more than ever before. In addition, nearly three-quarters are not in a committed relationship. About half of those singles are not interested in dating or looking for a relationship. Many feel happy to continue living that way (Pew Research Center, 2019).

So, is it okay to be single?

The Romantic Myth of Being Happy Together

For a very long time, cultural ideologies of love have inspired men and women to love, marry, and be happy together with their beloveds. Surprisingly, in the following decades since it became possible in the “golden age of marriage,” marriage started to lose its allure.

The increasing number of single people appears to be the modern trend in the United States, Canada, and worldwide. Numerous studies conducted over the years have shown that, on average, married people are happier and healthier than single people.

However, it turned out that many men and women can also be happy being single. Being single is not necessarily a bad thing. Single women and men can be no less happy than married ones.

So, it is possible that our modern cultural beliefs are still rooted in the tenets of the old myth that only marriage can make people happy. Maybe this belief is just an old stereotype that is not really valid anymore. Perhaps we need to overcome the societal stigma and stereotype of singles being lonely and unhappy. Maybe we should better understand that being happily single is not less valuable than being in a happy relationship.

“What makes some people happy with singlehood while others are not?”

Geoff MacDonald, a Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, has investigated this issue. As an expert in this field, he recently talked about this topic with Kim Mills, who interviewed him on behalf of the American Psychological Association at the recent podcast of “Speaking of Psychology: Living a happy single life,” Episode 215

Is It True that Single People Are Less Happy than People in Relationships?

Multiple publications have shown that on average, the people who are in a romantic relationship feel happier; they are more satisfied in life than the people who are single (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019, 2021, 2022).

Men and women are both single before and after they enter into a relationship. They can be in different contexts and be of different personality. 

However, average data does not tell the whole story. We should acknowledge that the differences revealed in many studies are relatively small. Besides, the variability within each of these two groups of individuals is high (Karandashev, 2019, 2022).

All these statistics lead us to assume that not every single person is unhappy, and not every person in a relationship is happy in their life. So, the question remains: what types of single people are happier than other types of single people who are less happy?

Overall, for social scientists and relationship researchers, it is interesting to learn who those single people are and what makes them happy. And Professor Geoff MacDonald is on the front line of this research.

Family Evolution in the Late 20th Century

The 1950s and 1960s were the “golden age of marriage” and the triumph of romantic love in many modern Western societies. The cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution” prevailed. Marriage rates rose above 90%, and people married younger (see Karandashev, 2017, for a review).

That “golden age of marriage” promised to make men and women happy in loving marriages. Marriage achieved a fair balance between love and marital stability. However, surprisingly, the late 20th century’s dramatic evolution of marriage overturned romantic cultural ideals, rapidly changing people’s attitudes and behaviors toward sex, love, and marriage.

In the middle of the 1970s, marital relationships and families changed too fast, in some cases in a positive way and in others in a negative way. Fewer men and women wanted to get married. Many postponed their marriage. Some did not want to marry at all.

Marriages lasted less time; by the 2000s, they lasted an average of seven years. Divorce rates increased. Cohabitation and other alternatives to marriage have emerged. Living together without registering the marriage became very common. Between 1970 and 1999, the number of unmarried couples living together increased seven times. Only when a woman became pregnant did many couples decide to marry.

In the 1990s and by the early 2000s, women and men no longer viewed marriage as necessary to conceive a baby and get pregnant. For instance, in the United States, nearly 40% of cohabiting couples had children (Karandashev, 2017, p. 168).

Family and Parenthood in the Late 20th Century

The cultural evolution of marriage in the later 20th century headed toward a different model of parenthood. The birth rate among married couples continued to decline. Many women delayed becoming mothers. Women waited even later to get married. Childbearing rates among unmarried women increased. The number of children born outside of wedlock became more frequent (Coontz 2005, p. 261).

Many men became unwilling to marry. They preferred to get into relationships with women, yet they wanted to be less involved financially and emotionally. Some publications in the public media undermined men’s family responsibilities by encouraging them to enjoy the pleasures of romantic relationships. In this regard, women complained that contemporary men were reluctant to commit to relationships, which led to new tensions between women and men.

New Opportunities for Women’s Personal Growth

But on the flip side, aspirations and opportunities for women in the workplace increased both before and after marriage. Many of them postponed marriage in order to complete college. Their personal ambitions and self-confidence increased.

Others relished their single status for a few years before settling down with marriage and children. They remained single for longer and gained work and academic experience (Coontz, 2005).

The Contraceptive Revolution of the 1960s

In the 1960s, more effective contraceptives were developed. Since women had better access to effective contraception, they had more freedom to use birth control. Therefore, they were in a better position to decide on their own when and how many children to have. This gave them the possibility of changing their lives and marriages.

In some ways, the contraceptive revolution of the 1960s paved the way for the so-called sexual revolution. Reduced risk of unintended pregnancy allowed women to consider sexual activity and childbirth motivation separately, if desired. This gave her more freedom to enjoy sex and love.

Men and women became more involved in promiscuous sexual activity. Many premarital and extramarital couples were able to enjoy the sensual pleasures of sexual activity. Lovers and good friends enjoyed their sex, not necessarily being engaged as bride and groom and not planning to marry at all. The myth that sex can only be enjoyable within a marriage has been debunked. Men and women were more interested in sex than ever before, becoming more equal partners in sexual relations.

The Psychology of Sex in the Late 20th Century

Sex, on the other hand, entailed not only physical sexual activity but also psychological aspects of intimacy and a genuine interpersonal relationship. The latter attributes of sex were paramount. Sexual adequacy in a woman, in particular, was strongly related to the quality of her intimate relationships (Murstein 1974, pp. 441–442).

Cultural Evolution of Partners’ Psychological Roles in Relationships

The rate of childbirth decreased. The number of childless marriages and families with one to two children increased. All these factors weakened the links between marriage and parenthood. Couples reconsidered the roles that each partner should play in their marriages and families. There were fewer small children vying for their attention. Therefore, many couples appreciated the qualities of their own relationships in terms of intimacy and romantic love feelings.

By the 1970s and 1980s, all these changes had a profound impact on how people felt about intimate relationships. A significant shift toward prioritizing emotional gratification, intimacy, self-fulfillment, and fairness over conformity to social roles occurred.

The value of companionate love and partnership increased. When both the husband and the wife had jobs, they commonly discussed how to rearrange the division of housework and the equality of family chores.

The cultural evolution of social norms regarding relationships prompted many men and women to believe that autonomy and voluntary cooperation were more important than obedience to authority. Everywhere in North America and Western Europe, acceptance of singlehood, unmarried cohabitation, childlessness, divorce, and extramarital pregnancy increased (Inglehart 1990; Coontz 2005; see for review, Karandashev, 2017, p. 169).

So, while it took more than 150 years for love-based marriage to become the common model of family union in Western Europe and North America, it took less than 25 years to dismantle it (Coontz, 2005).

What Happened After the Golden Age of Marriage?

Social scientists coined the term golden age of marriage, referring to the period in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, the cultural ideology of “love marriage” and a number of marriages became popular and prevalent in many European countries, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and some other modernized societies across the world. According to statistics, more than 90% of all women and men wanted to marry, and they married at a young age. Marriage had become nearly universal in those countries by the 1960s (for a review, see Karandashev, 2017).

The Triumph of the Love-Marriage Cultural Ideology

Love finally conquered marriage and transformed marital relationships (Coontz 2005). The ideals of romantic love, emotional closeness, and sexual satisfaction for both partners became accepted by educated and liberal people, especially those of a young age. The love ideology implied the possibility for men and women to select the bride and groom of their personal choice according to their preferences and love ideals.

The ideals of love marriage also anticipated companionate love relationships and partnerships. Happiness among married partners was expected to be high, and it was frequently found to be so. The divorce rate remained stable. They enjoyed personal freedom in their marital relationships. Married couples had a strong sense of autonomy from their extended family.

Sex and Marriage in the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s and 1970s, sex became a private matter between two individuals. Men and women became more interested in the issues of sexual relationships and sexual pleasure. America and Europe were experiencing a sexual revolution. 

Women’s sexual attitudes changed. Previously, a woman could not achieve full sexual equality because of cultural reservations in this regard. New cultural norms not only permitted sexual pleasure for women but also encouraged it. The sexual revolution of the time recognized men and women’s sexual equality to have sexual satisfaction. 

The fear of an undesired pregnancy also played a role. While she and her partner could have “fun,” only she was primarily responsible for a child. Therefore, couples who had free premarital sex were expected to marry eventually (Murstein 1974, pp. 441–442).

The Beginning of the End of the Golden Age of Marriage

In the 1960s, marriage appeared to have found the optimal balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the constraints necessary for social stability. The ideology of love-based marriage affirms the right of the individual to choose his or her own spouse. Additionally, this cultural ideology emphasized the importance of the individual over inherited wealth and an ethnic group.

Social scientists predicted that many societies across the world would soon adopt this marriage pattern and these cultural values. This perspective on marital relationships was very appealing to young and educated individuals, particularly women (see Karandashev, 2017).

What Happened to Love Marriage Cultural Ideals? 

Surprisingly to many, significant changes began to occur in the opposite direction. In the late 1970s, the cultural revolution took place at a too fast pace and too drastically, getting out of control. The radical ideas of the late 1960s and early 1970s did not transform but overturn “traditional” marriage. Various changes in the realm of relationships occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

The pace of change in marriage attitudes and behaviors became too fast in the mid-1970s. Many of these transformations likely occurred because people did not meet their needs in marriages. Men and women initially sought to find their fulfillment at home. However, when their idealistic expectations for marriage were not met, their discontent grew. Accordingly, people became critical of the lack of intimacy and unsatisfying relationships with their spouses. When they hoped to achieve personal happiness and tried to make this happen within marriage, their expectations failed. Personal discontent with 1950s marital intimacy ideals, combined with economic and political changes in the 1960s and 1970s, most likely overturned 1950s gender roles and marriage patterns.

An American Professor of History and Family Studies, Stephanie Coontz, commented in her book that “it took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dominant model in North America and Western Europe,” but “it took less than 25 years to dismantle it” (Coontz, 2005, p. 247).

The Evolutionary Early Forms of Human Bonding

The need for positive social connections and bonding has deep evolutionary roots among animal species. There is strong evidence that many animals, such as birds, dogs, cats, and primates, are social in their emotions and behavior. And they love and need the love of others.

Humans have become one of the most social species in nature, even though sociability varies between individuals. People’s love for each other evolved into more complex forms of bonding (Karandashev, 2022).

According to multiple studies, the need for bonding and the need to belong have been at the origin of the need for love and attachment (Karandashev, 2022). So, we may assume that love and the need for love are widely present among many animals and humans, with variation between species and individuals.

Human bonding and love have undergone a long course of biological and cultural evolution. Researchers have traced their evolutionary roots back to the early times of biological evolution and human domestication as well as to the history of cultural evolution (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The Evolutionary Need for Positive Social Connection and Human Bonding

Biological and cultural evolution has made humans the most “social animals” among various animal species. People have survived by cooperating, assisting, and supporting one another, their family, and their tribe. Humans outperformed all other species in their capability to survive and thrive.

The early need for tribal coordination and cooperation triggered the evolution of bonding, attachment, and love. “Love,” in a broad sense of “bonding,” became the primary factor of emotional attraction and attachment between people that strengthened their relationships.

The evolutionary distinction between “ingroup” and “outgroup” provided the evolutionary foundation for the need for bonding and love. People distinguished those who they identified as part of their “ingroup” from those who they identified as part of the “outgroup.” And their need to belong to the “ingroup” and love the members of the “ingroup”—kin, family, significant others—became the motivation intrinsic to their human nature. Belonging to an “ingroup” provided them with security, subsistence, and psychological attachment to others who were essential to their survival.

The Early Cultural Evolution of Community Bonding

Tribal and community bonding were the earliest forms of love in the history of cultural evolution. This type of love fits well with the ecological, economic, and social conditions of the societies in which people lived in those times.

Men and women in tribal community-based societies were united, collaborative, supportive, and responsible for each other. This “community love” was the love within a tribe, kin, or other group of related people. Later, this form of love transformed into an apparent “ingroup” favoritism toward those belonging to our “ingroup.”

 That dutiful love worked well for the interdependent way of life in those ecological and social conditions. Men and women felt this collective love primarily in the form of responsibility for the community. Many tribal members were involved in serving, supporting, and assisting one another in their labor of protection, subsistence, and child rearing. The kin, extended family, and community felt responsible for the nursing and parenting of children. The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” was a reality of community bonding.

Later in cultural evolution, religious teachings, such as Christian and Buddhist ideologies, continued to support “love for all and everyone” as a high value.

Evolution of Kinship Bonding and Love

Kinship bonding and family love evolved later in human history. Emotional attraction and attachment between kin and members of extended families became common in collectivist societies of the traditional type.

People have lived in tribal communities of extended families in many traditional collectivistic societies for centuries. Kinship love meant the priority of family interest, favoritism, and support among kin and extended family (de Munck, 2019; de Munck, Korotayev, & McGreevey, 2016).

This kind of bonding provided the resources for physical and social security, wealth, and the care of everyone in the family. This type of dutiful and responsible love supplied food, shelter, safety, and other accommodations and resources. Consequently, kin bonding, family attachment, and “filial love” emotionally supported this collectivistic way of life concordant with the economic and social conditions of their lives (Karandashev, 2022, Ch. 3 and 7).

The Biological Evolution of Human Bonding and Love

The basic human need for positive social connections that have evolutionary and social roots is the foundation of love relationships. These origins can be traced all the way back to the beginning of recorded history. (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The evolutionary need for bonding and love derived from the early evolutionary distinction between “ingroup” and “outgroup.” The “ingroup” is us, and the “outgroup” is them.

The need to belong to an “ingroup” became the core of human motivation. Belonging to an “ingroup” provided security, subsistence, and psychological attachment to others whom they needed for survival.

The Evolutionary Need to Belong

People clearly benefit from living in cooperative and supportive groups that work together and help each other. People who live with others are safer and have a greater sense of physical, social, and psychological survival security. They had more consistent access to food and a greater capacity to defend themselves from raiders due to cooperation. Therefore, those ancestors of humans who lived in tribal communities had a greater chance of surviving.

People are “social animals” that have survived because they worked together, helped, and supported each other, their family, and their tribe. While hunting, they discovered that more hands are always better than two. As food gatherers, they gained protection from threats by traveling in groups. Those with a stronger sense of community were more likely to live longer. They had more and better offspring, which made them the dominant genetic group.

“Love as a means of community bonding” is the main thing that brings people together and makes their relationships stronger. As social beings, they have a better chance of staying alive when they live together because they can help each other. This is why the need to belong is intrinsic to human nature. Subsequently, men and women have an innate need to belong.

Social Bonding That Enables Human Physical Survival

When people belong to a social group, they have a greater chance of surviving because the group can provide better access to resources for maintaining sustenance and security. Those who live in tribal communities have a greater sense of security in their social connections than those who live alone. When members of a community work together to share resources, it makes it easier for them all to obtain food, water, and shelter. In addition to this, they are better able to defend themselves against predators as well as aggressive outsiders attacking them.

Social Bonding That Empowers Psychological Survival

In a later stage of evolution, human motivation also included the need for psychological security in addition to physical security. In tribal subsistence-based and traditional collectivistic societies, extended family, kin, and the tribal community provided sufficient conditions for secure social bonding. The ties of tribal community and kinship were the social relations that kept people together in many small-scale, low-technology societies of the past.

Over the course of evolution, the need to belong to a group and feel safe psychologically and emotionally became the driving force behind all human behavior. Strengthening one’s physical and psychological strength, as well as developing supportive relationships, became vital to surviving in life.

Thus, bonding, the need to belong, and the need for love all have their roots in our evolutionary past, which I discussed at length elsewhere (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

How People Were Domesticated

Natural selection almost certainly played a role in the development of social abilities, social bonding, and prosocial behavior during the course of human evolutionary history. “Domestication syndrome” was at work with humans in the same way as with animals.

Brian Hare, a Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University, proposed the theory that explains the “Survival of the Friendliest” (Hare, 2017). According to this theory, humans domesticated themselves in the latter stages of evolution. In the course of evolution, human social skills emerged and evolved when natural selection began to favor in-group pro-sociality over aggression.

Social characteristics in humans evolved as a result of a “domestication syndrome” similar to that seen in other domesticated animals. The meta-analysis of many studies from the fields of paleoanthropology, neurobiology, and developmental biology was in accord with this evolutionary theory of domestication (Hare, 2017).

Evolution of Animal Bonding and Love

Many people love birds, cats, dogs, and other animals. They enjoy being around them and feel a pull to help them when they can. Do animals love us back?

Indeed, animals do feel emotions such as joy, love, fear, despair, grief, and others. It is also true that many animals are capable of loving the people who care for them. And they love us, not just because we feed them; they love us as companions.

The needs for positive connections and bonding with others are evolutionary motivations that have evolved over time in social animals and humans. These origins can be traced all the way back to the natural evolution of other social species, such as dogs, cats, and primates (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

Love as Social Bonding Among Animals

Researchers documented substantial evidence that certain animals and humans, during the course of their evolution, have developed the psychological mechanisms of cooperation, prosocial behavior, and social bonding. These evolved mechanisms aided their survival in both nature and society (e.g., Germonpré, Lázniková-Galetová, Sablin, & Bocherens, 2018; Marshall-Pescini, Virányi, & Range, 2015; Hare, 2017; 2006; Fisher, 2004; Rosenblum & Plimpton, 1981; see Karandashev, 2022, Ch. 3 for a review). 

According to the findings of neuroscience, a wide variety of animals have the physiological mechanisms that enable them to experience love as feelings of strong affection for another animal or person.

Evolution of Oxytocin

Oxytocin is the hormone of love and social bonding. Along with the evolution of animal and human social behavior and the capacity for social connections, oxytocin has accordingly evolved. This chemical messenger’s roles in the brain are associated with a positive social relationship, attachment, caring, and interpersonal trust (Carter, 1998, 2014; Carter, Williams, Witt, & Insel, 1992; De Boer, Van Buel, & Ter Horst, 2012, see for review Karandashev, 2022, Ch. 3).

Varieties of Relationship Systems in Animals

Various interindividual relationships may exist among social species that live in groups. Many of these relationship systems engage multiple females and multiple males. And the relationships are promiscuous. Others are usually pair-bonded species that live in groups with only one female and one male (Lukas & Clutton-Brock 2013; Reichard & Boesch 2003; see for review Karandashev, 2022, Ch. 3).

Love as Social Bonding Among Dogs

Dogs have a well-earned reputation for being social and friendly with people. Dogs may have descended from wolves. Yet their social behavior has diverged from that of their wild ancestors. Some archeological findings and scholarly speculation point to the possibility that in prehistoric times certain wolf subspecies began to settle in close proximity to human settlements. (e.g., Germonpré et al., 2018; Marshall-Pescini et al., 2015; Morell, 1997; see for review Karandashev, 2022, Ch. 3).

Instead of competing for prey, they started to prefer helping the people who fed them in exchange for their service. Those friendly wolves had a better chance of survival and reproduction. Natural evolutionary selection was favorable to those wolf-dog hybrids for their cooperative tendencies toward humans. The domestication process took place, and those variants of wolves eventually evolved into domestic dogs. Nature chooses those who are best suited to the conditions under which they must survive.

Love as Social Bonding Among Primates

Like other social species, the chimpanzee groups have a variety of different behavioral traits and interindividual relationships. Nevertheless, they all share the characteristics that define them as a distinct “chimpanzee society.” They might also pursue distinct mating strategies and have different mating systems (Chapais, 2011).

Bonding as a basic form of love seems to be present among some primates. Infant primates are hardwired to cling to their mothers, and even a brief separation causes anxiety. They start looking for their mothers. They are overjoyed and excited to be back. It appears that infant primates certainly experience love as attachment (Rosenblum & Plimpton, 1981).

It appears clear that a desire for union and a desire to avoid separation are the fundamental motivations that give them a better chance of survival. Unlike those of other primates, human societies are the only ones where multiple reproductive pairs remain together (de Waal & Gavrilets 2013).

The Challenges of Love Marriages for African Men and Women

In the second half of the 20th century, social and economic modernization transformed traditional African marriages. Urbanization and social mobility were key contributors. Many young men and women moved to the cities. The new labor market and many new urban jobs superseded the importance of traditional rural labor and established family roles. Education significantly influenced this social and cultural shift. For many people, these societal dynamics were destroying a tribal, kinship-based communal framework of living.

The Evolution of African Marriages in the Second Half of the 20th Century

The transformations in many African societies, especially in urban areas, have changed how people view gender, marriage, and families. They modified mate-selecting and marriage practices. Families’ power to influence and manage their children’s marriages and relationships deteriorated.

The evolution of African marriage was difficult. Western norms of individualism were replacing rural stereotypes and mores. Men and women in African cities frequently struggled between collectivism and individualism. They could feel bad if they rejected family, but they’d be frustrated if they let their family members impose the old conventions on their lives.

Once again, geographical and cultural, rural and urban differences in these changes in relationships and marriages varied across the huge cultural diversity of the African continent.

The Changing Value of Individual Choice in Marriages

For instance, in many parts of West Africa, individual choice in mate choice has become socially acceptable only lately. This new opportunity became more affordable first among wealthy and educated men and women in metropolitan areas. Increasingly, they relied on their romantic love feelings in the selection of a spouse (Little & Price, 1973).

According to studies, African men and women across many countries also gradually came to prefer deciding who to marry based on their love feelings (Mair 1969; Little 1979; Smith, 2001; van der Vliet 1991). Romantic love became a criterion for mate selection.

Its significance and prevalence also increased in marital relationships. Companionship love became more common for some African couples. Here is an excellent illustration of modern African love:

“Chinyere Nwankwo met her husband Ike in the town of Owerri in southeastern Nigeria, where she attended a teacher’s college after completing secondary school in her village community. Ike was eight years her senior and a building contractor successful enough to own a used car, a prized symbol of wealth and success. On their first date he took her to the disco at the Concorde Hotel, at that time the fanciest in town. In addition to being educated, Chinyere was a beautiful young woman and consequently had many suitors. Her courtship with Ike lasted almost two years. During that time they often dined out and went dancing together. Among the more memorable events of their courtship were a weekend outing to the Nike Lake resort near Enugu and a trip to Lagos during which they attended a performance by Fela Ransome-Kuti, a famous Nigerian musician. During their courtship, each bought the other birthday cards, and for Ike’s birthday, Chinyere baked a cake. They went to many social events together and acknowledged to their peers that they were a couple. Not long into their courtship, Chinyere and Ike began sleeping together. Prior to approaching Chinyere’s people and his own family about their getting married, Ike proposed to Chinyere. They agreed together to get married and then began the process of including their families.”

(Smith, 2001, p.134)

Ike and Chinyere both said that they decided to marry because they had fallen in love.

Differences Between “Love for Marriage” and “Love in Marriage”

The two different tendencies are still present in African family relations. One is the changing cultural attitudes toward the value of individual choice and love in courtship. “Love for marriage” is more acceptable now than before. Another is the conservative attitude toward the value of companionate love between wife and husband, while the extended family is still of high value. Spousal “love in marriage” faced difficulties because it contradicted the high priority of “extended family love.”

Modern ways of African courtship tend to prioritize human relationships, interpersonal intimacy, and gestures of love. It gradually adopts a gender-neutral gender dynamic.

Nonetheless, the daily life of marriage and relationships between spouses remain intertwined with the larger family and community. Existing extended familial relationships and obligations are highly valued. The fertility of a wife and husband was very important, as well as their kinship functions. The patriarchal structure was still frequently reinforced in modern African marriages.

Thus, men and women in their social and personal interactions within families use both modern and traditional value systems to negotiate their relationships and achieve their goals (Smith, 2001; van der Vliet 1991). Mate selection, marriage, and family structures are evolving in modern ways. However, those changes and gender relations are still very sensitive to the values of fertility and parenthood. Even in current African cultures, collectivistic values and corporate kinship ties are still essential for the lives of new couples.