Modern Intimate Practices in Online Dating Apps

According to previous research on online dating app practices, there are two groups of users. Some are seeking casual sex, while others are seeking a committed relationship, as an imposed normative framework suggests.

Intimate Relationships in Online-Mediated Cultures

Sociologists have long discussed the impact of technology on personal life in the context of online dating apps. Initially, they welcomed the internet’s emancipatory potential, predicting increased safety, control, and freedom. The internet’s romantic freedoms have made intimate relationships less traditional, thus weakening patriarchal sexual and gender orders.

However, some authors have negative and pessimistic views on the emergence of dating apps. They believe that such mobile services can damage intimate relationships.

Social networking and dating apps reclaimed the popularity of Christopher Lasch’s ‘ ideas of a culture of narcissism’ in the late 1970s. (Lasch, 1979) Increasing individualization and excessive consumerism have led to personal relationships crumbling due to emotional weight. It is asserted that technology has damaged interpersonal skills. The technologies prevent men and women from being fully present in relationships due to phone and internet-mediated distractions.

How Dating Apps Divide Love and Sex

The technological tools of dating apps allow us to organize intimate contacts by using rational procedures and question catalogs to calculate match probabilities. These tools have evolved from online dating to mobile dating, reducing physical and digital space. Many researchers focus on how people use dating apps and whether this challenges traditional commitment patterns.

According to some evidence, many users use online apps to engage in casual sex in addition to looking for a committed partnership. Mobile dating facilitates temporal, goal-oriented encounters for the easy establishment of relationships.

On the other hand, ‘real’ or authentic love seems possible only within romantic relationships, which some authors present as something to be preserved and protected. It is contrasted with casual sex as a commodified social form (Illouz, 2020) that accumulates capital in the form of multiple sexual partners.

Dating apps can help organize casual sex, avoiding long-term commitment. These sex-focused practices and relationships seem to be neoliberal, focusing on pleasure and satisfaction without real romance. These practices are aimless and fluid. They lack the goal of romantic relationships.

Casual sex, for many, is the choice of non-choice. Sexual partners relate to each other without pursuing a specific goal, such as initiating a romantic love relationship.

Some researchers suggest expanding traditional understandings of relationship formation and development to include the changes in interaction afforded by mobile dating.

How Marriage Evolved Into Singlehood

In people’s minds, love and marriage relationships have been deeply associated with wellbeing and happiness. For a long time, many women and some men thought that marriage would bring them happiness in life. Yet, something unexpected occurred by the end of the 20th century.

Cultural Evolution of Marriage in the Second Half of the 20th Century

The cultural evolution of marriage and family since the middle of the late 20th century has been surprising for many people. Many social scientists did not anticipate these changes in marital relationships that occurred in many European and North American countries. 

In these and other modern Western societies, the “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s and 1960s brought to life the cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution.”

As a result of cultural progress in relationships, women and men in love marriages should presumably become happier. Yet, the unpredictable evolution of marriage in the late 20th century reversed those romantic cultural ideals.

What Happened with Marriage and Family in the Late 20th Century?

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, many dramatic changes occurred in marital and family relationships, both in positive and negative ways. Marriage became less popular among both men and women. Many significantly delayed their decisions to marry. Marriages became shorter-lived and ended in divorce.

Some simply did not wish to get married at all. Alternatives to marriage, such as cohabitation, have become common. Living together but not officially getting married became a frequent practice. Many men and women no longer consider marriage to be necessary in order to conceive, become pregnant, and have a child.

In the late 20th century, the cultural evolution of marriage led to a different model of parenthood. Many women postponed giving birth to a child and waited even later to get married. Unmarried women were more favorable for childbearing. Couples wanted fewer children.

Many men did not want to marry and take on marital and family responsibilities. They liked having relationships with women, but they didn’t want to be as emotionally or financially involved. They preferred to enjoy the pleasures of romantic relationships without commitments and obligations.

Thus, the cultural model of love-based marriage that triumphed as a socially normative value and practice in the 1950s and 1960s waned at the end of the 20th century. The value of marriage and family as love unions faded while the value of singlehood grew in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies.

Why Modern Men and Women Prefer to Be Single

According to recent data from the Pew Research Center (2019), more Americans than ever before are single. About half of all Americans are single. And nearly three out of ten adult Americans are not in a committed relationship.

They live with a partner in a committed or not-committed relationship without being married. About half of those singles said they were not looking for a relationship and not interested in dating. Many are perfectly happy to stay that way.

Meanwhile, simply looking at marriage rates reveals that the number of singles is even higher. According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately half of all American adults, or approximately 127 million people, are unmarried. Those singles are an interesting bunch. Some people have never married. Some are divorced, while others are widowed. They are either older or younger. Some of them are parents. Others do not have children. All of these factors, as well as many others, may influence how people perceive singlehood.

So, the questions arise:

  • Whether the old belief that “marriage is important for happiness” is not valid anymore.
  • And whether single men and women can be no less happy than married ones

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

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 with Marriage in the Late 20th Century?

The middle of the 20th century, from the 1950s to the 1960s, was the “golden age of marriage” and the triumph of romantic love. Many modern societies have experienced the rise of the cultural ideologies of “love marriage” and “sexual revolution.” The number of marriages increased above 90%. By the 1960s, the popularity of love marriage had become nearly universal. Becoming married appeared to be the happy destiny of romantic love. Men and women tended to marry at a young age (see Karandashev, 2017, for a review).

After more than 150 years of striving for romantic love ideals, love had a triumph and conquered marriage (Coontz 2005). The cultural ideals established the new norms of the love-based marriage in North America and Western Europe, as well as in many other modern countries.

However, the “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s and 1960s, which promised to make people happy in love marriages, surprising reversal of romantic cultural ideals.

Love conquered marriage after more than 150 years of striving for romantic love ideals (Coontz, 2005). The cultural ideals established the new norms of love-based marriage in North America, Western Europe, and many other modern countries. The “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s and 1960s promised to make people happy in love marriages.

 However, the popularity of romantic cultural ideals and marriage began to decline.

What happened in the late 20th century with the cultural evolution of marriage?

A Turning Point at the End of Marriage’s Golden Age

In the 1960s, marriage seemed to have achieved the right balance between love and social stability. Love-based marriage encouraged the right to choose a marital partner. That cultural ideology valued romantic love and personal choice over inherited social ties and family obligations. Young and educated people, especially women, found this cultural perspective on marriage to be very appealing (see Karandashev, 2017).

However, something unexpected happened with the ideals of love marriage. Significant cultural changes started to take place in the opposite direction in the late 1970s. Cultural evolution turned out to be too fast and too drastic. Instead of evolutionary progress, it became a cultural revolution.

What Changed in Love and Marriage in the Late 20th Century?

Mid-1970s love, sex, and marriage attitudes and behaviors changed too quickly. The radical cultural ideas reversed “traditional” marriage. Many of these changes occurred because of the unfulfilled marital expectations of men and women. Their dissatisfaction grew when they did not meet their marriage ideals of love, intimacy, and partnership. Many failed to find happiness in marriage.

The Age and Length of Marriage in the Second Half of the 20th Century

Love marriage had become a common cultural norm in many societies by the 1960s. Marriage appeared to be the happy destiny of the romantic love dreams of youngsters (see Karandashev, 2017, for a review).

In general, men and women married at a young age, and their marriages lasted longer than at any time in European and American history. For example, in 1900, the average marriage in America and Europe lasted 11 years. During the “golden age of marriage” of the 1950s, marriages lasted on average 31 years. However, between 1966 and 1979, the age when men and women married increased. However, the length of marriage shortened, and divorce rates accelerated and doubled by the 2000s. The marriages in the 2000s lasted, on average, seven years.

There was good news and bad news about the evolution of marriage by the early 2000s. The positive trend was that the number of divorces had been going down steadily over the last few decades of the 20th century. The negative trend was that fewer men and women were getting married at all.

The Declining Number of Marriages in the Late 20th Century

Another alarming trend of the late 20th century was the decline of marriages overall. In particular, by the late 1970s, there were high divorce rates as well as a decline in the number of people remarrying after divorce.

New alternatives to marriage, like cohabitation, emerged. Living together without registering the marriage became quite widespread. In the United States of America, for instance, the number of unmarried couples cohabiting increased seven times between the years 1970 and 1999.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many couples usually decided to get married when a woman became pregnant. However, in the 1990s, women and men no longer considered marriage as important to become pregnant or give birth. By the early 2000s, nearly 40% of cohabiting couples in the United States had children under the age of 18 living with them (Seltzer 2004; Smock & Gupta 2002, see for review Karandashev, 2017, p. 168).

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 Golden Age of Love Marriage in Western Societies

Love marriage appears to be a valuable cultural value in many countries throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many other modernized societies around the world. However, it was not always true in history. In the 20th century, industrialization, urbanization, increased social mobility, and social and cultural modernization brought the hope that love would finally conquer marriage.

When Was Love Marriage’s Golden Age? 

It turns out that the decade of the 1950s, which began in 1947 in the United States and lasted until the early 1960s there and until the late 1960s in Western Europe, was a truly remarkable time for marriage. Romantic love transformed marriage in the 20th century. Love finally conquered marriage. Romantic love and sexual fulfillment became the realities of premarital and marital relationships. In the Western world, marriage entered its heyday during this time period.

In that decade, there was a surge of support for the view that a happy marriage should be one in which each spouse feels they have received their fair share of sexual satisfaction, emotional closeness, and the opportunity to realize their full potential. The majority of people believed that they would not only find the greatest happiness in marriage but also the greatest meaning in their lives. Marriage had become nearly universal by the 1960s in many western European countries and North America (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).

What Was Good About the Golden Age of Marriage?

During that period, about 95% of all men and women strived to marry and married younger. During the 1950s, the norm of young marriage was so prevalent that an unmarried woman as young as twenty-one might be concerned about becoming an “old maid.” Many men and women relished the opportunity of courting and dating the partners of their own choice. They enjoyed marrying at their leisure and establishing their own households. The life span increased, married people felt happy, and divorce rates held steady. Married couples felt independent of their extended family ties. They enjoyed the freedom of their marital relationships (Coontz 2005, pp. 226–228).

By the 1960s, it looked like marriage had found the perfect balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the limitations needed for social stability.

Would the Golden Age of Marriage Spread Throughout the World?

Many social scientists thought that as industrialization spread around the world, love-based marriage and the male breadwinner family would replace the many other marriage and family systems in collectivistic societies. They predicted that love marriages would prevail over the consanguinity and arranged marriages widespread across many societies in traditional cultures.

For example, American sociologist William Goode (1917–2003), an expert on family life and divorce, conducted cross-cultural analyses of marriage and divorce across many societies. He examined family data from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, and Japan available at the time.

Based on his analysis, Goode revealed that the above-mentioned cultural evolution of conjugal family systems and the “love patterns” in mate selection were evident in all of these world regions and societies. In his pioneering and seminal book “World Revolution and Family Patterns” (1963), he presented these results and conclusions in an explicit and direct way.

People across cultures prioritized their material and psychological investments in the nuclear family as well as their emotional needs. They believed that each spouse could legitimately expect to rely on the other, prioritize their relationship, and put their loyalty to their partner ahead of their responsibilities to their parents.

The Love Marriage Ideology 

According to William Goode (1959), the ideology of love-based marriage declares the individual’s right to choose his or her own spouse. This cultural ideology also emphasized the value of the individual over inherited wealth and ethnic group. Goode provided statistics and other data to show that love marriages were gaining popularity around the world at the time.

Many social scientists agreed with Goode and supported this conclusion. They believed that in Western societies, love marriage and the nuclear family increased their popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. They thought that the cultural evolution of marriage had prevailed in Europe and North America and had reached its culmination.

Their scientific prediction was that the rest of the world’s cultures would soon follow this marriage pattern that will soon be prevalent across many societies. This way of thinking about relationships was very appealing to young and educated people, especially women (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).

The Need to Belong: Individual and Cultural Perspectives

The “need to belong” is, at its core, a desire to feel loved and accepted. And all men and women have such needs and strive to fulfill them in their relationships with caregivers. Infants, from the early days of their lives, experience this kind of need as attachment.

Everyone has “the love need,” which is the need to belong to a group of significant others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Maslow, 1943). In the same way, we can define love as the physical and emotional connection that a person feels for other people (Pinkus, 2020). Affiliative love and the need to belong can be fulfilled in various kinds of in-group relationships.

When the Basic Need to Belong Meets the Feelings of Attachment

Humans as a species are “social animals.” They are dependent on each other. Their need for interpersonal bonding implies the basic need to belong and be attached to others, which is significant for their physical, social, and psychological survival.

Infants and small children are dependent on adults as caregivers for care, support, and protection. In the early years, a child feels the need to belong to and be cared for by caregivers. This can be a group of caregivers, as in the case of tribal or kin community bonding. This can be one or two caregivers, as in a case of pair-bonding.

In various aspects of their lives, children experience attachments to their caregivers. They need to be close to significant others to feel physically and emotionally secure. These feelings fulfill their need to belong to the caregiver or a group of caregivers who protect them and deliver them an experience of psychological safety and comfort, like being in a “safe haven.” (Ainsworth, 1989; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1988/2008; Harlow & Zimmerman, 1959; see for review Karandashev, 2022).

Culturally different ways of socialization and childrearing practices in different societies can use ethnically specific strategies and methods to fulfill children’s needs to belong. These approaches vary in tribal communities, extended families, and nuclear families and may include multiple caregiving practices. These varieties of relationship systems incorporate culturally different models of attachment (Karandashev, 2022; Keller, 2013; Keller, 2018).

In any case, children feel secure when their need to belong is met and insecure when it is not. In later years, the need to belong to the “safe haven” of one or several caregivers transforms into the need to belong to a peer or a group of peers.

How Individuals Feel the Need to Belong

The need for bonding and the need to belong are among the most basic human motivations. However, individuals vary in the degree of these needs. Some individuals have a stronger desire to belong to a group, while others have a weaker desire to belong.

On the one hand, would you agree that…?

  • You need to feel that there are people you can turn to in times of need.
  • You want other people to accept you.
  • You do not like being alone.
  • You have a strong “need to belong.”
  • Your feelings are easily hurt when you feel that others do not accept you. 
  • You try hard not to do things that will make other people avoid or reject you.
  • It bothers you a great deal when you are not included in other people’s plans.

If you agree with most of these statements, you probably have a strong “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

If you strongly disagree with these statements, you probably have a low “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

On the other hand, would you agree that…?

  • You seldom worry about whether other people care about you.
  • Being apart from your friends for long periods of time does not bother you.
  • If other people don’t seem to accept you‚ you don’t let it bother you.

If you mostly disagree with these statements, you most likely have a strong “need to belong” to the circle of another person or others.

If you agree with the majority of these statements, you probably have a low “need to belong” to the circle of another or others.

Answering these questions gives an idea of how strong or weak your need is to belong to a group of others, even one.

You can find the full scale to assess the need to belong at

See also the references in Baumeister and Leary (1995).

A Cultural Need to Belong

Regardless of our individual differences and interests, the cultural norms of our society encourage us to feel that the need to belong is important or less important in our daily lives. The cultural value of the need to belong is high in interdependent collectivistic cultures, like in Eastern societies, while it is lower in independent individualistic cultures, like in Western societies (Karandashev, 2021; 2022).

In other words, when compared to people living in modern Western individualistic societies (like north-western European countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), people living in traditional collectivistic societies (like Japan, China, and other eastern-Asian countries) have a tendency to feel a greater need to belong in their communities. The values held by Eastern-Asian collectivistic societies encourage a sense of belonging, connections, and kinship among members of the community (Karandashev, 2021, 2022).

Therefore, societies teach individuals to belong or not belong according to their cultural values, despite people’s individual differences. Societies don’t like diversity, while individuals do.

The Cultural Evolution of Human Bonding

Animal species’ need for positive social connections and bonding has deep evolutionary roots. According to scientific evidence, many animals, including birds, dogs, cats, and primates, exhibit social emotions, behaviors, and a need for bonding and love. They are capable of loving and need the love of others.

Humans have evolved into one of nature’s most social species, though sociability varies between individuals. People’s feelings of love for one another have evolved into more complex forms of bonding.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the origins of the need for love and attachment are the needs for bonding and belonging. We may therefore assume that love and the need for love are widespread among animals and humans, with species and individual differences (Karandashev, 2022).

Human bonding and love have evolved over time, both biologically and culturally. Researchers have traced their evolutionary roots all the way back to the beginnings of biological evolution and human domestication, as well as the history of cultural evolution (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The Evolution of the Need to Belong to an In-Group

Humans developed motivation for positive social connection with others early in their cultural evolution. Their need for human bonding and love evolved. Due to biological and cultural evolution, humans are the most “social animals” among various animal species. People have survived by working together, assisting, and supporting one another, their families, and their tribe.

Early tribal societies required cooperation and coordination, which inspired the development of bonding, attachment, and love. The main driver of emotional attraction and attachment between people that consolidated their relationships was “love,” understood broadly as “bonding.”

The distinction between “ingroup” and “outgroup” provided the evolutionary basis for the need for community bonding and kinship love. People were able to differentiate between those they identified as members of their “ingroup” and those they identified as members of their “outgroup.”

Since then, their need to belong to the “ingroup” and to love the members of the “ingroup”—kin, family, and significant others—became their intrinsic human motivation. The feeling that they belonged to an “ingroup” provided them with security, sustenance, and psychological ties with significant others.

Early Community Bonding and Dutiful Love

Cultural evolution began with tribal and community love. This kind of love fitted the ecological, economic, and social conditions of those ancient times. Tribal community-based societies had united, collaborative, supportive, and responsible social relationships. The “need to belong” and “community love” bonded individuals within a group—the tribal community, kin, and extended family.

This dutiful love suited people’s interdependent lifestyles in those ecological and social conditions perfectly. Men and women experienced this “collective love” as community responsibility. People in a tribe worked cooperatively, supported and protected each other, and raised their offspring. An extended family and tribal community rather than parents raised their children together. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was a community-bonding reality.

Cultural Evolution and Varieties of Relationship Systems

Human societies, like social animal groups, have a wide range of mating and social bonding relationship systems. There are varieties of multi-male and multi-female social groups. In these types of societal organizations, groups comprise several adult males and/or several adult females, as well as their offspring.

These types of sociality, for example, are common in many nonhuman primates. The relationship systems of primates vary greatly in their community and family organization. In such multi-male, multi-female societies, many male and female individuals form large social groups. They practice polygamous relationships, in which both females and males can mate with multiple members of the opposite sex.

Many of our human ancestors also had multi-male and multi-female social organizations of this kind. However, different from their ape ancestors and other species, human relationship organization and mating systems have evolved further (Chapais, 2011; de Waal & Gavrilets, 2013; Flinn, Geary, & Ward, 2005).

Human evolution developed a different relationship system that emphasized long-term pair-bonding mating and extended and nuclear families. Since then, people in many traditional collectivistic societies live in extended or nuclear families and reproduce offspring with substantial parental investment. Evolutionary forces have made it advantageous for humans. The “need to belong” to a tribal community transformed into the need to belong to an extended or nuclear family. Long-term pair bonding has evolved and become a widespread cultural form of relationship systems in many societies around the world. (Geary & Flinn, 2001; Hill et al., 2011; Rooker & Gavrilets, 2016).

Evolution of Pair-Bonding

Later in human social evolution, in addition to social bonding, the relationship system of pair bonding and attachment evolved as the evolutionary mechanism of bonding. Human societies’ extended family structures began to give way to nuclear family structures.

In the process of natural selection, the human “attachment behavioral system” evolved over time as a motivational system “designed” to regulate proximity to an attachment figure. The attachment behavioral system gradually became more favorable to pair-bonding attachment (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980). 

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 Need to Belong and Love

Everyone has a “need for love” of some kind. For women and men who believe that love is bonding, the “need to belong” is basically the “need for love.” Those who have a strong desire to belong to a group tend to think that love is a form of bonding.

Just imagine being dropped on an island alone for the rest of your life, like Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist of a novel by English writer Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731). You have food, a place to sleep, and comfort, but there isn’t a single other person around and no way to bond with loved ones. For the majority of men and women, these would be extremely challenging living conditions. For some, it is more challenging than for others.

The Basic Social Need to Belong and Be Accepted

As the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted, humans are social animals. Therefore, they have the need for social bonding, the need to belong, and the need to be accepted by others, like a tribe, kin, family, parent, or mating partner.

Many people are acutely aware of their lost connections to significant others when they are separated from them by being away from family or in a foreign country. Being rejected by a significant other is an especially challenging feeling.

Evolutionary Benefits of Belonging

Love as community bonding is the key survival mechanism that brings people together and strengthens bonds between them. Living in a community gives them a better chance to survive due to the support they provide to each other. Consequently, the need to belong is intrinsic to the nature of some animals and humans.

Love as Social Bonding

Love as a form of social bonding has biological and cultural evolutionary roots. In this sense, love is helping another survive and thrive. The acts of love are feeding, protecting, supporting, and caring about others. In other words, in a practical sense, “love” is doing something good for another person (Wierzbicka, 1999).

Social bonds increased the likelihood of survival for our ancestors. This bonding encouraged parents to keep their kids close and shield them from danger (Esposito et al., 2013). Attachment as bonding kept children close to their parents. As adults, those who had close relationships were more likely to survive, reproduce, and help their children grow up to maturity. To be without kin nearby would be detrimental (see Karandashev, 2019; 2022 for a review).

Physical and Psychological Survival Due to Social Bonding

Individuals have a better chance of surviving in a physical sense, such as maintaining sustenance and security, when they are a part of a social group. People who live in tribal communities feel safer in social relationships than those who live alone. Social cooperation provides the members of a community with better access to food. And they are better able to protect themselves from predators and aggressive foreigners.

In later stages of human evolution, the needs for psychological security and emotional bonding evolved into the most fundamental human motives. Having positive social connections helped not only with physical survival but also with psychological resilience.

People in traditional collectivistic societies tend to feel a higher need to belong compared to people in modern individualistic societies. Cultural values of Eastern-Asian collectivistic societies encourage the need to belong, connections, and kin relationships.

I extensively reviewed the evolutionary origins of bonding, the need to belong, and the need for love elsewhere (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The Basic Needs to Belong and to Love

Even though some people are more social than others, this deep need to belong is a fundamental human motivation (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). An individual’s need for social bonding motivates their desire to belong to and be accepted by a group or another person. It is fundamentally the desire for other people’s love. 

As Wystan Auden, a British-American poet (1907–1973), wrote,

“We must love one another or die.” 

(W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”).