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.

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).

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 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”).

Did Individual Preferences Play any Role in Primitive Savage Courtships?

Modern courtship and dating allow men and women to choose a mate for marriage and family life. Contemporary people may think marriage has always been this way. It may then be interesting to learn how ancient savages loved, courted, and had sexual relationships.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural anthropology made a lot of progress in the study of sex, marriage, and love in remote tribal tribes (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Looking into the old archives of love studies from the 19th century shows a fascinating part of history that can help with love scholarship today.

In the previous articles, I briefly showed what savage love was, what “wife-capture courtship” was, and what other sorts of courtship practices among savages were in the past centuries.

Four types of courtship practices – “capture,” “elopement,” “purchase,” and “service” – were widely used among various savage tribes in the past. It seems the personal preferences of prospective mates, at least of a woman, were not taken into account (Finck, 1887/2019).

Did women have any choice? Did Darwinian sexual selection play any role in those old savage times of human evolution?

How Savage Men and Women of the Past Courted Each Other

Anthropological studies of the 19th century unveiled four varieties of courtship among primitive savages: “Capture,” “Elopement,” “Purchase,” and “Service.” (Finck, 1887/2019).

Primitive people on all five continents used these “Capture-Wife” dating practices for hundreds of years. The community of a tribe owned women like other property. No man could take a woman for marriage because he would violate someone’s rights. Therefore, a man couldn’t privately marry a woman within his tribe.

The only option he had was to steal or buy a bride from another tribe. If he stole a woman from another tribe, she was his property. If the woman did not want to be stolen, the man could force her by knocking on her head and pulling her to his tent in the tribe. In this case, when a man captured a woman from another tribe, as a pride of conquest, he had a right to have her as a wife. Then, he married her (1887/2019, Finck).

“Elopement” appeared later in the social evolution of humans. These kinds of courtship were widespread until recent centuries. It was a practice of stealing a bride by elopement when both a man and a woman wanted to marry each other, but their parents resisted or “presumably” resisted their marriage.

The “Purchase-wife” practices were of two different sorts. In the first case, the girl has no choice but to be sold by her father for a certain number of cows or camels, sometimes to the highest bidder. In the second case, the girl was allowed a certain degree of freedom in her choice. The “Service” form of courtship is practiced when a man rendered to the prospective bride’s parents some services in exchange for getting a wife. The man preferred to purchase her rather than steal her because, in this case, a wife was likely to be valued more than one stolen or bought. Besides, during the period of his service, the betrothed girl looked upon him as a future spouse. That time of service gave some room for the possibility that some feelings would grow between them.

Was Love Involved in Savage Courting?

Thus, one can see that all the courting practices relate to indirect or mediate courtship.

As Henry Finck commented on the “Capture-wife” way of courtship:

“When a girl is captured and knocked on the head she can hardly be said to be courted and consulted as to her wishes; and the man too, in such cases, owing to the dangers of the sport, is apt to pay no great attention to a woman’s looks and accomplishments, but to bag the first one that comes along.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

Henry Finck also noted the “Purchase” courtship:

“the girl is rarely consulted as to her own preferences, the addresses being paid to the father, who invariably selects the wealthiest of the suitors, and only in rare cases allows the daughter a choice, as among the Kaffirs if the suitors happen to be equally well off.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

In the case of courtship by “Service” again, the suitor worked not to please the daughter of the parents, but rather to compensate the parents for losing her labor.

The Savage Courtship in the Modern Sense of Sexual Selection In some instances, however, the savage courtships of the past resembled courtships in their modern meaning. These practices were largely among the lower races. The lovers paid their addresses directly to the girl, and she chose or rejected them at will.

Henry Finck quoted the Ploss who observed this custom as prevailing among the Orang-Sakai on the Malayan peninsula:

“On the wedding-day, the bride, in presence of her relatives, and those of her lover, and many other witnesses, is obliged to run into the forest. After a fixed interval the bridegroom follows and seeks to catch her. If he succeeds in capturing the bride she becomes his wife, otherwise he is compelled to renounce her for ever. If therefore a girl dislikes her suitor, she can easily escape from him and hide in the forest until the time allowed for his pursuit has expired.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

In support of his theory of “sexual selection,” the British naturalist Charles Darwin observed its existence among the lower races:

“in utterly barbarous tribes the women have more power in choosing, rejecting, and tempting their lovers, or of afterwards changing their husbands, than might have been expected.”

Darwin also cited the following cases:

“Amongst the Abipones, a man on choosing a wife, bargains with the parents about the price. But ‘it frequently happens that the girl rescinds what has been agreed upon between the parents and the bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage.’ She often runs away, hides herself, and thus eludes the bridegroom. Captain Musters, who lived with the Patagonians, says that their marriages are always settled by inclination; ‘if the parents make a match contrary to the daughter’s will, she refuses, and is never compelled to comply.’ In Tierra del Fuego a young man first obtains the consent of the parents by doing them some service, and then he attempts to carry off the girl; ‘but if she is unwilling, she hides herself in the woods until her admirer is heartily tired of looking for her, and gives up the pursuit; but this seldom happens.”

(quoted in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

The Primitive Courtships of Savages

Courtship and dating were modern rituals that enabled men and women to choose a mate or partner for marriage and family life (Karandashev, 2017). Sometimes, one may think that these marital practices have always been this way. So, it may be curiously fascinating to learn what love, courting, and sexual relationships looked like among primitive savages of the past.

Cultural anthropology made enormous strides in the 19th and 20th centuries in studying sex, marriage, and love in remote tribal tribes (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Let us look into the old archives of love studies from the 19th century. They depict an intriguing history that can be helpful for love scholarship nowadays.

In the previous articles, I briefly showed what savage love was and what the practices of “wife-capture” were in the past centuries.

Here I summarize four courtship practices, which were widespread among various tribes of savages in various primitive cultures of the past. I use the old archival treasures of love scholarship (Finck, 1887/2019).

Four Types of Courtship among Savages

Romantic love and romantic relationships are primarily associated in modern scholarship with the courtship period of relationships. So, it is interesting to see what kind of opportunities for courtship the old primitive societies provided. The anthropologists of the 19th century discovered among semi-civilized people and savages four grades of courtship: “Capture”, “Elopement”, “Purchase”, and “Service”. Henry Finck briefly examined these types of courtship (Finck, 1887/2019). Let us consider these largely widespread courtship practices of the past.

The “Capture” Type of Courtship

According to this tradition, a man who wants a bride must steal or buy her from another tribe. He could not marry privately within his own tribe. Women, like other forms of property, were owned in common by the community. So, no man could take a woman for himself without overstepping someone else’s rights. However, if he stole a woman from another tribe, she became his exclusive property.

This primitive style of courtship was far ruder than animal courtship. If the woman resisted, the man knocked her on the head and dragged to his captor’s tent. A man who captured a woman from another tribe had a right to guard her and appear with pride of conquest. The primitive man’s pride was like that of a warrior with many scalps in his belt. Marriage follows capture. Rather than love, feelings of conjugal sentiments prevailed in this case (1887/2019, Finck).

Primitive people on all five continents used these “capture-wife” courtship practices for hundreds of years.

The “Elopement” Type of Courtship

“Wife-capture” was still present in many societies in the 19th and 20th centuries in the form of “elopement.” This happens when the parents oppose the young men and women’s choice. It is still widely practiced, even when all parties involved consent. These traditions of “sudden flight” and an impulsive marriage enhance the romantic flavor of the honeymoon. Additionally, this lets the newlyweds escape the awkward formalities and routine rituals of the wedding day.

The “Purchase” Type of Courtship

This kind of courtship is a substantially more civilized form of courtship. It is a somewhat higher evolutionary stage of courtship compared to “capture.” This “purchase” custom came in two different grades.

“In the first the girl has no choice whatever, but is sold by her father for so many cows or camels, in some cases to the highest bidder. Among the Turcomans a wife may be purchased for five camels if she be a girl, or for fifty if a widow; whereas among the Tunguse a girl costs one to twenty reindeer, while widows are considerably cheaper. In the second class of cases the purchased girl is allowed a certain degree of liberty of choice.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 59).

This type of marriage formation has existed for centuries among the peoples of the five continents. It was still retained in some remote tribal societies until recent times. Many “modern” day money-marriages of the 19th and 20th centuries could be called this way.

The “Service” Type of Courtship

This kind of courtship is the custom of getting a wife in exchange for services rendered to her parents. The Henry Finck quote of Mr. Spencer’s remarks well illustrates this type of courtship:

“The practice which Hebrew tradition acquaints us with in the case of Jacob, proves to be a widely-diffused practice. It is general with the Bhils, Ghonds, and Hill tribes of Nepaul; it obtained in Java before Mahometanism was introduced; it was common in ancient Peru and Central America; and among sundry existing American races it still occurs. Obviously, a wife long laboured for is likely to be more valued than one stolen or bought. Obviously, too, the period of service, during which the betrothed girl is looked upon as a future spouse, affords room for the growth of some feeling higher than the merely instinctive—initiates something approaching to the courtship and engagement of civilised peoples.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 59).

Love among Savages

The questions of great anthropological interest are whether the savages of the old times loved; what kind of love and sexual relations they had; and how they loved each other.

Cultural anthropology of the 20th century has made tremendous progress in the study of love in many remote tribal societies of the world (Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Despite these great advances, we still have limited knowledge of how people in societies without the influence of modern civilizations lived and loved.

We have especially limited access to the knowledge of the previous centuries. The old times of savages have been increasingly disappearing from our reach. So, the availability of the old archives of love studies from the past is especially precious.

Let us explore those old archival treasures of love scholarship (Finck, 1887/2019).

Who Are Those Strangers to Love?

Here are some of the interesting evolutionary observations of Henry Finck:

“In passing from animals to human beings we find at first not only no advance in the sexual relations, but a decided retrogression. Among some species of birds, courtship and marriage are infinitely more refined and noble than among the lowest savages; and it is especially in their treatment of females, both before and after mating, that not only birds but all animals show an immense superiority over primitive man; for male animals only fight among themselves, and never maltreat the females.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

The Surprising Evolutionary Anomaly in the Sexual Relations of Savages

The author explained this evolutionary anomaly in sexual relations in the following way:

“The intellectual power and emotional horizon of animals are limited; but in those directions in which Natural Selection has made them specialists, they reach a high degree of development, because inherited experience tends to give to their actions an instinctive or quasi-instinctive precision and certainty. Among primitive men, on the other hand, reason begins to encroach more on instinct, but yet in such a feeble way as to make constant blunders inevitable: thus proving that strong instincts, combined with a limited intellectual plasticity, are a safer guide in life than a more plastic but weak intellect minus the assistance of stereotyped instincts.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

What about Romantic Love of Savages?

According to anthropological observations from those times, the sexual relations and emotional life of savages were too crude to be called “romantic”:

“If neither intellect nor instinct guide the primitive man to well-regulated marital relations, such as we find among many animals, so again his emotional life is too crude and limited to allow any scope for the domestic affections. Inasmuch as, according to Sir John Lubbock, gratitude, mercy, pity, chastity, forgiveness, humility, are ideas or feelings unknown to many or most savage tribes, we should naturally expect that such a highly-compounded and ethereal feeling as Romantic Love could not exist among them. How could Love dwell in the heart of a savage who baits a fish-hook with the flesh of a child; who eats his wife when she has lost her beauty and the muscular power which enabled her to do all his hard work; who abandons his aged parents, or kills them, and whose greatest delight in life is to kill an enemy slowly amid the most diabolic tortures?”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 55).

Were These Romantic Courtships?

As it appears, romantic relationships among savages were not very romantic:

“Or how could a primitive girl love a man whose courtship consists in knocking her on the head and carrying her forcibly from her own to his tribe? A man who, after a very brief period of caresses, neglects her, takes perhaps another and younger wife, and reduces the first one to the condition of a slave, refusing to let her eat at his table, throwing her bones and remains, as to a dog, or even driving her away and killing her, if she displeases him? These are extreme cases, but they are not rare; and in a slightly modified form they are found throughout savagedom.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

The Sentiments of Love Appeared to Be Unknown by Savages

Henry Finck concluded that “Love” was a sentiment unknown to savages. And it was often mentioned in the works of anthropologists and tourists of the 19th century. He cited several observations and comments on this. Here are some of them.

When Ploss remarks that the lowest savages “know as little about marriage relations as animals; still less do they know the feeling we call Love,” he did a great injustice to animals.

As the sociologist Letourneau remarked: “Among the Cafres Cousas, according to Lichtenstein, the sentiment of love does not constitute a part of marriage.”

In speaking of a tribe of the Gabon, Du Chaillu wrote, “The idea of love, as we understand it, appears to be unknown to this tribe.”

Speaking of the polygamous tribes of Africa, Monteiro wrote:

“The negro knows not love, affection, or jealousy…. In all the long years I have been in Africa I have never seen a negro manifest the least tenderness for or to a negress…. I have never seen a negro put his arm round a woman’s waist, or give or receive any caress whatever that would indicate the slightest loving regard or affection on either side. They have no words or expressions in their language indicative of affection or love.”

(cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

Spencer commented on this passage, “This testimony harmonises with testimonies cited by Sir John Lubbock, to the effect

  • that the Hottentots “are so cold and indifferent to one another that you would think there was no such thing as love between them”;
  • that among the Koussa Kaffirs there is “no feeling of love in marriage”;
  • that in Yariba, “a man thinks as little of taking a wife as of cutting an ear of corn—affection is altogether out of the question.” (cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

A Couple of Words in Evidence of Love among Savages of the Past

Winwood Reade suggested an alternative view on savage love. He wrote to Darwin that the West Africans

“are quite capable of falling in love, and of forming tender, passionate, and faithful attachments.”

The anthropologist Waitz, speaking of Polynesia, wrote that

“examples of real passionate love are not rare, and on the Fiji Islands it has happened that individuals married against their will have committed suicide; although this has only happened in the higher classes.”

As Henry Finck noted,

“in these cases we are left in doubt as to whether the reference is to Conjugal or to Romantic Love; conjugal attachment, being of earlier growth than Romantic Love, because the development of the latter was retarded by the limited opportunities for prolonged Courtship and free Choice.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 56).

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.

How “Romantic Love” Conquered Literary Fiction

The article reviews the findings of recent studies on how the idea of romantic love appears in literary fiction in many cultures across the world.

What the Early Scholars of Love Believed

Researchers of literary history once believed romantic love was a European creation rooted in Medieval poems and songs of “courtly love” and Early Modern romantic literature. The historians thought that these European romantic ideas, stories, and descriptions spread further to other cultures across the world. It turned out they were wrong in their Western culture-centered views.

“Romantic Love” Emerged in Literary Fiction Across the World

Researchers, however, learned that the Southern French culture of the 12–13th centuries, a presumable “inventor” of romantic love, was substantially influenced by the Arabic and Iberian cultural conceptions of love of that and previous times. Recent studies have demonstrated that in the Indian, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, and Japanese cultures, romantic love evolved culturally independently of each other. They developed their own yet largely comparable literary traditions.

Investigations of the cultural history of numerous societies have shown that romantic love has been enduring in many places and eras (see for review, Baumard, Huillery, Hyafil, et al., 2022; Jankowiak and Fischer, 1992; Karandashev, 2017).

This Is How Romantic Love Ideas and Plots Came in Literary Fiction

But how did romantic love ideas and plots first enter literary fiction, and how did they spread culturally?

Romantic elements in European and Asian literary fiction have grown significantly over the current millennium across many societies and cultures. The themes and narratives of love appeared first in Classical India, Ancient China, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome. However, the substantial increase in love topics happened much later in cultural history. When, where, and how did this occur?

A recent large-scale study completed by French and Spanish researchers confirmed the cross-cultural universality of romantic love ideas. Nicolas Baumard, Elise Huillery, Alexandre Hyafil, and their colleagues compiled a comprehensive database of ancient literary fiction spanning the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Modern period. They compiled literary data for 77 periods spanning 3,800 years of human history and 19 geographical regions around the world. The researchers discovered that socioeconomic, ecological, and cultural factors contributed to the literary proliferation of romantic love (Baumard et al., 2022).

Economic Factors that Affected Literary Interest in Romantic Love

At first, one may think that the ideas of love are on another plane than the economic life of human existence. Romantic love is idealistic, while the economy is materialistic. So, they seem not to be closely related.

However, the researchers found that higher incidences and a larger prevalence of love themes in narrative fiction strongly correlate with regional variations in economic development across societies in the past. The higher levels of economic development in these societies lead to an increased abundance of romantic love literature in their cultures.

I noted elsewhere how economic development significantly contributed to the boost in interest and proliferation of romantic love in literary fiction in the past centuries of cultural history.

Growth in economic development played a significant role in the literary evolution of romantic love. It was conducive to the rise and flourishing of love fiction in Western Europe during the Central Medieval period of 1000–1300 years (Baumard et al., 2022).

However, literary themes, plots, and narratives of “romantic love” emerged and evolved in many world cultures independently of one another. That upsurge occurred at roughly the same historic periods when their societies saw growth in their population, urbanization, and economic growth (Baumard et al., 2022).

What about the Cultural Diffusion of Romantic Love?

“Cultural diffusion” is one of the main mechanisms explaining the spread and blending of cultural ideas, beliefs, artifacts, and practices across various cultures. Many people who study literature think that the spread of ideas from other cultures caused the growth of romantic literature.

So, what about the cultural diffusion of romantic love themes, plots, and narratives? For example, historians of literature considered medieval European “courtly love” as the outcome of social contacts with Arabic courtly culture and possibly the cultural rediscovery of Roman and Greek literature. In particular, some scholars believe that the love story of Tristan and Iseult might have its origins in unknown archaic Celtic fiction, a Welsh fable, an Irish tale, or the Persian love story of Vis o Rāmin.

Was Cultural Diffusion Frequent and Significant in Literary Love Fiction?

Researchers in literary history (Baumard et al., 2022) compiled an enormous collection of romantic love fiction across many cultures. They ran statistical modeling on their data set to explore the role of several factors in the evolution of love in history. When they compared the explanatory power of economic development and cultural diffusion, they discovered that despite the evidence that European and Asian societies had contact with each other, “their cultural diffusion played a minor role in explaining the concomitant rise of love.” (Baumard et al., 2022, p. 507).

Many old oral folklore tales of the 12th century were enriched with romantic themes, plots, and narratives to meet the growing interest in romantic stories in affluent societies in Western Europe.

As researchers demonstrated (Baumard et al., 2022), literary cultures varied across historical periods between romantic and non-romantic values in accordance with the economic standing of their societies.

The Examples of Romantic Love in Greek and Russian Literary History

Here is the Greek example,

“Greek, the lengthiest literary culture of our sample, started as non-romantic during the Archaic period, became more romantic during the Classical and Roman periods, then switched back to lower levels of love during the early medieval period and finally developed a new romantic culture during the Central Middle Age and the Early Modern period.”

(Baumard et al., 2022, p. 511).

Here is another example of romantic love, this time from Russian literary culture,

“The Russian culture quickly developed a highly romantic literary tradition during its economic take-off in the eighteenth century, despite a long tradition of non-romantic works. This suggests that the transmission of earlier works (that is, tales, epics) is less important in explaining the eighteenth-century level of love than the ecology of eighteenth-century Russia (that is, higher economic development).”

(Baumard et al., 2022, p. 511).