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Love Hurts--Here's Why

Dr. Billy Kidd researched romantic relationships for 15 years. He held focus groups in various cities across the nation.

Why does love hurt so much?

Why does love hurt so much?

People wonder why love can hurt so much. But the pain of a breakup is not that hard to understand when you look at human beings from a historical perspective.

Prehistoric Emotions

Our emotional makeup is designed for a different time and place. Two hundred thousand years ago, our current emotional systems came fully into play. Life was quite different then. We needed ties that bound us closely together simply to survive.

In prehistoric times, you could not completely disconnect from someone forever just because you quit making love to each other. It was a jungle out there. Nobody said goodbye and moved out of town after a lover’s quarrel. There were not any towns to move to.

On top of that, the creatures that jumped out of the bushes had claws and teeth and could kill you. Someone had to cover your back. It would have taken you a couple of months to find the next tribe. They were wandering somewhere in the bush, just like your tribe, in an area you shared about the size of the state of Delaware, in the United States.

In these circumstances, people’s relationships were at a high enough level of civility that they did not suddenly try to disconnect and move on like we do today. They might have moved on to another sexual partner within the tribe. But it would have been without making a wild, dramatic scene, where you dissed the person forever. After all, in a small tribe most people knew everyone as friends.

In the Past All Relationships Were Serious

In those prehistoric times, all relationships—social or sexual—were serious. People lived in the now with about 50 to 250 other people. People stuck together and were never alone. The average lifespan was about 30 years. So you did not wait until age 26 to 30 for starting a serious long-term relationship, like what is common today.

You also had to be tight with your lover because love was not a game. There was no birth control and one out of every ten live births resulted in the mother dying from complications--mostly from infections. So the whole tribe watched out for the kids because mothers often passed on, leaving their young ones behind.

Because everyone depended on everyone else, those who had the strongest emotional ties to each other were the most likely to survive. In this environment, when you lost someone. It was not because your in-love, go-crazy relationship faded away. Rather it was often because your partner or friend had died. And when a person died, the tribe grieved together.

A Modern Lifestyle with an Ancient Emotional Makeup

Today, we have inherited that same emotional makeup as prehistoric people. That causes us to want to try bind together and look out for each other. But our lifetime is three to four times longer than our ancestors' lives. So we go through many more life transitions. Individuals are also capable of supporting themselves alone—without a tribe.

That is why In modern society our ancestors' ability to bond tightly together is not always called for. Yet, you cannot escape the pain of going through modern life transitions because there is no “off” switch for our ancient emotional makeup. So when there is a breakup, it can feel like the person actually died. That is the price humans still pay for having the potential to create strong emotional ties that bind.

Breakups Can Feel Like Someone Died

This explains why a lover’s breakup can leave a person experiencing the symptoms of grief. Those symptoms include an initial fight-or-flight response. Also, one's heart that feels real pain. This is followed by a rundown feeling, along with mental numbness, a sense of meaninglessness, and a denial of reality. These are the feelings that our ancestors felt when someone died. And they are the price humans still pay for having the potential to create strong emotional ties that bind.

What this means to you now is that you are designed to grieve. Then you must move forward when you lose somebody during a breakup. And the reason that you might dwell so long on a breakup is because you do not have that tribal support which everyone had in the days of old. In all reality, sometimes you feel totally alone. Feeling alone is a modern feeling. Our ancient ancestors were never alone. Some did not even have word for "I." Thus, today there is no communal grief ceremony after the feelings of a heartache sets in.

Romance as a Learning Experience

But if you do not want to risk feeling all alone, think of a healthy love relationship as a learning experience. That is where each person gradually matures emotionally. And if you go your separate ways, it’s just OK. A least you learned something.

This perspective raises satisfaction in relationships by lowering expectations. People live and let live without forcing the relationship to move forward before its time. When relationships do move forward, they are on steady ground. That is because partners have taken the time to understand the emotional dynamics of their partners. Most importantly, they have become friends.

Friendship is something which is often lacking today in the rush of things. This is why people need to build a strong social support system. It helps us cope with our ancient emotions and the modern feeling of aloneness.


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