As it turns out, it's the systems in your brain, not the trajectory of Cupid's arrow, that conspire to create the feelings we recognize as romantic love, says author, anthropologist and biologist Helen Fisher.
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"There are more nerve cells in the brain than there are stars in the Milky Way," said Fisher, who chatted with The Herald-Mail ahead of her lecture, "Lust, Romance & Attachment: The Science of Love and Whom We Choose," at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore. "Each one of them has as many as 10,000 connections with everything else around them."
Face it, our brains are wired for love. Humans are hard-coded to be romantic. And that the drive to be Mr. or Mrs. Romantic, especially on Valentine's Day? It's in our genes.
"The biological explanation for the evolution of romantic behavior is very unromantic," said Judith Peisen, chair of the math and science department at Hagerstown Community College.
It comes down to reproduction.
The mission of DNA, Peisen said, is to make copies of itself. Once you have a mature organism, the mission shifts to getting the DNA into the next generation. "So behaviors that lead to that are favored in evolution," Peisen said.
Romantic behavior leads to the creation of more offspring, she elaborates, which promotes the successful rearing of those offspring into maturity, which promotes their ability to create more individuals ... and the cycle continues.
"The mature organism is really DNA's way of making more DNA," said Peisen, who was referencing Richard Dawkins' 1970s book "The Selfish Gene." "The purpose of an adult is that it's just a package of getting the DNA into the next generation."
Predestined for romance?
Gary "Ryan" Grove, 26, of Clear Spring, considers himself to be a romantic guy.
"Oh, he definitely is," said his fiancée Jen Brown, a 26-year-old school teacher from Williamsport. "My first week of teaching he sent me roses 'just because,' saying how proud he was of me. There's definitely a romantic side to him."
Even his proposal was romantic.
He recruited Brown's colleagues and her school's principal to distract her while he entered her empty classroom. He hid in a storage closet after writing a message on the board: "It's funny how things happen, things kind of come full circle and I want to spend the rest of my life with you and I want the rest of my life to start now."
"Then he came out and got down on one knee," Brown said.
They've set the date for July 30.
But is romance really in Grove's DNA? Are his actions really driven by a primal need to reproduce? The thoughts seemed far-fetched for the couple. "I guess subconsciously maybe, it's happening in the background," Grove said, "but I wasn't saying, 'OK, I want to have kids a year from now.'"
One thing that is true for Grove and Brown or anyone who thinks they're in love, they're all experiencing something similar in their brains.
"I'd describe it as a euphoric feeling," said Pete Swacina, 27, of Hagerstown. "Whenever you see the person you smile, you're just elated. You're willing to do whatever to help them out, to make them happy. You just basically can't imagine not being with that person."