Three blips, three cognitive bytes, chained into a polymer and replicated widely in women (and sometimes men, comparative data are missing). They occur so often that it's easy to dismiss them despite the genuine anguish conveyed. The phrases occur in the presence or the absence of a competing suitor whether IRL (in real life), on the Net (chat room alliances), whether human, an animal ("He's so jealous of my dog, do you believe it!?), or an avocation.
I was puzzled that attractions change so thoroughly and so quickly but found a model that helps. Stuart Kauffman (1) offers the concept of "phase shifts" to describe the dramatic change in coherence as a function of the number of connections between units, whether genes, neurons, or people. There can be 2 or 100,000 units ... there is little effect from increasing the number of units. The startling, powerful variable is the number of connections to each unit. Two hookups per unit or fewer quickly produces highly stable patterns of interaction; Go past three and you may wait many eons for the same pattern of interaction to recur. Kauffman refers to this dramatic move from stasis to chaos as a phase shift. (The change from liquid to solid that occurs when water reaches 32 degrees is another example of a phase shift ... large, dramatic changes from a slight change in conditions. Calvin describes another in the current Atlantic Monthly, one that puts ice sheets over Europe within 10 years once we exceed an unspecified point in atmospheric warming) He suggests that evolution (and everything else that changes systematically through time!) operates in the narrow region between phase shifts. Too little variation in the possible interactions between units and there is never change in structures or their behavior. Too much variation and the same pattern never recurs, there is no chance for replication and no chance for natural selection because there are no minor variations on the original structure.
In Kauffman's model, coherence builds from pairs, add 3rd and 4th partners to a cooperative relationship and chaos follows. Thus, we may have only 2 sexes despite the theoretical increase in diversity from having a 3rd one, 2 political parties (the Italians tried more and chaos DID result) and even a very limited number of alternative expression of specific alleles (e.g., brown or blue eyes of varied mixes or intensities). Altruism appears to revolve around 2 extremes, cheater/sucker, and their combination. There may be a finite number (one or two) of chemicals involved in a cluster of psychiatric/social malfunctions; we often order our feelings along an axis of polar opposites.
Natural Selection (and most everything else we study!) operates in the phase-shift boundary between order and chaos. Again, too few choices results in stasis, no genetic flexibility, and extinction when environment changes; too many lead to chaos.
Thus, our wives either love us or they don't. (3)
1) Kauffman, S. (1995) At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. NY: Oxford.
2) Calvin, W. (1998) The great climate flip-flop. Atlantic Monthly, January, pp. 47-62.
3) A succession of minutiae can lead to phase shifts in marital loyalties. One male admired a succession of women while in the presence of his wife. He did the Symons-Buss routines of standing taller, speaking in a more animated fashion, telling jokes, and staring at them. Wives feel hurt when hubby jumps from the sports page to chatter as soon as a younger, livelier female happens past. Since wives are still women, they tend to operate more pervasive coalitions than males (who seem to be more mission-specific in their groupings). Sometimes the wife's coalition includes a supportive male, a Sneaky Pete. The erosion at home may elicit many signs of depression and apathy but these feelings can be static for decades. Then boom, the wall, a bewildered male and a wife likely irretrievable. (Please see related essay, "Men Controlling Women," posted in the mania series)
If we are driven by our gametes and guided by supernormal stimuli, then we will do some things that are evolutionarily coherent but outside normal logic. The wondrous "bonding," the crazy glue of love may have a relentless purpose, that of assuring continuity of resources for an egg. "Mommy, get me a sperm. Thanks, now feed, protect, and make me first always so that in 14 years I can do for my egg what you just did for me." We need powerful motivation to meet such absolute, prolonged demands. Call it love or call it mania, it gets our attention.
I will often go through some script similar to the above paragraphs when appropriate with someone's distracted mate. The logic helps me cut into the stereotypes about "true love." Given this cognitive brake, sometimes the new attractor becomes impatient, or boring, or may even start to act like a husband. At which point, he is often doomed.
Sometimes, after I complete the segment about "bonding for kids" there is a rebuttal, "this must be true love because I don't want any more kids" Then, I'm off to explain that sometimes we lie to ourselves and that not all parts of our mind work in synchrony. There is no way that our ancestors could have adapted to shut off "love" reactions when the kids were no longer a possibility. Indeed, our ancestors were usually dead by that age. And, they didn't have surgical options to end their fertility early. "Mismatch" strikes again.