With the supermarkets clearing out the aisle of leftover conversation hearts and teddy bears to make room for Peeps and Cadbury Eggs, it seems safe to engage in a sober, mature conversation about love. Whether you’re wondering what love is — or what love has to do with it — the following five books promise to intrigue, surprise, educate and entertain. From how love actually occurs in the brain (and how this knowledge can potentially improve our health), to how to rewire your brain to make healthy, happy relationships more achievable, and from the neurobiology of attraction and monogamy to the cold, hard truth about online dating, the authors of these books offer the latest research and the most engaging memoir. There’s something to love for everyone here, from the loneliest of hearts to the happiest of couples.


"Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become"

By Barbara L. Fredrickson

Publisher: Hudson Street Press

Love is a many-splendored thing — more so than we fully understand according to Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. In fact, the psychologist and positive emotions expert offers a radically new view of love in her latest book, “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.” What we call love, Fredrickson calls “positivity resonance.” The professor and leading researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill posits that this redefined experience of love occurs in fleeting moments. In other words, rather than our deep-seated and, in her view, limiting ideas of love as romantic or familial, she proposes that love is actually a connection characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which we can share with any other person we happen to connect with in the course of a day. Think of them as “micro-moments” of connection between people — from close friends to perfect strangers. "Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person — as it appears most on earth do — surely limits the health and happiness you derive" from love, writes Fredrickson. Using research from her own lab, she demonstrates that our capacity for experiencing love can be measured and strengthened in ways that improve our health, and offers informal and formal practices to unlock love in our daily lives, generate compassion and even self-soothe. Fredrickson’s representation of how love actually occurs in the brain may offer a liberating opportunity for lonely hearts; the unattached need not be love-starved or lonely. On the contrary, the opportunity for love — however fleeting — may lie in every face you pass on the street. “Love 2.0” offers insight and tools for unlocking that love.


"This Is Your Brain on Sex: The Science Behind the Search for Love"

By Kayt Sukel

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Originally published in hardcover as “Dirty Minds,” journalist Kayt Sukel’s book on the science of love and sex will soon be available in paperback as “This Is Your Brain on Sex.” If Sukel’s name rings a bell, it may be because in 2011 she donated an orgasm to science, and the story (and MRI scan of her brain) quickly went viral. With a conversational and personal approach made more compelling by the fact that she researched and wrote this book as she was recovering from a divorce, Sukel investigates the neurobiology of topics like monogamy, the parent/child bond, gender differences, homosexuality, pheromones, and male and female responses to pornography. There’s much to be learned here about how attraction works and how different kinds of love may actually be the same, but scientists still have a long way to go. "Beyond the tricky interpretation of neuroimaging studies,” writes Sukel, “our understanding of the way different neurochemicals work when it comes to love is also limited by complexity. Oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin, estrogen, testosterone — these are all chemicals that have been implicated in love and sexual behaviors. They are also the candidates for the love drugs and vaccines that many hope will soon be on the market. There's only one problem: they interact and cross-talk in ways that neuroscientists have yet to fully understand." Despite the gaps in our knowledge, Sukel’s highly readable book offers fascinating insights into the scientific link between our brains and hearts.  


"Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating"

By Dan Slater

Publisher: Current Hardcover

The advent of online dating has created, at least in theory, the opportunity for singles the world over to find and connect with their most compatible matches. Dating sites have exponentially broadened our range of choices, but while unlimited choice may initially sound like an entirely positive thing, journalist Dan Slater has discovered otherwise. In his new book “Love in the Time of Algorithms,” Slater explores how online dating is changing society in profound ways, reconditioning our very feelings about courting, commitment, monogamy and even marriage. In fact, he questions whether the rise of online dating could mean an overall decrease in commitment. In conversations with the executives who run some of the biggest dating sites, as well as the love-seekers who patronize them, Slater discovers a possible inverse correlation between commitment and the efficiency of technology. After all, why should we settle for someone who falls short of our expectations if there are thousands of other options just a click away? "Authenticity, deception, commitment, intimacy, paranoia, sex, and trust — technology is changing all these aspects of relationships,” writes Slater. "In the past these changes have been fueled by the personal ad, the bicycle, the car, the movie theater, and contraception. Today it's the internet." Interestingly, Slater himself is the product of an online relationship: His parents met through an early computer dating service when they were in college. They divorced when he was 3, and though the matching algorithms employed by today’s dating sites have evolved in complexity, the likelihood that relationships initiated by them will stand the test of time seems low. “The future will see better relationships but more divorce,” predicts Dan Winchester, the founder of a free dating site based in the U.K. It seems both odd and disheartening that the potential for ever-better matches would lead to higher rates of divorce, but don’t despair. "The best marriages are probably unaffected," offers Northwestern's Eli Finkel. "Happy couples won't be hanging out on dating sites."


"Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match"

By Amy Webb

Publisher: Dutton Adult

Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, a digital strategy agency that studies disruptive technologies and consumer behavior, believes that online dating sites are broken. The algorithms range from too simple to just plain bad. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make them work for you: You just have to know how to game the system. That’s what she did, and her book “Data, A Love Story” recounts her process, from the “horrifically wrong” dates she endured at the behest of her family and friends, who encouraged her to “cast a very wide net and date everyone,” to the realization that we need to think about what we really want in a partner and then sell ourselves in order to get it. The award-winning journalist and digital-strategy expert made a detailed, exhaustive list of the 72 qualities she did and didn’t want in a mate. Then, she assessed the competition and, using the same gift for data strategy that made her company the top in its field, she found the key words that were digital man magnets, analyzed photos, and studied the timing of women’s messages. Finally, she adjusted her profile to make the most of that intel. The result: Dozens of men suddenly wanted to meet her, men who actually met her requirements. Among them: her future husband, now the father of her child. “Data” is at the very least an entertaining memoir, and possibly even an inspirational tale for those looking to better their chances in the world of online dating.


"Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness"

By Marsha Lucas, Ph.D.

Publisher: Hay House

If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, perhaps it has something to do with the way your brain is wired. That might sound hopeless, but don’t despair: Licensed psychologist and neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas can show you how your earliest experiences with love, attachment and relationships wired your brain for "how to do love." Better yet, in her new book “Rewire Your Brain for Love,” she offers a highly readable guide to how you can modify faulty wiring through mindfulness meditation. As Lucas explains, “Developmental psychologists talk about essential characteristics that are seen in people with healthy, attuned childhood relationships — characteristics that bode incredibly well for these people's ability to have healthy relationships in adulthood. Those same characteristics are seen in people who practice mindfulness — plus bonus characteristics.” Lucas has found that the most helpful way to think about these characteristics is to group them into a list of seven acquirable skills. These are skills you can develop and grow within yourself, within your brain — and they seem to be the most powerful in creating and sustaining a healthy and happy relationship. These skills are Management of your body's reactions; Regulation of your response to fear; Emotional resilience; Response flexibility; Insight (self-knowing); Empathy and attunement — within yourself and with others; Perspective shift from "me" to "we." Lucas explains first about how your brain got into the tough spot it's in, and from there offers a quick and understandable explanation of some very basic neuroanatomy. Moving from the bottom of your brain's wiring to the top — from your relationship with yourself toward your relationship with others, Lucas shows you how to develop awareness of and how to regulate your body's responses to the world "out there," where you'll learn how to get a handle on the most relationship-derailing emotion of all: fear. Once fear isn't shorting out your relationship brain, you'll be ready to work with increased resilience on all of your other emotions. “Rewire Your Brain” is a down-to-earth, relatable guide to tangibly better relationships — with yourself and with others. 

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Teaser photo: Amelia-Jane/Flickr
5 books that explore the truth about love, from neurobiology to online dating
From the neurobiology of attraction to the hard truth about online dating, these five books offer fresh takes on our quest for love.