An Ancestral Romance

This book's most unusual challenge is that readers will sometimes be asked to imagine what it was like for our ancestors to fall in love with beings considerably hairier, shorter, poorer, less creative, less


articulate, and less self-conscious than ourselves. This is best done without visualizing such beings too concretely. I have never managed to feel genuine desire for any museum model of an Australopithecine female, however realistically their sloping foreheads, thick waists, and furry buttocks have been rendered. Nor have I found it easy to imagine feeling genuine love when gazing into the eyes of one of these ancestors from three million years ago. Our sexual preferences seem too hard-wired to permit these imaginative leaps. The limits of our contemporary sexual imaginations have always been an obstacle to appreciating the role of sexual choice in human evolution.

On the other hand, ancestral romance is not so hard to understand at a slightly more abstract level. Indeed, it may be intuitively easier to understand human evolution through sexual selection than through natural selection. While our ancestors faced very different survival problems than we do today, the problems of sexual rejection, heartbreak, jealousy, and sexual competition remain almost unchanged. Few of us have any experience digging tubers, butchering animals, escaping from lions, or raiding other tribes. But our past sexual relationships may prove a useful guide to understanding the sexual choices that shaped our species.

Each of our romantic histories goes back only a few years, but the romantic history of our genes goes back millions. We are here only because our genes enjoyed an unbroken series of successful sexual relationships in every single generation since animals with eyes and brains first evolved half a billion years ago. In each generation, our genes had to pass through a gateway called sexual choice. Human evolution is the story of how that gateway evolved new security systems, and how our minds evolved to charm our way past the ever more vigilant gatekeepers.

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