Love, romantic or otherwise, is a bit of a mystery, one that all of us experience but don't quite understand. Romance novels may capture what it's like to fall in love, right down to the sweaty palms and skipping heart beat, but if you want to understand what causes those crazy emotions, your going to have to leave fiction behind and try reading some nonfiction books about love. They might not have tense romantic plot lines and torrid affairs in them, but they can explain what makes those things happen.
While it's nice to think of love in more romantic terms, like the way it's presented in love songs and rom-coms and Nicholas Sparks-style novels, there's another side to the story. The truth is, love isn't all about fate and soul mates — it's also tangled up in psychology, biology, brain chemistry, evolution, social expectations, and so much more. Your heart may pound a mile a minute when you lock eyes with the one you love, but your brain is to blame. I know, it doesn't sound nearly as romantic as true love and destiny, but it's even more fascinating than that.
If you're curious to find out the reasons you fall in and out of love, what makes dating so complicated, or if you just want to read some real-life love stories, here are 13 nonfiction books that can help you understand those butterflies in your stomach.
1. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Everyone knows love is complicated, but when actor and comedian Aziz Ansari writes about it, it becomes hilarious, too. In Modern Romance , Ansari and coauthor Eric Klineberg dive into the mess that is dating, mating, and falling in love in the time of social media and sexy emojis. A well researched book about love, technology, and human connection, Modern Romance will make you laugh out loud, sure, but it will also validate all of those insane "WHY ISN'T HE TEXTING ME BACK" emotions you can't control.
2. Love: A History by Simon May
Covering over 2,500 years of human history, Simon May's Love: A History is just that: a in-depth and critical historical look at the idea of love through the ages. Using history, culture, philosophy, literature, and more, May dissects love and all its forms, pointing out how things have changed and, more importantly, how some things have stayed exactly the same. From its religious origins to its modern form, no kind of love is left unexamined in this fascinating and insightful book.
3. The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation by Hannah Fry
If you keep dating — and breaking up with — the same types of people, then Hannah Fry's The Mathematics of Love is the book for you. A compulsively readable examination of the statistics behind love, from dating to divorce and everything in between, Fry uses patterns to predict something we all like to believe is unpredictable: love. Intriguing and insightful, The Mathematics of Love just might help you understand your own love life.
4. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
You learned all about Elizabeth Gilbert's fears and anxieties surrounding love in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, and if you felt the same way she did, then it's time you find out how she retired those fears and found love (and marriage) again. In Committed , Gilbert reveals how she and Felipe, the Brazilian-born man she fell in love with in Indonesia, went from swearing to never get hitched to getting married. A smart and witty look at the relationship between love and commitment, Committed will change the way you see fidelity, companionship, marriage, and all those other messy things related to love.
5. The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction by Larry Young PhD and Brian Alexander
People like to think that love is determined by fate or destiny or soulmates, but in reality, love is driven by our brains and a few tiny molecules in them. In The Chemistry Between Us , renowned researcher Larry Young and journalist Brian Alexander explore the theory of love we often ignore — the one that doesn't include butterflies in our stomach but rather chemicals in our brains. Covering everything from parental love to romantic love to sexual orientation, The Chemistry Between Us is an intriguing take on love you have to read for yourself.
6. Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
In Spinster , cultural critic and journalist Kate Bolick makes an argument for staying single, something more and more women are deciding to do. By examining the social structures and cultural expectations in our society, Bolick explores the kind of love we often overlook: self love, and the love of independence. Personal and revealing, Spinster tells another side of the story we so often hear, and ask the question: do we really need to partner up, or can we live life unbound?
It seems like more and more modern love stories include one dating site or another. In Data, a Love Story , Amy Webb talks about her own experiences with online dating and how she figured out how to find true and lasting love. A fun and interesting story, Webb's book is perfect for anyone trying to find love of their own in our current technological world.
8. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Not strictly a book on love, Maggie Nelson's groundbreaking memoir about her relationship with her transgender husband, artist Harry Dodge, has plenty to say on the topic. Both personal and critical, The Argonauts examines romance, desire, identity, and language through the lens of Nelson's own experiences and observations with love and family. Honest and unflinching, The Argonauts is a book unlike anything else.
9. How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
In this simple and spiritual book, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who has also written similar books on how to eat and how to sit, shares the four basic principals to loving and being loved: true love for oneself, understanding, compassion, and deep listening. This short yet powerful interactive text will leave any couple feeling more optimistic about their love and their future together.
10. Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray by Helen Fisher
Originally published in 1992, Helen Fisher's Anatomy of Love was republished in February after being updated to include information about love in the digital age. Including a scientific history of sex and evolution and groundbreaking research about modern love, Fisher's book is an engrossing read that covers everything you want to know about the topic, including monogamy, online dating, adultery, and divorce.
11. Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity — What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by Christian Rudder
Though not strictly a book on love, Dataclysm sheds light on sexual orientation, relationship statuses, and love in terms of cold hard data. Using social media, Google Search, and trending hashtags, Rudder investigates how people present themselves publicly versus how they act privately, including in relationships. A visually stimulating book that breaks human behavior down into statistics and numbers, Dataclysm might change the way you look at life and love... and it will definitely change the way you use Facebook.
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