The Real Truth About Love: Primates Share Their Secrets

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Everything you need to know about love, you can learn from primates. Follow ten of their secrets and see how well they work for you.

So what can we learn about love and dating from our closest living ancestors/primates?

monkey troop cuddling

Make eye contact!

Is there any better way to connect with someone that a meaningful look? I’m not talking about a shy little stare, but to really look at someone.

If you’re a gorilla, it’s a way of flirting. Bana at the Lincoln Park Zoo clearly is a great flirt. She stared at Kwan, the object of her desire for over an hour!

Watch this video, and you and you’ll see what I mean. Robert Horwich*, also observed this behavior while studying black howler monkeys in the jungles of Belize!  Now, you might freak out your intended love interest (Hello Stalker!) by staring at them for over an hour. Instead, aim for 7 seconds. It’s long enough to get their attention and make a meaningful connection without freaking them out.
Rwanda is an exceptional place to see wildlife, especially primates like gorillas.

Groom Your Potential Love Interest.

Grooming is a behavior found in many primates species. It can serve many functions, including expressing interest.

I’m guessing that while your love interest won’t appreciate your offer to search their body for bugs, or for lice, they may enjoy a massage.

Alternatively, try brushing their hair. It feels surprisingly good to have someone else do this for you.  It’s an intimate behavior that has served primates well. So give it a shot – just don’t mention that you’re checking for lice! And if you do find some, you may want to questions your taste.

Macaques sharing an affectionate moment together. Photo courtesy Creative Commons via Dreamstime

Be Monogamous.

Most primate species aren’t monogamous. However, you can take lessons from Gibbons, owl monkeys and Panamanian night monkeys. Cheaters are not attractive!

Panamanian night monkeys are few one of the few monogamous primate species.
Panamanian night monkeys are few one of the few monogamous primate species. Photo: By WolfmanSF (talk) – Panamanian_Night_Monkeys.jpg, CC-BY 3.0

Show Your Beloved That You’re Excited to See Them.

When you pick them up for a date, start it off on the right foot by showing your excitement. That could be bringing flowers, complimenting your date or a number of other things. Chimps are great at showing their excitement by sometimes greeting their intended with a pant-hoot:

If you’re not so sure how well that would work out for your date, you could perhaps try something a bit more subtle.  😉

Don’t Be Afraid of Online Dating.

Gorillas, chimps, orangutans, cotton-top tamarins and the Central American spider monkey all do, just to name a few! Now I don’t mean that they’re sitting there with an iPhone on Tinder and swiping left or right – wouldn’t that be a sight? But they are matched for potential mates through the Species Survival Plan. This is an online database that helps decide who to match with who. Their aim is to ensure sustainable populations of species by matching two individuals who could potentially mate and produce offspring. Just like with online dating, the results can be mixed.

We all know that just because someone is perfect on paper, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be a match in real life. Still, there are plenty of online love stories in the primate world, so it’s worth a try!

Guys – Be a Good Dad!

Ask any mother if there is anything sexier than a dude playing with her kids and she’ll likely say no! Don’t just do the deed and runoff. Stick around! Cuddle your baby, or teach them how to jump from tree to tree.

I observed black and white colobus monkeys in Rwanda and must have said aaawww a hundred times watching the father interact with the infants.

If it had that much of an impression on me, imagine how much the mother will feel – and how she may reward you 😉

colobus monkey in Rwanda teaching his infant how to jump from tree to tree
Colobus monkey in Rwanda teaching an infant how to jump from tree to tree. Soooo cute!

To quote Cher’s song, It’s In His Kiss. The great apes, bonobos and chimps both engage in open mouth kissing. You can tell a lot about how compatible you are with someone after just one kiss.

Think about it. You must really like someone to be willing to exchange 80 million germs* with them. You’re welcome for that visual!

It’s not just in the kiss, though – don’t forget about the tongue! Many female primates will initiate sexual activity with tongue smacking. It’s another way of flirting! On second thought, leave that one for the primates!

macaques that are almost kissing

Capitalize on Your Strengths.

Let’s say that you’re not a smooth talker, then don’t try to be one. You’re going to come across as uncomfortable and maybe even a little weird. And the guys that are naturally the smooth-talkers will crush you! Instead, figure out what you are good at, and capitalize on that. Maybe you are a great listener, or you can teach her something she’s always wanted to learn. You get the idea. If you’re a Samango monkey or a lemur and must compete for a lady’s attention, you’d do well to learn from this sneaky lemur. While two much stronger males fought over a female, he realized he didn’t stand a chance in the fight. Instead, he used a more subtle method – his scent. Combined with persistence (see below), and low and behold; he got the girl! Check it out:

You just might be surprised at what females find attractive – in Proboscis monkeys; it’s the bigger, the better. I’m talking about noses – get your mind out of the gutter!

male proboscis monkey attracts females with his long nose.
In probosci’s monkeys the bigger the nose, the more attractive the male is to females. Photo: Leyla Alyanak.

Ladies Don’t Be Shy.

In many primates, including macaque species, it’s the females that are the pursuers. They let their intended know by staring at them for a long time, sitting close, and grooming them. It’s worked well for them, so give it a try for yourself!

Toque macaque a native monkey species to Sri Lanka
Toque macaque. A native monkey species to Sri Lanka.

Be Persistent In Your Efforts for Love.

In today’s hectic world of but I wanted it yesterday, patience is a virtue. If you really like someone, be devoted to them.  Show them you are the one for them.

You can take a lesson from the black howler monkey One Ball (didn’t make that up, he’s mentioned in Horwich’s research paper). He followed Point consistently for six days when she was in estrous (monthly occurrence when you can get pregnant). He followed her everywhere she went, was attentive and lost interest in food. The point was his only interest. How can a lady resist that? Just don’t be a stalker!

Be Flexible to Who You Love.

Unfortunately, the one that you love may not love you back. If you’ve tried all of the above to no avail, then it’s time to move on. Toni, a rescued midget chimp at the MONA Primate Sanctuary in Spain where I volunteered got this.

His real love was Amelia, one of the chimp’s vets. But when she showed no interest, he extended his arms out to embrace me. I felt so special – until I found out that I was just one in a long line of Amelia’s seconds.

She would always be his first choice, but having his feelings unreciprocated, he moved on to whoever was available at the time.

Don’t feel bad, everyone gets rejected from time to time. Watch this gorilla. She’s the ultimate example of female empowerment! You won’t find her wallowing over a bowl of Haagen Das ice cream, or the gorilla equivalent.

She doesn’t question herself Am I too fat? Is it my hair? Did I come on too strong? She simply moves on – genius!

So there you have it, love lessons from some of the world’s most romantic primates. Test them out and let me know your results in the comments below!

macaques being affectionate with each other

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