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This is the second day in a row that I've been annoyed by something published by The Atlantic.* ETA: Mistake, turns out the other piece I was thinking of didn't originate in The Atlantic; they just published a comment on it.

This article is fascinating in the way it tries to invent a problem and then solve it.

"There's No Such Thing as Everlasting Love (According to Science) (Can't find a by-line. And forgot where I saw it, I'm afraid.)

The problem: Americans are "love-starved" and lonely.

The solution: Change the definition of love so that it means brief moments of connection we have with other people throughout the day, and has nothing to do with commitment, blood ties, or sexual desire. Now everyone can feel love(d)!

Excerpt:
In her new book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson offers a radically new conception of love.

Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.

Rather, it is what she calls a "micro-moment of positivity resonance." She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—anyother person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store.
I think it's a good idea to emphasize the value of this experience, for those who are comfortable enough with face-to-face interaction to have it.

But I'm not in favor of making the word "love" mean this thing instead of the bundle of emotions plus ideas plus intentions plus (in some cases) sexual desire that go with a committed and/or romantic relationship. I'm also not sure I like the idea of having love mean yet another thing. It already means too many things!

And anyway, the solution doesn't really solve the problem that the article described. The article used this evidence that Americans are love-starved and lonely:
  • More Americans than before said in a poll that they had zero confidants. (But having micro-moments of positivity resonance wouldn't give you more confidants.)
  • According to one expert, 20–35 percent of people are "sufficiently isolated for it to be a major source of unhappiness in their lives." (Would having micro-moments of positivity resonance help with that? Who knows?)
  • Rates of depression are increasing (would micro-moments of positivity resonance cure this condition? Who knows?)
  • "Nearly half of all single people are looking for a romantic partner." (My reaction to that: Fascinating—more than half of single people aren't looking! And would having micro-moments of positivity resonance make them stop looking, or stop believing that having a partner would help them be happier? Who knows?
But to Fredrickson, these numbers reveal a "worldwide collapse of imagination," as she writes in her book. "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.
So OK, where's the evidence that these people without confidants, who are lonely, depressed, and or unhappily single, are in that condition partly because they think of love "purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person"? No evidence? I thought not. (My own data point: I have depression, and I don't think that way in the slightest. For one thing, when my depression is well-managed, I fall in love regularly, not only with people, but also with ideas, things, activities, and experiences. For another, I'm poly, so I don't share romance and commitment with only one person. And finally, when my depression is not well controlled, then I can't feel love for anything or anyone at all, never mind what my beliefs are about what love is. My actively depressed brain isn't open to micro-moments of positivity resonance.)

There's also a problem in the article with how Fredrickson's research is said to provide evidence about this micro-moment experience. The article states that they only happen face-to-face (rather overdramatically: "You have to physically be with the person to experience the micro-moment. For example, if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless") but none of the experiments described included that condition. In one, people listened to a recording and then retold it, but they were in an MRI machine, so they weren't face-to-face with someone. In another, people did loving-kindness meditation, which is something you do in your own head, not interacting with another person.

OK, now that I've said all that, the article reminds me of something else that I think about sometimes. One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Gil Fronsdal, sometimes says "Adult humans need to love, but they don't need to be loved."

I'm very fortunate that I've never done without feeling loved (have always felt that at least a few people loved me) so I can't speak to that part. But I have noticed that what I get out of loving someone or something is very different from what I get out of feeling that someone loves me. And what I get out of loving people/things is really important to me; I would say absolutely that I need it.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/799633.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments. I prefer that you comment on Dreamwidth, but it's also OK to comment here.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jan. 29th, 2013 06:16 am (UTC)
Brilliant deconstruction. I love the "quantum theory of being-in-love."

I'm frustrated because I want to like the movement in psychology to study mentally healthy people as well as mentally ill people. There are some fascinating issues that could be studied. There are also interesting ties to Buddhism. But so much of what trickles down to me from that movement seems like brightsided bullcrap.

Kind of like sociology. It would be fascinating if only they paid attention to how people actually behave, instead of using it to justify male academics' skeevy sexual fantasies.
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jan. 29th, 2013 10:57 am (UTC)
I think some people have less mental suffering than others in some ways, and I think it's useful to think about whether there are conditions or attitudes that go along with less mental suffering. But that's a very good question about the model.

No clue how grieving fits into her theory. It seems to me that she has discovered a state of mind that is tied to social interaction and shows up on an MRI. That's important, but she extrapolates too far. I think shared history and memory are important aspects of human social interaction that she erases by saying "this momentary experience is the one and only true form of love," and shared history and memory are important in grieving.
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jan. 29th, 2013 11:12 am (UTC)
Yep, I don't share the author's belief that "most [people] on earth" believe that love is "purely...romance or commitment that you share with one special person." I wouldn't argue with the notion that most people on earth believe that marriage is a commitment that you share with one person. Also the vast majority of people seem to think marriage to an opposite sex person is a good thing and what most adults are supposed to do at some point.

I suspect beliefs about love per se are a lot harder to pin down.

But I'm such an outlier. So what do I know?
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jan. 29th, 2013 11:40 pm (UTC)
Certainly. Please attribute to "firecat on LJ" and don't tag me. (I'd rather not closely associate my LJ/DW account with my FB.)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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