US: Americans Talk About Love
The really cool thing about this book – the thing that sets it apart from other books I’ve read on the topic – is that it is totally real and raw. It isn’t the most creative writing; it isn’t some amazing, philosophical new perspective on the nature of love; it doesn’t offer any answers or advice or therapy or steps-for-fixing-your-problems-and-finding-true-love-in-30-days.
It is just a compilation of interviews with random, imperfect, unique people from all walks of life and all sorts of places across the U.S., talking about their experiences with romantic love in all its glory and all its brutality.
And I have to say, I was really surprised and even a little depressed by the relative amount of brutality.
I bought this book because, once again, at the purportedly romance-wise age of 28, I find myself in the midst of a relationship I am feeling uncertain about, and am in need of some outside perspective. I don’t think I feel for this guy what I should, yet on the other hand I recognize that real love is not going to be like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “The Proposal” or any other story-made-in-Hollywood in which the heroine and hero meet, fight, reconcile and get married all in an hour and a half.
Right now I am kind of torn between chemistry and compatibility. I have met guys that I am extremely attracted to physically. I have met guys with whom I get along well and can talk for hours (my current boyfriend fits the latter description). Unfortunately, I haven’t met anyone who has fit both of those descriptions simultaneously*. Maybe it isn’t possible. And if you are going to chose a life-long partner based on one or the other, I’d say Compatibility every time. After all, you’ll spend much more time going to the grocery store, paying bills, and deciding what to do on a Friday night than you will in the bedroom (can I talk about that here?)
I watched a little clip on NOVA once, about how attraction and mate choice are affected by our biology. It was called The Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment. It amazed me (as anything biological usually does), and confirmed to me once again that SO much of what we as human beings experience is determined by the matter and energy and molecules that make us up – even this seemingly very spiritual thing we call love.
As an agnostic, I often entertain the idea that there might not be anything more than this reality – that this spiritual nature we have is, like love, a phenomenon of chemical interactions. But the thing is, that doesn’t make it any less spiritual, or less real. Even if our spirituality is the product of chemicals and has no ultimate, eternal purpose behind it, it still works wonders in our lives; it still inspires hope in the face of despair; it still is this amazingly complex, miraculous thing that we will never completely understand.
And I think love is the same way – SO much more complex and intricate than scientists (and others of us who chronically analyze and quantify information in the attempt to find the answers to life) would like to imagine.
If there is one conclusion I can draw from all the stories contained in the book, US, it is this: that love is never the same for any two people, even two people who are in the same relationship. Every person sees the world through their own lens. No two lenses are the same. They are made up of all the infinite moments and experiences and thoughts that comprise a life. And while I did detect the common threads of humility and selflessness in those relationships I deemed “successful,” they were woven in amongst such chaotically varied circumstances and lifestyles that it was difficult to see any real pattern.
So, I’m thinking there is no formula for love.
Dang it (to the tune of Kip’s Tupperware® sales attempt in this Napoleon Dynamite clip).
* Actually, I did meet one, but it turned out he didn’t feel the same way about me, sadly.