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US: Americans Talk About Love

September 16, 2010

If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been talking about love a bit, here at the Rock Pool. Incidentally, I just finished reading a book on the subject. It is called 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.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Zpurpleify permalink
    September 18, 2010 5:46 pm

    I am intrigued by this book, I think I will have to get my hands on a copy. I agree with your statement of:

    ” 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. ”

    I know that where I am now, I am happy and I feel like I have finally found what I want in life in terms of love, I have searched and been lost for a long time and through all my 28 years I was met with a lot of brutality and saddness and thought love was just something that Disney and Hollywood had glamorised.

  2. Allumer permalink
    September 19, 2010 11:23 am

    National Geographic did an article a few years ago about how love was basically a scientific/chemical reaction. Or something. I did not major in anything science and so some things may have gone over my head. Anyhow, I violently reject this idea because I secretly want to believe that those ancient people who have been married for 80 years are still in love and not staying together because it’s comfortable or convenient, which I think the article sort of alleged.

    I can’t really even wrap my head around that concept because we are taught that the devotion and love a mother has for her child (Hagar frantically searching out water for Ismail) is only a small example of the love God has for us. That kind of takes science out of it. BUT, even if I was an agnostic or atheist, I don’t think I’d like to believe in such a clinical explanation. I prefer to believe there are some things we can’t reduce to formulas on a paper – God or no God.

    Are you comfortable giving an overview of “soft atheism”? I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, but I’m thinking it’s new term since back in the day when I used to have these kind of conversations with agnostics and atheists (aka – my family) no one used it.

    Oh, and did I say great first post, Edzell? I’m saying it now!

    • Rrooo permalink
      September 19, 2010 12:30 pm

      I am really enjoying these posts about Love by the way. Each one speaks so eloquently about its profound and enigmatic qualities in such different ways! I just wanted to respond briefly to the idea of science being able to explain the phenomenon of love… as a very spiritual person myself, and ultimately subscribing to the notion that God is Love, I am also very comfortable with the fact that there are scientific explanations for our ‘love’ behaviour. I do not think it in anyway takes the glory away from God if you choose to believe that He is the ultimate creator because He then designed these physiological and neurological responses. Likewise, if you prefer not to believe in God, then understanding even a fraction of the intricacies of how love and life for that matter work, it does speak to an overall force of some kind – even if that force is just Life sustaining itself as an energy bigger than all of us and yet is all of us (like the concept of God really). I don’t think those that believe in God need to be afraid of science offering explanations of love and life’s mysteries (if anything it can deepen one’s awe), and I don’t think those that look to science for explanations automatically need rule out space for an overall driving Life force (be it divine or otherwise).

      Even if no one agrees with me, I hope what I’m trying to say makes some semblance of sense!

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  1. Some Old Thoughts On Love « Hope in the Seen

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