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The New Science of Love (from the Book “Love Sense”)

March 14, 2014

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The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Last week we featured the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love; below is the next section, which lists the recent findings in the latest scientific research on love.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1: Revolution

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines revolution as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm.” And that is exactly what has happened to adult love in the field of social sciences. Two decades ago, love didn’t get much respect as a topic of study. No emotion did. René Descartes, the French philosopher, associated feelings with our lower animal nature and thus considered them something to be overcome. What marked us as superior animals was our ability to reason. Cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am,” he famously proclaimed.

Emotions were not rational and therefore suspect. And love was the most irrational and suspect of all, thus not a fit subject for scientists, the supreme rationalists. Scan the subject index of professor Ernest Hilgard’s exhaustive historical review PsychologiAmericapublished in 1993, and you won’t find the word love. Young researchers were routinely warned off the topic. I remember being told in graduate school that science does not deal with nebulous, soft indefinables, such as emotion, empathy, and love.

The word revolution also means “an uprising.” Social scientists began to recognize that much of their work was not addressing public concerns about the quality of everyday life. So a quiet movement, without riots or bullets, began in campus laboratories and academic journals, challenging the orthodox adherence to studies of simple behaviors and how to change them. New voices began to be heard, and suddenly, in the 1990s, emotions emerged as legitimate topics of inquiry. Happiness, sorrow, anger, fear—and love—started appearing on the agenda of academic conferences in a multitude of disciplines, from anthropology to psychology to sociology. Feelings, it was becoming apparent, weren’t random and senseless, but logical and “intelligent.”

At the same time, therapists and mental health professionals began adjusting their frame of reference in dealing with relationship issues, especially romantic ones. For years they had focused their attention on the individual, believing that any turmoil could be traced back to a person’s own troubled psyche. Fix that and the relationship would improve. But that wasn’t what was happening. Even when individuals grasped why they acted a certain way and tried to change, their love relationships often continued to sour.

Therapists realized that concentrating on one person didn’t give a complete picture. People in love relationships, just as in all relationships, are not distinct entities, acting independently; they are part of a dynamic dyad, within which each person’s actions spark and fuel reactions in the other. It was the coupland how the individuals “danced” together that needed to be understood and changed, not simply the individual alone. Researchers began videotaping couples recounting everyday hurts and frustrations, arguing over money and sex, and hassling over child-rearing issues. They then pored over these recordings, hunting for the critical moments of interaction when a relationship turned into a battlefield or wasteland. They kept an eye open, too, for moments when couples seemed to reach harmonious accord. And they looked for patterns of behavior.

Interest in emotions in general, and love in particular, also surged among “hard” scientists as advances in technology refined old tools and introduced new ones. A major hurdle to investigations had always been: How do you pin down something as vague and evanescent as a feeling? Or, as Albert Einstein lamented: “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

The scientific method depends not only on observation and analysis but also on measurable, reproducible data. With the arrival of more sensitive tests and assays, neurobiologists launched inquiries into the chemistry of emotions. But the big push came with the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Neurophysiologists devised experiments that peer into the brain and actually see structures and areas lighting up when we are afraid, or happy, or sad—or when we love. Remember the old public service announcement showing an egg frying in a pan while a voice intones, “This is your brain on drugs”? Now we have films that actually do capture “This is your brain on love.”

The result of all this ferment has been an outpouring of fresh knowledge that is coalescing into a radical and exciting new vision of love. This new love sense is overthrowing long-held beliefs about the purpose and process of romantic love as well as our sense of the very nature of human beings. The new perspective is not only theoretical but also practical and optimistic. It illuminates why we love and reveals how we can make, repair, and keep love.

Among the provocative findings:

The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connection. 

The man who first offered us this vision of what we now call attachment or bonding was an uptight, aristocratic English psychiatrist, not at all the kind of man you would expect to crack the code of romantic relationships! But John Bowlby, conservative and British, was nevertheless a rebel who changed the landscape of love and loving forever. His insights are the foundation on which the new science of love rests.

Bowlby proposed that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the squalls and storms of life. It is nature’s plan for the survival of the species. Sex may impel us to mate, but it is love that assures our existence. “In uniting the beloved life to ours we can watch over its happiness, bring comfort where hardship was, and over memories of privation and suffering open the sweetest fountains of joy,” wrote George Eliot.

This drive to bond is innate, not learned. It likely arose as nature’s answer to a critical fact of human physiology: the female birth canal is too narrow to permit passage of big-brained, big-bodied babies that can survive on their own within a short time after birth. Instead, babies enter the world small and helpless and require years of nurturing and guarding before they are self-sustaining. It would be easier to abandon such troublesome newborns than raise them. So what makes an adult stick around and assume the onerous and exhausting task of parenting?

Nature’s solution was to wire into our brains and nerves an automatic call-and-response system that keeps child and parent emotionally attached to each other. Babies come with a repertoire of behaviors—gazing, smiling, crying, smiling, clinging, reach-ing—that draw care and closeness from adults. So when a baby boy bawls from hunger and stretches out his arms, his mom picks him up and feeds him. And when Dad coos or makes funny faces at his baby girl, she kicks her legs, waves her arms, and babbles back. And round and round it goes, in a two-way feedback loop.

Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child. 

We’ve long assumed that as we mature, we outgrow the need for the intense closeness, nurturing, and comfort we had with our caregivers as children and that as adults, the romantic attachments we form are essentially sexual in nature. This is a complete distortion of adult love.

Our need to depend on one precious other—to know that when we “call,” he or she will be there for us—never dissolves. In fact, it endures, as Bowlby put it, “from cradle to grave.” As adults, we simply transfer that need from our primary caregiver to our lover. Romantic love is not the least bit illogical or random. It is the continuation of an ordered and wise recipe for our survival.

But there is a key difference: our lover doesn’t have to be there physically. As adults, the need for another’s tangible presence is less absolute than is a child’s. We can use mental images of our partner to call up a sense of connection. Thus if we are upset, we can remind ourselves that our partner loves us and imagine him or her reassuring and comforting us. Israeli prisoners of war report “listening” in their narrow cells to the soothing voices of their wives. The Dalai Lama conjures up images of his mother when he wants to stay calm and centered. I carry my husband’s encouraging words with me in my mind when I walk out on a stage to speak.

Hot sex doesn’t lead to secure love; rather, secure attachment leads to hot sex—and also to love that lasts. Monogamy is not a myth. 

Pick up any men’s or women’s magazine and you’ll find cover lines blaring: seduce him! this sexy move works from 20 feet away; 28 things to try in bed…or in a hammock. or the floor; and sex academy—get an a in giving her an o. In our ignorance, we’ve made physical intimacy the sine qua non of romantic love. As a result, we myopically pour massive amounts of energy and money into spicing up our sex lives. But we have it backwards: it is not good sex that leads to satisfying, secure relationships but rather secure love that leads to good—and, in fact, the best—sex. The growing craze for Internet porn is a catastrophe for love relationships precisely because it negates emotional connection.

It is secure attachment, what nature set us up for, that makes love persist. Trust helps us over the rough places that crop up in every relationship. Moreover, our bodies are designed to produce a cascade of chemicals that bond us tightly to our loved ones. Monogamy is not only possible, it is our natural state.

Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength. 

Dependency is a dirty word in Western society. Our world has long insisted that healthy adulthood requires being emotionally independent and self-sufficient; that we, in essence, draw an emotional moat around ourselves. We talk of being able to separatand detacfrom our parents, our first loved ones, as a sign of emotional strength. And we look with suspicion at romantic partners who display too much togetherness. We say they are too involvewith, too closto, or too dependenon one another. In consequence men and women today feel ashamed of their natural need for love, comfort, and reassurance. They see it as weakness.

Again, this is backwards. Far from being a sign of frailty, strong emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer. The surest way to destroy people is to deny them loving human contact. Early studies discovered that 31–75 percent of institutionalized children expired before their third birthday. More recent studies of adopted Romanian orphans, many of whom had spent twenty hours a day unattended in their cribs, found that many suffer from brain abnormalities, impaired reasoning ability, and extreme difficulty in relating to others.

Adults are similarly demolished. Prisoners in solitary confinement develop a complex of symptoms, including paranoia, depression, severe anxiety, hallucinations, and memory loss. They call their experience a “living death.” “When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement,” writes Lisa Guenther, associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, “we deprive [him] of the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world.”

The idea that we can go it alone defies the natural world. We are like other animals—we need ties to others to survive. We see it clearly in a multitude of cross-species combinations: in Thailand, a tiger adopts baby pigs; in China, a dog nurses lion cubs; in Colombia, a cat cares for a squirrel; in Japan, a boar carries a baby monkey on its back; and in Kenya, a giant male tortoise fosters a tsunami-orphaned baby hippo.

We, too, as the Celtic saying goes, “live in the shelter of each other.” World War II historians have noted that the unit of survival in concentration camps was the pair, not the individual. Surveys show that married men and women generally live longer than do their single peers.

We need emotional connection to survive. Neuroscience is highlighting what we have perhaps always known in our hearts—loving human connection is more powerful than our basic survival mechanism: fear. We also need connection to thrive. We are actually healthier and happier when we are close and connected. Consistent emotional support lowers blood pressure and bolsters the immune system. It appears to reduce the death rate from cancer as well as the incidence of heart disease and infectious disease. Married patients who have coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive fifteen years later than their unmarried counterparts. A good relationship, says psychologist Bert Uchino of the University of Utah, is the single best recipe for good health and the most powerful antidote to aging. He notes that twenty years of research with thousands of subjects shows how the quality of our social support predicts general mortality as well as mortality from specific disorders, such as heart disease.

In terms of mental health, close connection is the strongest predictor of happiness, much more so than making masses of money or winning the lottery. It also significantly lessens susceptibility to anxiety and depression and makes us more resilient against stress and trauma. Survivors of 9/11 with secure loving relationships have been found to recover better than those without strong bonds. Eighteen months after the tragedy, they showed fewer signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and less depression. Moreover, their friends considered them more mature and better adjusted than they had been prior to the disaster.

Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people. 

Like Darwin, with his list of reservations, many of us think of love as limiting, narrowing our options and experiences. But it is exactly the reverse. A secure bond is the launching pad for our going out and exploring the unknown and growing as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety. It is much easier when we know that someone has our back. Thus fortified, we become imbued with confidence in ourselves and in our ability to handle new challenges. For example, young professional women who are emotionally close to their partners and seek their reassurance are more confident in their skills and more successful at reaching their career goals. It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent.

We are not created selfish; we are designed to be empathetic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others. 

We are a naturally empathetic species. This part of our nature can be overridden or denied, but we are wired to be caring of others. We are not born callous and competitive, dedicated to our own survival at the expense of others. As biologist Frans de Waal points out, “We would not be here today had our ancestors been socially aloof.” We have survived by caring and cooperating. Our brains are wired to read the faces of others and to resonate with what we see there. It is this emotional responsiveness and ability to work together, not our large, thinking brains alone, that has allowed us to become the most dominant animal on the planet. The more securely connected we are to those we love, the more we tune in and respond to the needs of others as if they were our own. Moral decisions and altruistic actions spring naturally from our emotional connection with others.

The bonds of love are our birthright and greatest resource. They are our primary source of strength and joy. Seeking out and giving support are so vital to human beings that social psychologists Mario Mikulincer and Phil Shaver observe that, rather than being called Homsapiensor “one who knows,” we should be named Homauxiliatoveaccipiauxiliumor “one who helps or receives help.” To be even more accurate, I say we should be called Homvinculum—“one who bonds.”

 

from “Love Sense” by Sue Johnson, available on Amazon.com
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sue Johnson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
 Read the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love
Tune in next week for the next section of Chapter 1!



@Midnight’s #FilthyCelebrities Hashtag War

March 14, 2014

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Our favorite show (besides “True Detective,” and the second season of “House of Cards,” and “The Bachelor,” duh) is @Midnight hosted by the adorable Chris Hardwick (of “Shipmates” fame!). It’s a late night Comedy Central game show wherein three comedians (different each night) compete to make the funniest jokes about that day’s Internet “news,” memes and viral videos. Our favorite segment — “#Hashtag Wars” — is a play-along-on-Twitter game where you come up with funny-clever responses to that night’s given hashtag: recent hashtags have included #BadSciFi (“Alien Vs. To Catch A Predator”), #SpringBreakBooks (“A Clockwork Orange Spray Tan”), and #RuinABand (“Faith No S’mores”) — the show features the winning submission on the next night’s show.

The featured hashtag this past Wednesday night/Thursday morning’s show was #FilthyCelebrities (host’s examples were “Bryan Cram-some-in” and “B.J. Novak”). So, since we were actually up for once and watching live (instead of watching it on TiVo like a full week later), and since we ostensibly write about filthy stuff, we submitted a few. Okay, we tweet-arrhea-ed a whole slew of submissions, which we think might have broken the Internets, since our tweets didn’t show up in the feed (only on our account page). Needless to say, we didn’t win. @Rich_Fulcher’s “James ‘Get In My Van’ der Beek” won. We think @ryanmaglunob — who submitted “Larry the Kegel Guy” — was robbed. Below, please to enjoy our first (and failed) attempts at battling in a Hashtag War:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Revenge, Secrets, and Whiskey in “Deceptive Innocence”

March 13, 2014

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Kyra Davis, New York Times bestselling author of Just One Night, is keeping things steamy with Deceptive Innocence, the story of Bell, a beautiful young woman out for revenge who falls in love with the one man whose secrets are as dangerous as her own. Here’s a taste of the new story (we totally fell for the last line!):

 

Deceptive Innocence by Kyra Davis

From Chapter 1

 

My heart’s beating a little too fast and my eyes keep darting toward the door. He’ll walk through there any moment now. There are only a handful of bar-

flies to distract me, and the kinds of drinks they order don’t take a lot of thought to make. This is not a Mojito Sparkler type of crowd.

Most of the people who come to drink at Ivan’s are men. They come to lose themselves in alcohol and sports. The few women who show up are looking for a special kind of trouble. This isn’t the place you come to in hopes of picking up a nice guy.

I know these women. Maybe not personally, but essentially I know who they are and what they’re about: disheartened or damaged, looking for men who can inflict enough pain to help them forget the pain that’s coming from within. Screwing assholes, making themselves vulnerable to emotional predators—it’s just another form of cutting, really. Every time they smile at a Hells Angels type I can see the unspoken words hovering over their heads.

Here’s the knife. Hurt me so I don’t have to hurt myself. Take away the responsibility and just give me the pain.

I get it, I really do. But it’s not my game, not anymore.

So I just pour the beer, keep the whiskey flowing, keep my smile evasive, cold enough to scare away the more aggressive ones, warm enough to coax the tips out of the passive . . . and keep my eyes on the door.

And then it happens. At exactly seven fifteen, he shows up.

I feel an acute pang in my chest, right where my heart is.

Lander Gable. How many times have I seen this man walk into this bar while I was sitting across the street in a cab or rental car? But now, today, I’m in the bar, and he’s walking toward me, not away. I’ve never been so close to him before. I can almost touch him!

And soon I will.

The ringing of the phone momentarily distracts me.

I pick up and ask, “Ivan’s, can I help you?” The person on the other end mumbles an embarrassed apology for calling the wrong number and hangs up, but I keep the phone pressed to my ear long after hearing the click, pretending to listen while I study the perfect specimen in front of me: a clean-shaven face, bronze skin, a watch that’s worth more than everything I own . . . Only he’s replaced the suit he wore to the office today with a pair of Diesel jeans and a sweater. Less conspicuous, but still a little too clean for this place. His physique hints at time spent at a gym, not a dockyard.

You’d think some of the other guys would kick his ass just for entering their bar.

And yet absolutely no one gets in his way.

It’s not until he’s almost at the bar stool that we make eye contact. He doesn’t smile, but there’s something there—curiosity maybe, perhaps surprise at finding a woman bartending, definitely appraisal.

I’ve gotta give myself a major pat on the back for that one. I must have spent two hours putting myself together today for him. He’s why I’m wearing my wild black hair down, letting it cover my bare shoulders. He’s why I matched the loose, low-slung jeans with a fitted tank that subtly reveals the benefits of my new push-up bra. He’s why I’m wearing thick mascara and sheer lip gloss. I know this guy’s tastes.

He takes his seat, pulls out a ten, and gestures to the bottle of whiskey still in my hand from the last drink I poured. “On the rocks, please.”

“You sure?” I ask even as I fill a glass with ice. “I could make a whiskey sour if you like. Maybe throw in a cherry?”

He raises his eyebrow slightly. “Mocking a patron when you’re new to the job? Risky, isn’t it?”

“How do you know I just started?”

“I’m here a lot.”

“Every day?”

“A few times a week.” He reaches for his drink, brings it to his lips. Over the glass he offers a bemused smile. “I like your prices.”

“Really?” I ask. “Drinks more expensive where you’re from?”

“You make it sound like I’m visiting from some far- off land.”

“Are you?”

His light-brown hair looks darker in this room, his eyes brighter. “Upper East Side,” he says.

“Ahhh.” I take a step back and cross my arms over my chest. “That’s about a million dollars from here.”

He winces. “Not necessarily.” On the other side of the bar a few men burst into cheers as a UFC fighter’s arm is broken on live TV.

“You living at the 92nd Street Y, then?” I quip.

“No,” he answers, his smile returning. “I’ve managed to avoid that fate.” He studies me for a moment, trying to gauge what he’s dealing with. “How ’bout you? You live here in Harlem?”

“Occasionally. I’m a bit of a drifter.” I fiddle with a glass, playing at cleaning it. “So why do you really come here . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

He gives me a quizzical look. “Considering how coy you’re being about what part of town you live in, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t volunteer my name just yet. That way we both have an air of mystery.”

“Oh, I’m only coy about inconsequential things.” I lean forward, put my elbows on the bar, and cradle my chin in my hands. Ever so slightly I arch my back. “I’m very straightforward about the things I want.”

“Really?” He takes another sip. “And what exactly is it that you want?”

“Tonight?” I pause for a moment, pretending to think. “Tonight I want . . . your name.”

His smile spreads to a grin. “You think you can coax it out of me?”

“Maybe.” Out of the corner of my eye I spot one of the regulars on the other side of the bar waving his empty glass in the air. “When I have the time.”

And I walk away to pour the next drink.

The foreman needing the refill is too drunk to notice that I’m trembling while taking his money.

God, is this working? Am I being too forward? Too much of a tease? My mother would have chewed me out for behaving like this.

But when I look back, Lander’s still smiling. I exhale in relief. I have to have confidence. I’ve studied this man; some would even call it stalking, although I’m not sure I see the distinction. But the point is, I know what kind of man Lander is. He’s different. Edgy in that upscale kind of way, and he’s rebellious enough to drink in this dive when he could easily afford to knock back cocktails at The Carlyle.

When I return to him I refill his drink without his having to ask. “So I was thinking about this, and before I resort to coaxing, I think I’d like to take a stab at guessing.”

“I don’t have the kind of name that’s easy to guess,” he says.

“So it’s not Rumpelstiltskin?”

He laughs and shakes his head. His laugh is deeper than I anticipated, appealingly unrestrained. “I’ll give you a hint,” he finally says. “It’s English and it means ‘lion.’”

“Leo.”

“Close. It also means ‘landowner.’”

Another well-weathered drinker several feet off has started muttering to himself, adding an odd soundtrack to the scene. He’s minutes away from falling off his stool.

“Landlord,” I say. “Wait, is that a name? How about Leolord, or Lionlord, or maybe Landlion.”

“My name is Lander,” he supplies.

“Lander, the landowning lion.”

He nods in confirmation. “And what’s your name?”

“Bell.”

“You were named for your beauty.”

I shake my head, a little harder than necessary. “It’s a nickname. B. E. L. L. No ‘e’ at the end. Like Taco Bell.”

“Like Taco Bell?” he repeats. “Did you just say that?”

“What should I have said? A church bell?”

“No.” He takes his drink and downs more than half of it in a gulp. “But maybe like an alarm bell.”

I giggle at that and shake my head in protest, though I’m secretly flattered.

“Care to tell me your real name?” he asks.

“Guess,” I call over my shoulder as I leave to serve another customer. I can feel him watching me and I work to make sure my movements are graceful, too graceful for this place. That’s what he should think. I want him to be curious about me.

I need him to want me.

“Keep ’em on their toes,” my mother used to say. “If they don’t know what’s coming next, they’ll keep coming back in hopes of figuring it out.”

I remember that conversation so well, although at the time I pretended not to listen. I had found it distasteful to be advised on men and dating through bulletproof glass.

Looking back on it, I really hope she knew I was listening.

More customers come in: a chick dressed like a prostitute clinging to a guy dressed like a deadbeat, then a dark-skinned man with a scar, and, a few minutes later, a light-skinned guy with a grizzled beard and a bald head. They all glance in Lander’s direction but none of them bother him. It’s like he’s mingling when he shows up here. He doesn’t belong. He’s no better than those tourists on the double-decker buses, gaping at the sights of the city without ever understanding the first thing about the lives of the people who live in it. Does he know that?

The unspoken question helps me. It sharpens my focus and fortifies me for the next step. When I go back I look him in the eye and silently invite him to restart the conversation.

“Bella,” he says, his eyes moving from my hair, to my eyes, to the antique garnet ring I wear on my right hand.

“That would be too easy,” I say.

“Belinda.”

“Nope.”

“Blair.”

“Now you’re just pulling names out of your ass.”

He almost spits out his drink as he holds back an ill-timed laugh. When he composes himself, he opens his mouth again to continue but I gently press my finger against his lips. The move is startlingly intimate and he immediately falls silent.

“That’s three strikes,” I say as I pull my hand back. “Looks like you’re not getting to first base tonight.”

He cocks his head. “There’s always tomorrow.”

“That depends on how you perform next time you’re up to bat.”

And again I walk away. I serve the other drinkers, and occasionally I throw him a smile or two, but I don’t go back to talk. Not yet. I have to tease this out.

It’s only when he prepares to leave that I grab his hand. “Do come back another time,” I say, my eyes locked on his. Then, slowly, I remove my hand and bite my lower lip teasingly before adding, “For our prices.”

He answers me with a smile, puts down a ridiculously large tip, and leaves.

 

He’s back the very next night.

He arrives earlier this time, takes the same seat, and waits for me to approach. I hold up the whiskey and raise my eyebrows questioningly, waiting for his nod before pouring him a glass.

He throws out a pile of names: Beliva, Bellanca, Benita. The names are foreign to me, unfamiliar, irritating. But I keep my tone teasing and light as I reject them one by one.

The traffic in the bar is also light tonight, but a few distractions manage to pop up. The drunk from the night before is here, the one who almost fell off his stool. This time he’s sitting at a table, with a troubled expression that indicates he’s watching “his” bartender flirt with “the stranger.”

It takes effort, but he manages to get out of his chair and make his way back to the bar. When he puts his empty glass in front of me, he hits the wood of the bar a little too hard so that the placement reads more like a demand than a casual movement. “Empty,” he says, staring at the bottom. On the screen behind me “The Most Interesting Man in the World” opens a Dos Equis as this man before me fishes out six crumpled dollar bills and puts them next to the glass.

I shake my head. “I can’t serve you; you’ve had too much.”

The man shakes his head in return. “I had too much twenty years ago, but the Lord keeps piling shit on.”

“I meant I can’t give you more to drink,” I clarify. “Go home.”

The drunk’s head snaps up at the word home, as if I’ve spoken of some kind of coveted prize, as if I’ve spoken the real name of God. In that moment I know his whole story; the perfunctory telling of it is almost unnecessary. Newly evicted, no family, nothing. The man has no center. I shake my head, whisper useless words of comfort. I recognize his pain, I’ve lived with it before, but I can’t help. I can’t give him a home, or a family. I can’t even give him the final drink that might make him forget.

“You have to go,” I say as gently as I can. “There’s a shelter a few miles from here. Perhaps they can—”

But before I can finish my sentence, Lander slams his hand on the bar, and when he lifts it there’s two hundred dollars there. “For a Best Western,” he says, his voice cool and steady, as if he’s ordering a drink, not a bed. “Find one with a free breakfast.”

The man gapes at the bills before snatching them up and weaving his way out of the bar.

I stare at Lander, who is now occupying himself with his phone. “He won’t get a hotel room,” I finally say.

“He might,” Lander counters. “Not a Best Western, not a hotel that will buy him a moment of human dignity. But he might find a bed, a room, someplace where he can drink the liquor he’s about to buy in private.”

I shake my head, still not getting it.

“I feel sorry for him,” Lander clarifies.

“Because he doesn’t have a family?”

“Because he’s chosen despair over anger,” he says distractedly as he checks his emails. “It’s a bad choice. Despair will kill you. Anger’s more useful.”

I drop my gaze, toy with my garnet ring. Lander’s singing my song . . . my anthem. Again I feel my pulse quicken, just like it did right before our meeting, before I began my game.

I lean into the counter, my hands spread out to either side as if I’m balancing myself. “Are you angry, Lander?”

He looks up from his phone, his expression almost seductive, almost menacing. “Not as angry as you, Bell.”

Immediately I step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m—”

“I can hear anger scraping at the underside of every cheery word that comes out of your mouth,” he interrupts. “You’re absolutely draped in anger. And you know what?” He puts a few bills down, more than enough to cover the drink he consumed. “You wear it well.”

My heart pounds in my ears as once again he leaves.

What if he knows? 

Dear God, what if he knows I want to destroy him?

 

Read more of Deceptive Innocence here

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In Defense of Juan Pablo

March 11, 2014

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screenshot from ABC’s “The Bachelor: After the Final Rose”

After spending all season ripping apart Juan Pablo for his sexist paternalism, his homophobia, his hypocrisy, and his all around smarminess, we’re going to do something we never thought we’d do: defend him.

Hear us out.

When Andi, one of the women in Juan Pablo’s final three, spoke up about the nightmarish reality of the fantasy suite, we commended her. She pulled back the curtain of the show to reveal what a sham it is. World travel, exotic locales, novel date activities, and heavy mood lighting do not a relationship make; they — and the cameras — don’t create an environment to truly get to know someone intimately. Andi didn’t realize this until she and Juan Pablo finally had a chance to be alone, away from the cameras, and truly be themselves. Previous Bachelors have been better at keeping up the charade in the camera-free fantasy suite, but not Juan Pablo — his insensitivity and narcissism couldn’t be contained. Andi saw his true colors and, for the first time in Bachelor history, painted a brutal picture of the Bachelor — the man and the show — with them.

Now, with his appearance on “After the Final Rose”, Juan Pablo has done the same: revealing himself to be even more of an dick than we imagined, yes, but also highlighting the utter preposterousness of the show’s set up.

Juan Pablo refused to play the producers’ game; he refused to follow “The Bachelor” script — the script which dictates that when the Bachelor chooses someone to be with at the end of the show, he must publicly declare his undying love…for a woman whom he’s essentially just met. If he won’t propose marriage (god, how annoying and selfish!), he’ll at the very least state clearly and unequivocally, “I love her.” It’s an essential part of the pretend fairy tale the producers are peddling: this show is about finding true love and we’ll all be damned if someone doesn’t find it by the end!

We lost count of how many times Chris Harrison asked Juan Pablo if he was in love, asked him to say he was in love. Harrison even went so far as to say Juan Pablo was in love, but was just refusing to let us all enjoy it vicariously: “This is what we all signed up to watch, and that’s what you signed up to show.”

But Juan Pablo wouldn’t budge — because he’s obviously not in love. At least not yet. And can we blame him, bastard or not? After only two months on the show with Nikki, and several more spent apart from her in hiding, he — like most sane people — need more time to make any grand statements or big moves, especially when he apparently takes marriage very seriously (he didn’t even marry the mother of his child) and doesn’t consider divorce an option. They — yes, JP and Nurse “I’m in Love” Nikki — need time in the real world to figure out how they actually feel about each other, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of Bachelor couples don’t ultimately end up together for the long haul. Juan Pablo said, “We’re starting our relationship.” The key word being starting.

But Nikki said it best (which is not surprising, considering Juan Pablo’s strained English and his proclivity for sticking his foot in his mouth): “I’m not going to force it,” she said. “I’m happy and I know he is too. That should matter more [than the words]…There’s people that have sat up here before and said they’re in love and everyone wants to believe it but they don’t because it’s just not there…Falling in love in a few months and, not only that, but the fact that they were dating other people the whole time, it’s just not exactly realistic…This is a real relationship to us, we’re taking this very seriously.”

To which Juan Pablo added, in a rare moment of eloquence, “I’m sorry the show didn’t end up the way you guys wanted it to but I just have to be honest.”

The couple also refused to reveal their future plans — or even if they had any future plans at all — saying they preferred to keep their relationship private, or at least as private as possible in a post-Bachelor world. This, of course, spurred the ire of Harrison along with Bachelor poster children/good citizens Sean and Catherine: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” said Catherine. She meant that he should be more grateful to the show for the opportunity to find someone he cares about by spilling his guts (though it sounded an awful lot like she was admitting the show is more about making money and publicity for participants than it is about actually fostering true love). But Juan Pablo, having held up the letter of the producers’ laws the entire show, went rogue last night and ignored the spirit of those laws by keeping his innermost thoughts and feelings to himself, proving better than any prepackaged happy ending that these are real live human beings (however flawed) and not the producers’ puppets or our playthings.

Last night’s treatment of Juan Pablo seemed to suggest that in the world of the Bachelor, it’s better to end up alone than with someone whom you’re enjoying dating and getting to know — that’s just so realistic, so logical, so anti-climactic, so real. Everything “The Bachelor” isn’t.

 

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Top 5 Love Lessons from The Bachelor Finale (Juan Pablo)

March 11, 2014

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photo courtesy of ABC/Rick Rowell

  1. When your partner’s family tells you he’s rude, he makes his mama cry, he won’t stick around when things get hard, he’s not an easy guy, he’s self-centered, he’s a know-it-all, he’s simple, he watches TV all day, and there will be lots of fighting, dump him.
  2. When your partner’s dad is more affectionate, more complimentary, and quicker to say “I love you” than your partner, dump him.
  3. When someone says “I love you” don’t respond with “Thank you” or a high-pitched, mildly frightened “Woooh!”
  4. Don’t mention the possibility of having children together if you’re not serious about the relationship. And don’t mention a ring if you’re not going to use it — it’s not a god-damned dangling carrot!
  5. When someone uses the phrase “It is what it is” to describe their relationship with you, dump him. In fact, if someone you’re dating uses the phrase “It is what it is” to describe anything, dump him.

The moral of this season of “The Bachelor”? DON’T DATE JUAN PABLO!

 

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A Brief History of Love, from the New Book “Love Sense”

March 7, 2014

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The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter, which outlines a brief history of love and why it still matters in the 21st century.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1

My memories are full of the sounds and sights of love: The ache in my elderly grandmother’s voice when she spoke of her husband, gone nearly fifty years. A railway signalman, he had courted her, a ladies’ maid, for seven years on the one Sunday she had off each month. He died of pneumonia on Christmas Day after eighteen years of marriage, when he was forty-five and she just forty.

My small enraged mother flying across the kitchen floor at my father, a former naval engineer in World War II, who stood large and strong in the doorway, drinking her in with his eyes, and she, seeing me, stopping suddenly and fleeing from the room. She left him after three decades of slammed doors and raised fists when I was ten. “Why do they fight all the time?” I asked my granny. “Because they love each other, sweetie,” she said. “And watching them, it’s clear that none of us knows what the hell that means.” I remember thinking, “Well, I won’t do this love thing, then.” But I did.

Telling my first great love, “I refuse to play this ridiculous game. It’s like falling off a cliff.” Weeping just months into a marriage, asking myself, “Why do I no longer love this man? I can’t even pinpoint what is missing.” Another man smiling quietly at me, and I, just as quietly, leaning back and letting myself plunge into the abyss. There was nothing missing.

Sitting, years later, watching the last of the ice finally melting on our lake one morning in early April and hearing my husband and children walking through the woods behind me. They were laughing and talking, and I touched for a moment the deepest joy, the kind of joy that was, and still is, entirely enough to fill up my heart for this lifetime.

Anguish and drama, elation and satisfaction. About what? For what?

***

Love can begin in a thousand ways—with a glance, a stare, a whisper or smile, a compliment, or an insult. It continues with caresses and kisses, or maybe frowns and fights. It ends with silence and sadness, frustration and rage, tears, and even, sometimes, joy and laughter. It can last just hours or days, or endure through years and beyond death. It is something we look for, or it finds us. It can be our salvation or our ruin. Its presence exalts us, and its loss or absence desolates us.

We hunger for love, yearn for it, are impelled to it, but we haven’t truly understood it. We have given it a name, acknowledged its force, cataloged its splendors and sorrows. But still we are confronted with so many puzzles: What does it mean to love, to have a loving relationship? Why do we pursue love? What makes love stop? What makes it persist? Does love make any sense at all?

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Top 5 Love Lessons from The Bachelor (Juan Pablo, The Women Tell All)

March 4, 2014

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photo courtesy of ABC/Rick Rowell

  1. Ladies, never say you “think too much.” Serious reflection, internal debate, philosophical pondering — these are all good things in a woman, in a romantic partner, in a human being (even if they may seem surprising to Juan Pablo).
  2. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to non-exclusive relationships — anyone you’re dating should be made aware of the fact that you’re seeing other people. That said, do so delicately and with restraint — they don’t need to hear the details of your other relationships or be made to feel like one of many.
  3. It takes a real narcissist to look back on past relationships (whether those relationships occurred simultaneously or not) and profess “no regrets.” Really? Not a single, itty-bitty one? How about a little self reflection, humility and personal improvement by honestly admitting, even if it’s just to yourself, how you could have been a better partner. We’re sure you can think of something.
  4. The only way to deal with an ex who’s been hurt by you is with contrition. Don’t go on the offensive (and we mean that in both senses of the word).
  5. As an adult, you should be able to defend your position on gay marriage — or any other big political issue — in 60 seconds to your date. If you can’t, then it might be time for a little soul searching.

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Everyone You’ve Ever Dated, By 2014 Oscar-Nominated Roles

February 28, 2014

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Did you get a weird sense of deja vu while Oscar-cramming all the movies before Sunday’s big awards show? It’s not just because you can chart your dating style based on the Oscar-nominated movies (as we explained last week) — it’s because this year’s crop of best acting nominees, in the lead and supporting roles, somehow manage to represent the archetypes of every person you’ve ever dated. To wit…

The One You Date for Their “Potential”: Christian Bale, American Hustle

On paper, these people are all wrong for you: Maybe they’re already married, for example, or unemployed, or a con artist. But there’s something charming about them — maybe it’s their incongruous body confidence, or their tenderness toward stray animals or children — that takes you off guard, and convinces you that they have the ability to be a great person. While you hang around waiting for this person to change, you find yourself forgiving everything from premature hair loss to infidelity.

The Bad Boy/Unavailable Woman: Leonard DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s lust at first type with these partners: You find it hard to believe that someone so hot/charming/rich/sought-after would be interested in little old you. As soon as you have sex for the first time — which may or may not be on the first date but, let’s be honest here, probably is — this person becomes a little more distant, a little harder to reach, a little less likely to call, a little more likely to show up drunk or high. You hang in there  – often through bouts of infidelity, emotional abuse, and unreciprocated oral sex — because you want to believe that you are the one to make this bad boy/unavailable woman change their playa ways. See also: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave.

The High School Nerd Who Grew Up Hot: Sandra Bullock, Gravity

If only you’d noticed this person back in high school when there was zero competition and you had no date for prom! If only you’d joined chess club! If only you’d asked for their help on your college application essay! Instead, you track this person down on Facebook, many years later, and try to pretend that you’re more than just a superficial asshole who finds it hard to pay attention to what ugly people are saying. If this is true — hey, maybe you grew up to be a nice person — then this could be The One.

The One You Underestimate Because They’re Less Attractive Than You: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

This is the person you treat as Plan B — someone who will always pick up the phone when you call (or when you booty call), who will always be your plus-one when you’re invited to your cousin’s wedding, who will always boost your ego, and who will probably be willing to marry you if you don’t find someone better. You treat them like a back-up plan because they’re less attractive than you, or not as smart, or not as successful, or not as charming. And then they up and surprise you with a makeover/I.P.O./super-hot partner, and you’re left in the dust.

The One You Overestimate Because of Their Accent: Amy Adams, American Hustle

We’re talking to you, Juan Pablo Bachelor contestants! Before you take the relationship any further, ask yourself, would you still sleep date this person if they sounded like the Nanny/Peewee Herman? A sultry accent (even a fake one) can certainly make up for a nose like Gerard Depardieu, or a goiter, but it can’t make up for Tea Party-politics or an inability to ask an intelligent question.

The Hot Mess: Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

When you first meet, you’re incredibly turned on by this person’s brand of crazy, be it addiction or chronic narcissism or rage or stalking. You have wild, unpredictable sex — in public, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day. You have phone sex and kinky sex and group sex and acrobatic sex. Until, eventually, the sex starts to slow down — to, say, just once a day — and you realize that the craziness outside the bedroom isn’t worth the craziness inside it. See also: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips.

The Surprise Hit: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

This person woos you with persistence or proximity until you finally give in and go on a date. Or maybe you drunkenly hook up after happy hour drinks and then realize you actually kind of like them. Or a mediocre date ends in mind-blowing sex and suddenly the next date is awesome. This person is not your type, and they don’t check any of your boxes, but somehow, it works. When friends found out you dated this person, they’ll be all like, “You dated them?” and you’ll smile slyly and say, “You have no idea.”

The Secretly Needy One: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

When you first start dating, this person is cool as a summer’s breeze. They’re confident, carefree, independent, and possibly even independently wealthy. But the deeper into the relationship you get, the more you realize that this person is an insecure black hole of neediness (and possibly even broke). Even worse, they resent their own neediness, which leads them to strike out at the people they need the most. You just better hope they don’t threaten suicide or social-media embarrassment when you dump them.

The Intellectual Connection: Judi Dench, Philomena

You make each other laugh, you make each other think, you make each other want to be better people. Unfortunately, however, this person just doesn’t inspire you in the sack. Everyone thinks you’re perfect for each other — especially you parents — and you probably are… if only you could get past that sex thing. Hey, maybe you’ll look each other up again on Facebook when you’re eighty and past caring about sex.

The One with Big Dreams: Bruce Dern, Nebraska

They tell you they want to be president (maybe of the local knitting club, you think). They tell you they want to make movies (but they never do). They talk about how awesome it would be to fly to Paris on a whim (you never go). They show you their poetry and ask if you think it’s good enough for The New Yorker (it never is). They have big hopes and dreams — for life, for love, for your relationship. But somehow, all you get out of the relationship is a beer belly and a commemorative baseball hat (and a sense that the relationship lasted a lot longer than it actually did).

The Delicate Flower: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

If only this person would realize what a catch they are! They’re sweet, smart, and fun to be around… until the sensitivity kicks in. A night in bed frequently ends in hugs and tears and warm cups of tea, while you rub their back and insist they’re good enough for you. Once in a blue moon, these hugs and teas and cups of tea are enough for this person to blossom into a ten-feet-tall sunflower, and you live happily ever after. More often, though, you end up feeling more like a therapist than a lover.

The Right Person, Wrong Time: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Maybe you were too young, or too stupid, or too ambitious, or too into blondes at the time, or too busy being a, you know, slave. Life’s like that sometimes. Fortunately for you, there’s Facebook. The one who got away can still be got back!

The One You Grew Apart From: Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

It was all so right, until it went so wrong. You were the envy of all your couple friends, and you used to look down your noses at couples who needed marriage therapy or spa weekends away from each other or forced date nights. But maybe if you’d allowed yourself a little marriage therapy or a spa weekend away from each other, or a cornball “date night,” you’d still be together. Or maybe you still would have slept with your executive assistant/tennis coach, who knows?

The One with the Bad Perm: Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Everything about this relationship is perfect, except for their bad perm. Or maybe it’s their refusal to pluck their eyebrows. Or their inattention to pubic grooming. Or their preference for pleated khakis over flat-front pants. Or their goatee. If you can suck it up and move on from this trivial detail, you may well live happily ever after. But, more likely, you’ll obsess over this one thing until it snowballs into a serious relationship deal-breaker. Too bad.

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