4 Common Misconceptions About Love

The man who has put together a comprehensive new oral history of Americans' love stories talks about how doing the project gave him a new perspective on what this romantic stuff is all about.


Happy Monday!

Today, I'll talk a little about my weekend, below, but for the most part, we'll hear from John Bowe, the man behind a new engrossing book, comprised of compelling interviews with "average" everyday Americans, all about the great loves of their lives. To create US: AMERICANS TALK ABOUT LOVE, John and his assistants talked to people from just about all 50 states--and even someone from the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, a far-flung US Territory near Guam, 9000 miles away from our nation's capital.

They did preliminary interviews with a thousand people. John read every single one of those interviews--and he and his team interviewed many hundreds of subjects twice, even three times. Finally, he focused on the 46 people whose stories made it into US. They range in age from 17 to 80 (with one 5-year-old who helps open the volume). They include a woman, in a stable marriage for 29 years, who left her husband for the high school sweetheart she'd never forgotten; a man who stopped his wife from killing herself after he walked in on her cocking a pump shotgun; and a Cambodian immigrant, a former monk and virgin, who was forced to marry at gun-point by the Khmer Rouge. They are also stories of more "ordinary" people, and their extraordinarily touching stories of love. The book resembles a great work of literary fiction. (And as opposed to Marry Him, I've actually read a good bit of this book--I opened it up and got sucked right in.) All told, John and co. spent the equivalent of four years' time talking to Americans. About love.

This man knows his love! He's the modern-day Kinsey of love! (He is also pretty hot, isn't it?)

Because I'm an idiot, I didn't insist on interviewing him in person (as clearly I should have, given his picture). But over email, I asked John if working on the project disproved any ideas he had about love before he started. Here's what he said:

Myth #1: "Love at first sight" almost never happens.

"I wasn't so sure 'love at first sight' was a real phenomenon before I started the book. Now I know it is. That doesn't mean that people who fall in love immediately have any better luck at making relationships work than people who take their time, but there's no question about this first-sight stuff being a very very common way that things get kicked off."

Myth #2: You can't prepare yourself for love--when it happens, it just happens.

"You can't force love to happen but you need to be ready to see love when it comes your way. If you're a workaholic, or your plate is full of half-assed romanctic possibilities, you're not going to be ready. So: Keep it simple, focus on one person, and when you find them, make some serious choices. Because another thing I noticed was that while love can be sparked by sight--you can start to feel it quickly--as any relationship progresses, love doesn't just 'happen.' It involves making choices. Like a choice to be fun. A choice to go the extra mile. A choice to 'not be pissy.' A choice to forgive. The idea that love just happens to you and that's the end of the story is pretty simplistic. You have to choose to be honest. Choose to not defend yourself by hiding or playing games or keeping someone else around on the side as a backup plan. I could go on and on, because there were many things we found, and everyone is different. Certainly, lying, cheating, or drug and alcohol abuse were not super conducive to a good love life. But again, choosing not to do those things, or choosing to address them if they're habitual problems, are actions we can decide to pursue."

Myth #3: Relationships are NOT all about working hard to keep them together.

"I used to be a big adherent to the now-common belief that love and relationships are all about hard work. After interviewing hundreds of people about love, I realized a couple of things: one is that yes, there's work involved, but if you really want to be with someone, it's not work. Don't even think of it as work. It's a bit like when the waiter comes up to you as you're finishing your meal and asks, 'Are you still working on that?' We have this weird way in our culture of turning everything into 'work.' It's not 'work,' it's making some sacrifices, and it should be a joy to do. It's as much a part of love as having sex."

Myth #4: No one's going to love you if you're sick or debilitated or depressed.

"The story from the book that probably most inspired me was Steven Hager's. His wife fell victim to a weird spinal ailment that caused her to be in major pain and on serious painkillers for 18 years. She wasn't sleeping. She became depressed. This intelligent, fun woman he'd loved became suicidal to the point where he once caught her pumping the pump shotgun in the walk-in closet, preparing to blow her brains out. But he stuck with her for 18 years of her suffering--at which point, successful surgery completely fixed her medical problem. They resumed normal life together, happily, like the best friends they always were. I think he's amazing."


I found the book quite interesting. And I, too, am moved by Steven Hager's story--among others.

As for my weekend: My (newish) friend Jack came by on Friday night for dinner, so we could talk about a project we're trying to get going. Between his intellect and his sense of humor and his all-around charisma, I never fail to be dazzled by Jack. And he seems to get a kick out of me, in his own right. And because he always give me great romantic advice, and because my self-esteem gets a burnish from hanging out with someone I respect so much who seems to respect me back, I feel like Jack is going to be good for my love life. (He is not single, FYI.)

The other thing worth mentioning this weekend: On Saturday night, my friend Ruby Finch and I went to a party I'd been invited to--where I didn't know a soul! Why? Well, because I'd been invited--and that's just how I'm rolling this month. And I ran into a friend who told me a great story about love ... that had been partly inspired by the woman who wrote the book I talked about last week. Which is also the book which inspired me to go to the party in the first place. I might have to fill you guys in on that later this week. I've gone on long enough today.

Oh, but there is one more thing: It's looking really bad for my novel. Like, really. So Paris, if you're out there? We need to talk about the world of indie publishing!