Listen: “Romantic love and the history of emotions” by William Reddy, on ABC Radio National Big Ideas 2013 (first 24 min.) https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/romantic-love-and-the-history-of-emotions/4661102
1. Why does Reddy argue that romantic love is not universal?
2. How does he use neuroscience to back up his points?
Vicki Howard, “The Courtship Letters of an African American Couple: Race, Gender, Class, and the Cult of True Womanhood”, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 100, 1 (Jul., 1996), 64-80. (J-Stor).
3. How was Calvin Rhone and Lucia Knott’s courtship different from those of white rural Americans at the same time?
4. Can we consider this one “emotional style” in a larger “emotional community”?
5. How many letters in the collection, and who wrote them? What does this tell us about who kept them? Do you think this was commonly the case?
6. What do they talk about? What do they NOT talk about?
7. What image of love is presented in these letters?
First Fact: At some point during evolution between plankton and Bon Jovi, apes evolved the ability to become emotionally attached to one another. This emotional attachment would eventually come to be known as “love” and evolution would one day produce a bevy of singers from New Jersey who would make millions writing cheesy songs about it.
Second Fact: Humans evolved the ability to become attached to each other—that is, the ability to love each other—because it helped us survive.1 This isn’t exactly romantic or sexy, but it’s true.
We didn’t evolve big fangs or huge claws or insane gorilla strength. Instead, we evolved the ability to emotionally bond into communities and families where we became largely inclined to cooperate with one another.2 These communities and families turned out to be far more effective than any claw or any fang. Humanity soon dominated the planet.
Third Fact: As humans, we instinctively develop loyalty and affection for those who show us the most loyalty and affection. This is all love really is: an irrational degree of loyalty and affection for another person—to the point that we’d let ourselves come to harm or even die for that person. It may sound insane, but it’s these symbiotic warm fuzzies that kept the species relying on one another long enough to survive the savannas and populate the planet and invent Netflix.
Fourth Fact: Let’s all take a moment and thank evolution for Netflix.
Fifth Fact: The ancient Greek philosopher Plato argued that the highest form of love was actually this non-sexual, non-romantic form of attachment to another person, this so-called “brotherly love.” Plato reasoned (correctly) that since passion and romance and sex often make us do ridiculous things that we regret, this sort of passionless love between two family members or between two close friends was the height of virtuous human experience. In fact, Plato, like most people in the ancient world, looked upon romantic love with skepticism, if not absolute horror.3
Sixth Fact: As with most things, Plato got it right before anybody else did. And this is why non-sexual love is often referred to as “platonic love.”
Seventh Fact: For most of human history, romantic love was looked upon as a kind of sickness.4 And if you think about it, it’s not hard to figure out why: romantic love causes people (especially young people) to do some stupid shit. Trust me. One time when I was 21, I skipped class, bought a bus ticket, and rode across three states to surprise a girl I was in love with. She freaked out and I was soon back on a bus heading home, just as single as when I came. What an idiot.
That bus ride seemed like a great idea at the time because it seemed like such a romantic idea. My emotions were going crazy the whole time. I was lost in a fantasy world and loving it. But now it’s just sort of an embarrassing thing I did back when I was young and dumb and didn’t know any better.