Technology has changed how we look at socialization, relationships, and love. We of Generation Y have grown up with such rapidly advancing technology, particularly in the social media department, that our methods of communication would be unrecognizable and even inconceivable to our elementary school selves.
Throughout history there have been many drastic technological shifts that have changed how we communicate, date, and love. For instance, the mass production of the automobile in the 1950s gave couples more privacy and intimacy. It was no longer necessary to have a chaperone at all times — effectively the end of “formal courting.”
What the car was for the 1950s the Internet is for our generation. The Internet has created a new place and way for individuals to interact, and in doing so the standards of love have quickly evolved. Fifty years ago, couples would not get physical before “going steady,” and premarital sex was a huge taboo. Now, noncommittal hookups are the norm. A friend recently told me that if he likes a girl and he finds out the attraction is mutual, he becomes disinterested. As soon as a direct line of communication is taken, the game is not fun anymore.
The convoluted and multiplicitous nature of communication today shuts one off from truly loving another person. As Lena Dunham put it, “people are either playing house really aggressively because they’re scared of what an uncertain time it is, or they’re avoiding commitment altogether.” There is no consideration that an open mind and a few conversations could actually lead to something.
So in the midst of all this complication, is there a rhyme or reason to feelings of love and relationships? Can love be broken down into a scientific experiment, or is it as puzzling as the technologies we use to make connections?
To get at this, we first have to consider what happens when people “fall in love.” Just this January, Mandy Len Catron wrote an article in the New York Times explaining how she fell in love with someone after a series of 36 questions. Her project sounds like a complete inversion of “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” — from losing to gaining, days to hours. The study was inspired by one executed by Arthur Aron 20-odd years ago. His study placed a random man and woman into a room and had them ask each other a series of 36 questions, which became deeper and more personal as they went along. After the questioning, the couples would look into each other’s eyes for four minutes. At the end of the experiment, Aron successfully aided in making two strangers fall in love with each other. For her experiment, Catron met up with an old college acquaintance — not in a lab but in a bar — and executed the survey and the staring. Lo and behold, they ended up falling in love with each other. Notably, for both Aron’s and Catron’s studies, the individuals who signed up had to be willing to love and be vulnerable. For Catron, the study “assumes that love is an action.” She concludes, “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”
One of the most fascinating parts of the study is the four-minute long stare-down. We’ve all heard that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but is there actually scientific evidence to back that up? The study of the “Neuroimaging of Love” by Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue reveals that love can elicit the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine. Researchers also shockingly found that falling in love only takes about a fifth of a second. When a person looks at or thinks about a loved one, various neurotransmitters are released, including oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin, and adrenaline. However, despite the fact that the effects of falling in love are as quick as the effects of drugs, the former last longer and have some pretty remarkable effects on our bodies physiologically as well. For instance, the emotion of love dampens activity in areas of the brain associated with grieving, fear, and anxiety.
Clearly there is actual science behind “falling in love.” So if love is so physically and mentally positive, why do we shut down as soon as the real possibility of love arises? Perhaps the reason Generation Y is so turned off by love is because we have witnessed too many marriages fall apart. Currently the divorce rate is at an all-time high, with half of all marriages ending in divorce. We have watched what happens when relationships do not work out, especially amidst jobs, kids, and finances.
Additionally, as we get older and experience heartbreak, we become hardened to notions of love. A study by David Knock, Caroline Schact, and Marty Zusman at East Carolina University conducted a survey of 184 undergraduates. Students younger than 19 years were more likely to believe in love at first sight and believe that love conquers all compared to their counterparts of 20 years and older. Are we numbed by bad experiences? Individuals currently in a relationship purported beliefs like “love conquers all,” and “all problems can be solved if there is enough love,” whereas single individuals were less likely to hold the same views. Your current state of being significantly affects how you feel about relationships and love generally.
But it’s not only cynicism and the changing communication landscape that complicate our quest for love — it’s also our insecurity. See if you can think of an instance when someone, after telling a friend she was “so happy for her” starting a relationship, later said that she was “so jealous” or “hated her,” — only half-jokingly. This insecurity — an uncertainty with ourselves and toward others — causes us to close ourselves off. In the interest of preventing hurt, it’s easier not to put ourselves out there at all. According to Arthur Aron, you should be doing the opposite: “If you are fairly confident in your own self, if your self-esteem is not too low, if it’s fairly stable, then you can share yourself with another and not feel you’re losing who you are.” However, this doesn’t mean that insecurity and disillusionment have no role to play in love. Psychologist Theodore Reik explains that there are two stages to a person falling in love. The first stage occurs when an individual recognizes a need to escape and decides that they need to escape from an internal discontent and yearning for love; the second requires personal courage and security in oneself to actually love another person. Reik also explains that “falling in love” is an attempt to obtain, through the possession of an admired love object, personal qualities or one’s needs. So maybe the cynicism and insecurity we feel are really just signals that the process of falling in love is beginning.
Despite our inability to allow ourselves to be immediately open to love, we clearly haven’t rejected love entirely. Online dating numbers are at an all-time high with a reported 54,250,000 single people in the U.S. and a whopping 41,250,000 reportedly trying online dating — in other words, 76% of all single people have been online dating. The amount of users Tinder has acquired is absolutely astonishing, with a user base of close to 50 million people and the average user spending 90 minutes a day reviewing matches in October 2014. Obviously, people are trying to find someone to be with — no one wants to be alone. Love is something everyone innately wants to obtain, but people aren’t willing to risk their own skin for what they really want: to love and be loved.
Ultimately, though technology has complicated love and, along with many other barriers, gotten in the way of us finding love, love can in fact be broken down into scientific processes. It turns out that there is some rhyme and reason to love — but in the end, truly finding love requires active effort and intention on our part above all. Perhaps next Valentine’s Day, instead of skirting around feelings we have for someone or preaching our self-diagnosed “emotional unavailability,” we need to figure out how to find satisfaction on our own, and then sit down and have a long (perhaps 36 question long) discussion with someone and actively allow ourselves to love and make connections. After all, as John Mayer (and what article concerning love would be complete without lyrics of a love song) puts it, “love ain’t a thing, love is a verb.”