Have you ever struggled to understand how in our fast-paced global world people can allow themselves to become sufficiently vulnerable and open to engage in meaningful relationships with one another? Distracted by an ever-increasing array of technological gadgets created to supposedly promote ease of interaction, contemporary humans are often puzzled and frightened by the intricacies of intimacy. The uncertainty caused by a marketplace with too many choices accompanied by too few rules or guidelines make the navigation of the emotional waters of relationships especially treacherous.
Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers) by Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times column Modern Love, set out to write this book (which is more like a collection of essays) not with the goal to provide any definitive answers or formulas to solve the mystery of love, but rather to explore the many questions raised by the variety of changes in lifestyle that contemporary life poses. These life-styles range from the supposedly emotion-free and commitment-free hook-up popularized in college dorms to the over-the-top emotional connections via Skype or chat rooms with strangers one never meets face-to-face. Over a period of nearly ten years, Mr. Jones–happily married for at least 15 years himself–has received over 50,000 submissions from which he has selected the most compelling, having published in all around 350 columns.
This book is full of touchingly amusing personal anecdotes (including the author’s juvenile fascination with his brother’s pet rock). He quips with philosophical undertones: “…I’m often struck by the ‘Pet Rock’ quality of many on-line only relationships, which tend to thrive–as do many on-line activities–from the same combination of fantasy, convenience, and control that fueled my brief affair with my brother’s rock. What’s more, they especially seem to appeal to people who aren’t ready for, can’t find, or don’t want a real relationship, so having an intense connection via words and a screen is perfect, at least as long as the fling lasts, which in some cases can be years.”
For those of you who are single and who have ventured into the occasionally murky waters of online dating, you are probably well aware of the pen pal syndrome provoked by our semi-anonymous system of meeting others through the likes of Match.com, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, J-Date, etc. Who knew that the lost art of letter writing would be revived, alas often without the elegance (and attention to spelling and grammar) that may have been popular in centuries past? Can you stomach text talk introductions such as “How r u, lol? U r georgous!” (sic)? For the introvert or the socially-challenged, the internet can become a protective cocoon, but at the end of the day, when taking into account what authentic relationships between human beings truly involves, risk is necessary to provoke personal growth and to allow for true interaction with others. Being exposed to a multitude of potential partners can be an illuminating experience, and for those with a sense of adventure and a taste for the metaphysical, self-awareness is just a click away.
The truth is that modern demographics and social and cultural structures have radically changed. Mr. Jones aptly points out that just fifty years ago, to meet a prospective partner would have involved choosing from a relatively limited pool of candidates. This also meant being less choosy–and probably also not feeling that the perfect person may always be just around the corner. Modern dissatisfaction may also be paired with an inaccurate vision and awareness of self and an often less-than-realistic expectation of perfection that the ideal man or woman should embody.
While Love Illuminated explores the many facets of modern love–from online capers, open relationships, the naming challenges of blended and other politically correct families, the problem of maintaining passion in long-term relationships, to the dilemma of the office spouse–the author also delves into what makes long-term committed relationships possible, openly exposing his own marriage with self-deprecating humor to the magnifying lens of his own analysis. He also explores the notions of destiny and the appeal of having a good relationship story that validates and makes meaningful a potential encounter.
Overall–while not a dating manual–this book is not only entertaining, it is also informative, personal, and a worthwhile read.
Other modern dating adventure stories:
Another perplexingly bizarre but also funny data-driven romance: Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb, 2013
Other relevant reading (possibly for the less geeky) in our DCPL collections:
The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips are Telling Us by Sheril Kirshenbaum, 2011
How to Woo a Jew: The A Modern Jewish Guide to Dating and Mating by Tamar Kaspi, 2014
Dating After 50 for Dummies by Pepper Schwartz, 2014
The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating: A Novel by Carole Radziwill, 2013
Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions by George P. Monger, 2013 (reference, for use inside the library only)