Deprived of Love

Human biologist (and friend) Inês Varela-Silva  wrote the following essay: “Can a lack of love be deadly?” It’s currently the most-read post at “The Conversation.” As she wrote:

“Deprivation comes in many shapes and forms: lack of food, diseases, maltreatment, and child abuse are some of the harms that come to mind. However, I would argue that deprivation of love can be just as deadly.”

I think she’s right. We take it for granted that kids need nutrients and a life relatively free from infection. But perhaps we sometimes overlook the idea that psychosocial deprivation is also inherently stressful. Please read the rest of her essay, where she discusses some of the history behind this research, human resilience and the ability to overcome early deprivation, and the personal side of things with the adoption of her daughter. 

 

Related: 

The Power of Love

Wrapping up the (Blank)-ogamous Series

“We have both a moral and ethical responsibility to protect all children and adolescents in our community. We cannot withhold information from children, adolescents, or adults, live in silence about this taboo subject and expect everything to turn out all right. We have tried ignorance and it does not work.”

– Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General, writing about human sexuality (2010: 249)

A few years ago, I began the “Humans are (Blank)-ogamous” series. I originally intended it to be only a few posts that would explore the roles that evolution and culture play in human sexual behavior. The inspiration for it was that several theorists over time had proposed that humans had evolved to be a number of things – monogamous, polygynous, serially monogamous, promiscuous, etc. I wondered how people could look at the same species and reach such different conclusions. Perhaps if I could read enough I might be able to find “the answer.”

From there, the series grew, blossoming into 20+ posts, citing over 200+ references (yes, I counted). I probably could have gotten at least a Master’s Thesis out of this. Anyway, those posts easily have been among the most read things on this site. That’s not because they are particularly brilliant. Rather, I think it’s because people are hungry for credible information and – despite how important the topic of human sexuality is – that can be hard to come by. Having those three magic letters “Ph.D.” after one’s name can help with internet search engine results, but a Ph.D. is no guarantee of being right. Far from it. All that means is that I went to school for a long time. I’m still in school, actually, so there’s always more to learn…

The series has been pretty well received by a number of people I admire, which feels pretty good I have to admit. They’ve been shared on social media, and some posts were even included on different university syllabi. In fact, I taught my own class on the subject last semester, and I think it went very well. When I re-read some of the earlier posts, there isn’t too much that I regret, (which is a good sign – sometimes when I reading my old stuff I sound like Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake).  

With all that said, I think I think I’d like to wrap this up by taking the utilitarian approach. If I’m confident about anything that I wrote, and willing to put my money where my mouth is, then what would I emphasize to my students, friends, or (most importantly) to my own children?  I’ll keep some of the lessons I’ve learned private, but here are a few:

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Sex and Love in the Long Run

 

[I hope you like graphs … ]

♪ Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true, / But you and I know what this world can do. / So let’s make our steps clear, so the other may see./ I’ll wait for you, and should I fall behind, will you wait for me? 

— Bruce Springsteen & Patti Scialfa (“If I Should Fall Behind”)

 

“Contrary to what has been widely believed, long-term romantic love (with intensity, sexual interest, and engagement, but without the obsessive element common in new relationships), appears to be a real phenomenon that may be enhancing to individuals’ lives—positively associated with marital satisfaction, mental health, and overall well-being.”

— Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron (2009: 64)

 

In the 2013 film “Before Midnight,” we caught up with Celine and Jesse (played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) who had fallen in love during a chance, whirlwind evening in Vienna eighteen years earlier. After nine years apart between the first and second parts of the trilogy, they have been together for the last nine and are now in their early forties, and have twin girls together as well as a son from Jesse’s first marriage.

The first part of the trilogy, “Before Sunrise,” focused on Celine and Jesse’s incipient romantic connection as they explored the city, talking all night about a variety of topics before ultimately having to separate. In part two they reconnected. By the third film we see that there is still love, but with more complexity within their long-term relationship. We see themes of restlessness, resentments over suspected past infidelities, and the struggles that come with balancing parenting, career, sexual desire, domestic life, and having family spread out over long distances. They lament that passion (for all things) came easier to them when they were younger, and Jesse suggests that maybe “this is the natural human state – always a little dissatisfied, perpetually discontented.” We are left wondering if their relationship will survive.

The New York Times critic A.O. Scott reviewed “Before Midnight” jointly with the European film “Amour,” released the previous year. In that movie, we saw an elderly couple struggling with failing health. Scott pondered why such films, with their focus on a couple already-in-progress, were less common than ones centered around early romance. In his view, the reason is that unlike romantic comedies, marriage “has no story arc.”

“A marriage plot, which is to say a comedy, is a story with a wedding at the end. The exchange of vows provides a satisfying and efficient exit from an intricate story. After the chaos of misbehavior, misunderstanding and missed connection, order is restored, the curtain falls, and love’s essential labor is done. But if the story starts in the middle, sometime after the honeymoon, at the breakfast table or the parent-teacher conference, where then does it conclude? There are only two logical possibilities, both of them sad.”

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Love is Wise. Hatred is Foolish.

“The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple. I should say love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more closely and closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other. We have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way; if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

Ten Lessons on Love, from the Wise

I started teaching a new class this semester on patterns of human mating. One of our assignments was what we called “Interviews with the Wise.” I asked students to speak informally with older people, asking them what they had learned about sex, love, marriage, and relationships, and what lessons they would like to pass along to young people. We collectively came up with the questionnaire as a class. 

The interviewees ranged in age from their late 50s to their early 90s (‘older’ is always a relative term, I suppose). Most would probably be described as traditional, most were married once, but some were married a few times or none at all. Several were raised Catholic (it is New England), and we had a range of people from different ethnicities.I was very impressed with how seriously the students took the assignment, and how open their interviewees were. 

Below are some of the patterns I noticed from the interviews:

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Gordon’s Story

We had a visitor in our Patterns of Human Mating class this week, a 70-something year-old gay man named Gordon. One of our assignments is that students must speak, informally, with older people about sex, love, marriage, long-term relationships, etc., and what they’ve learned and what advice they had for young adults. This was inspired by a conversation I had a few years ago with an 83 year-old woman named Evelyn, which I found enlightening. Other than age, we weren’t looking for people from any specific demographic, or people with any orientation. We just wanted to listen to whatever wisdom and experience is out there.  

We asked around to find people to speak with, and found Gordon through a local organization that works with older adults. He kindly shared some of his life story, the progress he’s seen on acceptance on LGBT people over the course of his life, and we had a nice discussion for about 25 minutes. He then stayed for the rest of the class to hear the lecture. He even asked a few questions during the lecture, and asked if I could email him some of the studies we discussed in the class.

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