Thursday, October 19, 2006

Also, 100 percent of those who breathe are at risk of inhaling something that may make them sick.

Earlier this week AOL ran a multi-linked headline feature titled “Signs You’re Heading for Divorce.” Depending on your browser and your membership in AOL, you may or may not be able to open the article, which unfolds in splashy, slide-show format, with each tip pointedly illustrated, and accompanying verbiage courtesy of some lawyer/love coach who's shilling her book. It doesn't really matter. The crux of it is, here again, we have an instance of material—presented under the guise of being “helpful”—that in truth represents what I consider SHAM’s most unforgivable sin: its tendency to cause people who are leading basically normal lives to (a) begin to see problems they don’t have and/or (b) become so obsessively focused on analyzing their relationships in real time that they give undue weight to things they'd otherwise just shrug off.

I’m not saying that there’s no time or place for such material. However, it's one thing to take people who are already miserable and try to get to the heart of the malaise. It's another thing entirely to take a general audience—which presumably includes many couples who are, at present, happy—and give them "signs" that bode for a break-up. It's worse yet when you include among those predictors environmental conditions that it’s way too late for them to do anything about now (like “age at marriage,” which is high on AOL’s list). In the latter case all you’re doing is implanting the very doubts that, eventually, may lead to marital tensions. By describing the “phenomenon,” you are causing it—a romantic variant of the physics/philosophical principles variously put forward by Heisenberg, Schrodinger, etc., if you will.

In contrast to so much of the rest of what you’ll hear me say on this blog, I would argue adamantly that love is one area of life where belief—yes, even fanciful belief—is everything. If you don't believe in love, you will undermine that love (or be unreceptive to it when it finds you). If you don't believe that it’s possible for true love to last forever, you will likely make it impossible for your true love to last. This isn’t like baseball, where we’re talking about developing a good eye for the strike zone, or success in school, where we’re talking about a specific skill set that a child needs to master. Love is purely emotional; it is the suspension of disbelief. I'm somewhat reminded of what I’ve heard people say about religion: You cannot give yourself fully to your religion and, at the same time, subject it to intense intellectual scrutiny. The scrutiny kills the belief (or, at the very least, takes away some of the comfort derived from that belief).

Bottom line from your very own love coach, Dr. Steve: Stop looking for things that are wrong. You'll find them. Even when they aren't there.

(Incidentally, if you're scratching your head over the significance of the art I chose for this post—"What is he doing to that poor cat, and why??"—follow all the links. Then go where they take you. It's more of that stuff that'll make your head explode, but some of us find a perverse joy in such activity.)


Trish Ryan said...

Dr. Steve the Love Coach...that just makes my day :)

I think the alternative to the SHAMs of the world is somewhere in the mix of what you describe: love, faith (in something besides ourselves), and those little miracles that make life turn out better than we might have hoped for. We can't really orchestrate any of that, but you're right - we can be open to enjoy it when it happens.

RevRon's Rants said...

I recall that during psych training in diagnostics, we joked that a "normal" person, upon perusing the symptomology described in the DSM, would surmise that they were afflicted with multiple disorders. To diagnose a symptom as being a manifestation of a disorder, one needs to establish the degree to which the individual is disabled by the symptom. Put simply, we're all a bit paranoid, but unless that paranoia has a debilitating effect upon our functioning, it does not constitute a true disorder. By the same token, those "signposts to disaster" can inspire one to expect disaster, if not kept in the proper perspective. Lots of folks marry young and make a real go of it, so long as they realize that they will change as they mature, and can accept the changes in their partner.

As to religion not surviving intellectual scrutiny, I would tend to agree with the statement. In addition, I would offer that spirituality is frequently unable to survive religion, while at the same time being strengthened by the scrutiny which so many religions discourage. All too often, it comes to a choice: Communion with - and understanding of - whatever you perceive as being divine, or a sense of belonging to a group who share a set of ideological beliefs.

And as to love... Like a Spring breeze, it can be crudely described, but not created, and is best savored on its own undefineable terms.

a/good/lysstener said...

This is very well put, Steve. And dare I say uplifting, even? It's good to know there are other people out there who still believe.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes. Regrettably in my case, it's a belief written from the POV of someone who has learned the hard way--by screwing it all up. (This is probably TMI. I'm sure my editor, agent, publicist, and wife would think so.) But the insight stands on its own merits.