The article summarizes research by Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychologist, a field of psychology known for its matrimania (as detailed in Singled Out). Instead of following that path, Fredrickson set out to redefine love:
Love, as your body experiences it, is a micro-moment of connection shared with another.
A micro-moment of connection, such as an exchanged smile or looking into someone’s eyes, can happen with anybody, including strangers. That not only means that we can experience love with strangers, it also means that we ought to expand our idea of who we want to love. Instead of walking around with our gaze firmly planted onto the ground, we could look up and make eye contact – and spread love.
Based on our cultural norms, though, this is something outrageous. Love should be reserved for that special someone, we’re told, the person you date and will eventually marry. Well, okay, and maybe your parents and your children. But that’s it. Definitely not total strangers!
Fredrickson also outlines the health-benefits of love: It strengthens our hearts and increases our immunity. It’s good for our health to be in love. So, why would we restrict love to a few people? Because couplemania teaches us that love is a limited resource and thus if we send love to an entirely different person than our partner or spouse, we will have less love for our partner/spouse. According to Fredrickson’s research that’s a pretty absurd claim because, while micro-moments aren’t unlimited, we have so many of them during our day that we could spread love far and wide – if we hadn’t learned to contain it.
Clearly, then, there’s a dark side to couplemania: If we learn to reserve love only for those people who have normatively been selected as worthy – spouse, parents, children – we disconnect from others by avoiding creating these micro-moments. This leads to isolation and suffering, not just for those of us who happen to live without culturally accepted “love targets,” but also for those people in coupled relationships. Avoiding connections with others closes our hearts and limits, well, the amount of love in our lives. If we were to follow Fredrickson’s research implications, we could create micro-moments of love with every person we meet!
With the caveat, of course, that we feel safe enough with a particular person to make eye contact – another dark side because if we tie these micro-moments to coupling, they become more than just an exchange of love. If I look someone in the eyes and he sees this as an invitation for more, the situation could get ugly quickly (heteronormativity suggests this would only happen with a man for me, a person identifying as a woman). The micro-moment isn’t enough, the message goes, there has to be more – and the other person might demand more because to him (or her), the micro-moment doesn’t mean anything, love can only be expressed within the standards of couplemania (including some of the twisted ways in which that gets interpreted by adding sexist and sexual assumptions and norms).
To break out of these dark side effects, I invite all of us to start creating more micro-moments of love! Maybe we can start where it feels most comfortable: I decided, for example, to make deeper eye contact wherever I go folk dancing (which created an oh, so beautiful experience of a micro-moment last night!). Once we have learned to feel comfortable breaking the cultural rules this way, we can expand those micro-moments to other areas of our lives creating ripple effects of love!