Joy Casino Ап Икс Agree to Disagree: Is True Love a Myth? - Open to Debate
February 4, 2022
February 4, 2022

If you are an old-fashioned romantic, true love has a nice ring to it. Our films, novels, poems, and music are all steeped in the notion, with characteristics that include unwavering fondness and even selfless devotion. But does it actually exist, driven by our biological underpinnings? Or is it a myth that harms what could be a more realistic, and thus healthy, expectation of relationships? As American marriages teeter at historic lows, and attitudes shift, it is a growing question among both the single and the attached.

  • 00:00:01

    John Donvan

    Today’s episode is all about love, specifically true love, and a debate that’s bubbling up alongside the champagne. And then after we have that debate, we’ll have a special conversation with Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times Modern Love column, about love in the time of COVID. So let’s get right to it.

  • 00:00:21

    So Helen Fisher and Renae Franiuk, thank you so much for joining us at Intelligence Squared. It’s great to have you with us.

  • 00:00:27

    Helen Fisher

    I’m delighted to be here.

  • 00:00:28

    Renae Franiuk

    Yes, thanks for inviting me.

  • 00:00:30

    John Donvan

    The question we’re looking at is whether true love is a myth, and I, I’m guessing we’re going to spend some time wondering what we mean by love and what is love when it’s true, and maybe even what is a myth. Um, but I want to start by seeing where both of you stand on this question. And Helen Fisher, you’ve, you’ve, this is your third appearance, uh, on Intelligence Squared, so it’s great to have you back. I just remember your appearance in a debate where the resolution was, “Swipe left, dating apps have killed romance.” You were arguing that they have not killed romance and in your cl-, you did a really lovely closing statement in which you said very poetically, “We pine for love, we live for love, we kill for love and we die for love.” So I think I know where you’re going to be on the question I’m about to ask you, is true love a myth?

  • 00:01:17

    Helen Fisher

    The answer is no, it’s not a myth. It’s, uh, the basic brain circuitry for romantic love is a, is a very powerful brain system that lies way below the cortex where you do your thinking and way below the limbic regions in the brain where you, uh, [inaudible

  • 00:01:31

    ] orchestrate the emotions. It’s a basic drive. It lies in a little factory near the very base of the brain linked with drive that gives you that energy, the focus, the motivation, the craving of intense romantic love. So I mean I’ve, well, been able to show that we’ve evolved three distinctly brain systems for mating and reproduction: sex drive, feelings of intense romantic love, and feelings of deep attachment.

  • 00:01:56

    And perhaps true love is a combination of all three. Lack of adultery, a real passion for sex with the person, intense romantic, uh, energy for somebody, and a deep sense of attachment. And I think, uh, we’ve found it in the brain, we see it around the world, and I would very, I’m, I’m, I’m actually even convinced that, uh, true love is not a myth.

  • 00:02:18

    John Donvan

    Okay, I want to take it to Renae Franiuk. Now, same question, is true love a myth?

  • 00:02:22

    Renae Franiuk

    You know, as someone who, who teaches about, researches love, obviously, you know, love is a thing. I believe love is a thing. But true love, right? True love and the phrase true love, I think that’s what, uh, gets a lot of people in trouble in relationships. I think there’s great benefit to believing in true love, and I think there’s a lot of harm to relationship in believing in true love. There’s a lot of, you know, research that of course I think we’ll get into, that speaks to some of the dangers of those expectations and maybe that idealization of relationships.

    (02:55):

    So, you know the position I take about true love being a myth is, I think when we have a, maybe a lay, you know a, a, a social concept of true love, I think people think of true love as something that is destined, something that is meant to be, a person that they’re meant to be with, a soulmate. And I think it’s that conceptualization of love that can, uh, certainly, you know, lead to some problems in relationship. I think that’s saying it mildly. I think we’ll get into that.

  • 00:03:29

    So is there love? Uh, of course. I, I think there’s love, you know, I believe in love. Um, but true love I think is a little bit more complicated, um, and I think that when people look for true love, I think when people try to identify their partner as their true love, that’s where I think it’s, um, you know, maybe sort of that concept falls apart.

  • 00:03:54

    John Donvan

    All right. We are off to a very good start here. And, and since we are, what I want to do is pause for a moment and step back and l-, let the listener know why the two of you are so worth listening to on this topic by letting you talk for a minute or two about your work. And I’ll start with you, Renae. You know, tell, tell us who you are, and, and how this, uh, talking about this, studying this, is actually your full time occupation.

  • 00:04:17

    Renae Franiuk

    Sure. Um, I am a professor of psychology at Aurora University. Uh, we’re in Aurora, Illinois, just outside of Chicago here. I started my research, uh, in this area, uh, when I was in graduate school. I do research, um, I started research on something called a soulmate theory and looking into, uh, whether or not people believe in soulmates and the consequences, the outcomes in relationships if you believe in soulmates and if you think you’ve f-, found your soulmate. So it’s really kind of perfectly aligned with this topic. Um, I think you can use soulmate and true love interchangeably, and I will.

  • 00:04:56

    And so that was my dissertation work. I’ve looked into, um, a number of outcomes longitudinally, uh, in relationships for people who believe in soulmates and, and it’s kind of some interesting findings, you know with um, what we see when people believe they’ve found their soulmate. Since then, um, you know, I do research in other areas of relationship as well, uh, looking into relationship violence, sexual violence, that sort of thing.

  • 00:05:23

    John Donvan

    Thanks very much. And Helen, you’ve, you’ve told your story before on our podcast a couple of times now, but the people who haven’t heard it before, your work is just fascinating, and, and why it, it’s gone global. Tell us what it is.

  • 00:05:36

    Helen Fisher

    Uh, I study love, as Renae does, but I do it from a, I’m a biological anthropologist and so, uh … In fact I started getting my Ph.D trying to figure out why we bother to pair up at all. 97% of mammals do not pair up to rear their young. Uh, people do. And along with that we evolved these brain systems for romantic love and attachment. And uh, I then um, I p-, I’ve looked at adultery in 42 cultures. I’ve looked at divorce in 80 cultures. I studied the evolution of, of monogamy, adultery, divorce, remarriage. Uh, I’m chief science advisor to Match.com, so I do a lot of studies for them, not on the Match members. These are national representative samples of singles.

  • 00:06:18

    [inaudible

  • 00:06:20

    ] sort of things, I don’t really study the concept of soulmates. I think the real difference I think we’re going to find between Renae and me is that, uh, I’m not in the should business. I’m just not in the business of whether this is good or whether it’s bad. I’ve got my own personal opinions about it, but basically I want to know what love is. I look at it around the world. I read the poetry from people around the world. Uh, and um, I establish what it is, where it’s going, how you feel it, what you do when you’re doing it, why you fall in love with one person rather than another.

  • 00:06:52

    John Donvan

    So the whole notion of matching does suggest that there are ways in which another person is more appropriate for you, perhaps even more appropriate than another person, perhaps theoretically even more appropriate than anybody else. Now, I, I, I know that Match.com is not making that claim. I’m talking though about the principle of there’s somebody out there who’s right for you, or right enough for you, in some way. Soulmate or partial soulmate. So I’m curious to get your take, Helen, on, on, on Renae’s, Renae’s basic argument that the notion that there’s somebody out there who’s right for you is problematic and potentially dangerous.

  • 00:07:35

    Helen Fisher

    I don’t find it dangerous and I don’t find it [inaudible

  • 00:07:38

    ]. Nobody gets out of love alive. We all make bad choices, bad things happen and good things happen. I mean, when you’re madly in love with somebody the intense energy, the focus, the motivation, uh, the sleeplessness, the loss of appetite, the feeling that you’re on top of the world. I mean, when you think of what’s good about romantic love, think around the world, the myths, the legends, uh, the operas, the plays, the symphonies, the ballets, the (laughs), the musicals, the poems, the songs, the books and novels (laughs), the, the stories, the TV series, the cards and letters and holidays.

  • 00:08:10

    I mean, okay, uh, there’s problems with love. There’s problems with life. But the bottom line is this basic brain system has created tremendous amount of, of art and literature and poetry, et cetera, around the world. And a great deal of happiness. I mean when you do find somebody who I guess Renae would call your soulmate, and I would certainly call somebody who fits well with you, I mean we know that, uh, you know, these positive relationships, they lower blood pressure, cholesterol, cortisol, the, uh, they help memory and mood. So okay, there’s a bad side to it. There’s also a great deal of wonderful things about it. But that’s not the issue. Is it a myth? And there I stick with my saying, true love is not a myth.

  • 00:08:56

    John Donvan

    All right. Renae, I’d like to hear your reaction.

  • 00:08:58

    Renae Franiuk

    The way that… I, I first of all, of course, you know, entirely, uh, I see everything in the science to support what Helen said about how, um, love can, can be great, of course not only for people physiologically, um, but how thinking about your partner as your true love, thinking about your partner as your soulmate, can be greatly beneficial to relationships.

  • 00:09:21

    So that’s where I want to be clear. When I say there can be downsides, there of cols-, there of course is also great upside to thinking about your partner as your soulmate. People who think that they’re with the right person, people who think they’ve found their soulmate, are happier than people who don’t think they have. People who are in long term relationships and think they’ve found their soulmate, um, they tend to, um, distort their perceptions of their partner. And I mean that in a positive way, usually.

  • 00:09:51

    John Donvan

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:09:51

    Renae Franiuk

    You downplay their weaknesses. You give them the benefit of the doubt. This can be very beneficial to relationships. We see improved commitment in relationships for people who have what we call positive illusions. But I think that’s part of the point, right? It’s an illusion. You, you have to distort some of the reality about your partner. But it can be a very good thing in relationships. So I always want to be clear about my research on, on soulmates and, and finding the right person and your true love, that there can be great benefit to it. I think people can get pretty cynical about the word soulmate and true love and make a lot of fun of it, and I’m always clear that, oh my gosh, it, it can benefit people to, to think positively about your partner, to look at your partner in a good light. Rose colored glasses, uh, you know, we talk about in relationships.

  • 00:10:47

    John Donvan

    So you’re, you’re doing what sounds like a lot of agreeing with Helen here, which is, which is-

  • 00:10:50

    Renae Franiuk

    Right.

  • 00:10:50

    John Donvan

    … totally okay (laughter) [inaudible

  • 00:10:52

    ] I want to say that that’s okay.

  • 00:10:54

    Renae Franiuk

    But.

  • 00:10:54

    John Donvan

    Yeah, what’s the but?

  • 00:10:56

    Renae Franiuk

    But there’s also a downside. The first thing I would say is, what I want to be clear about is, you know I don’t think true love exists in any way that we are meant to be with someone, that there’s one right person you need to find. I think that what happens sometimes is people, um, look for that one true love, look for that soulmate, and then a couple of things can happen. So for one, in moderation, with balance, I think it can be very beneficial to your relationship, but taken to an extreme, people set expectations for their relationships that are unrealistic. And one of the biggest factors predicting divorce is people setting unrealistic expectations.

  • 00:11:38

    John Donvan

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:11:40

    Renae Franiuk

    So when you have people who think that they are looking for their true love and now are worried, right, because something has gone wrong in their relationship, this person isn’t my true love. Now I’m disillusioned. Now I’m disappointed. The other downside I’ll say is, uh, we worry of course. I told you part of my research is about relationship violence. And we worry a little bit about people conceptualizing of their partner as their soulmate or true love and then not leaving the relationship, um, because they’re so convinced that this is the right person for them, even when that person is violent.

  • 00:12:16

    John Donvan

    I’m John Donvan. This is Intelligence Squared US. More of our conversation when we return.

  • 00:12:32

    Welcome back to Intelligence Squared US. I’m John Donvan. Let’s get back to our debate.

  • 00:12:37

    So He-, Helen, I, I know your, your work is, is absolutely data based and as any scientist you like to stick to what the data tells you. So this might be a hard question. But you, you’ve made the case that love is real, that love is rooted in our biology, love is rooted in our brain and in our whole evolutionary history. But we’re also hearing from Renae the possibility that what we think is love can actually be an illusion, or can cause us to create illusions about the person who is the object of our love and the subject of our love. I just want to get your sense of whether, as true as you feel love can be, is there that possibility for being completely wrong about who the other person is, and ma-, making up a story about who they are that’s really not true?

  • 00:13:20

    Helen Fisher

    Oh, as Chaucer said, love is blind, and we in fact know what’s going on in the brain. You know, when Renae talked about positive illusions, that is absolutely correct. There’s a huge brain region in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex anyway, big brain region linked with what’s called negativity bias. We remember the negative. And that, that’s been adaptive mechanism for millions of years. I mean it’s nice to remember who your friends are, but if you forget who your enemies are, you could die. So the bottom line is, uh, when we put people into the brain scanner who were in long term, in the love relationship, not just loving their partner but in love with their partner, we found activity in this brain region linked with negativity bias reduced. They were able to overlook the negative and focus on the positive.

  • 00:14:07

    Uh, but as she said, you know, it’s, there’s a downside if you overlook the fact that the person is beating you, for God’s sakes, or horrible to the children or terribly lazy or something like that. It can be, uh, detrimental. I mean, love is dangerous. Love is real. And my [inaudible

  • 00:14:25

    ] is that it is an addiction, uh, a very, w-, I’ve, we’ve looked in the brain, we’ve put over 100 people in brain scanners, people who were happily in love, people who were rejected in love, and people who were in love long term. Uh, in all of the settings we found activity in the basic brain region linked with addiction. Uh, all of the, um, uh, substance addictions and behavioral addictions, like uh, like gambling.

  • 00:14:51

    Well, I’ve been trying to tell the world but they don’t seem to want to listen to this one, that it can be a very positive addiction. You’re willing to to overlook all kinds of things, you’re willing to overlook all kinds of obstacles in order to be with somebody, have babies, and devote your life to raising them together. On the other hand, people die for love, kill for love. So it’s a, it’s a, it’s a remarkable human experience with great highs and great lows, and I think the more we can understand it. But what’s interesting to me is when she said that, you know, that when you’re looking for your soulmate that it’s only one person. I think that is detrimental. I, I do think that during the course of your life, different times, different experiences, you’re going to be looking for different things, and you’re likely to find a s-, a different kind of soulmate at a, at different times in your lives.

  • 00:15:39

    John Donvan

    So (laughs) you’re, the two of you are increasingly agreeing on this topic (laughter). Again, I’m saying that’s okay because if there’s common ground, there’s common ground. I, I’d be curious to know how each of you actually define love. You talked a little bit about it, Helen, and I’ve come back to you, but I want to hear from Renae. I mean, this is your subject matter. Do you have a working definition of this four letter word?

  • 00:16:00

    Renae Franiuk

    So honestly, I, it, it, it’s of course a really hard question and we spend a lot of time with it. I, I would say, um, you know maybe two things to that. I would say I tend to personally, um, take the viewpoint that Helen does and I, I define love at it’s most basic, um, neurological, biological, you know, constraints. That, that’s, that’s how I think about love. I think about love as a brain reaction. It doesn’t sound that romantic, it, it’s you know-

  • 00:16:30

    John Donvan

    Not at all, not at all. (laughs)

  • 00:16:31

    Renae Franiuk

    But right, personally I, I see it the same way she does, and that’s what makes it so fascinating. That’s what makes it, really, I, I, I entirely agree that that’s what makes it amazing and makes it so difficult. Um, so I do look at it from a neurological level.

  • 00:16:46

    But, when I talk about it in class, that’s a little bit harder for students to understand. We talk about that. But we talk about it more at a psychological level, and I see it the way Helen does but mapping those three sort of biological, neurological aspects of sex drive, romantic love and attachment, sort of ma-, matching those a little bit m-, more broadly onto psychological concepts. So, uh, the thing that I think I would describe most to people, you know, is love is the intimacy, passion, and commitment. To me, it’s, it’s those three concepts together for, if, if we’re talking about a romantic loving relationship. Of course-

  • 00:17:29

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:17:29

    Renae Franiuk

    … we can have love with family, friends, little bit different. Um, love of pets. I talk about, my students always want to know if we can love our pets, and of course we can.

  • 00:17:29

    John Donvan

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:17:40

    Renae Franiuk

    Um, but if you’re, if you’re talking about-

  • 00:17:42

    John Donvan

    Can your, can your pet love you?

  • 00:17:43

    Renae Franiuk

    Oh my gosh, I’m going to-

  • 00:17:44

    Helen Fisher

    Yes.

  • 00:17:44

    Renae Franiuk

    Oh good, I’m glad Helen knew the answer (laughter).

  • 00:17:45

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:17:48

    Helen Fisher

    I can prove it (laughs).

  • 00:17:49

    John Donvan

    Helen, y-, what, what’s your definition of love? You, you have, you have laid out sort of this, the schemas that, that Renae just ran through of attachment and attraction and I, right now I’m missing the third one.

  • 00:18:00

    Helen Fisher

    Sex. Sex drive.

  • 00:18:01

    John Donvan

    Sex. Sex drive.

  • 00:18:01

    Helen Fisher

    Romantic love.

  • 00:18:02

    John Donvan

    Does it, does, do you have, does it go beyond that, or is it, is that fundamentally it?

  • 00:18:06

    Helen Fisher

    It’s very, uh, standard, to, as Renae said, to call it intimacy, passion and commitment. But-

  • 00:18:10

    John Donvan

    Mmm.

  • 00:18:10

    Helen Fisher

    … let me, let me talk about the various traits of romantic love. So, not the sex drive, we know about that. Feelings of deep attachment, that’s a very sort of cosmic sense of union. But what are the traits of romantic love? So what I did is I went through the last 40 years of, of academic literature and I read poetry, which I, from all over the world, and books of course and this and that. Uh, which I think, I think poetry’s a great artifact of the human mind. And here are the basic traits, around the world, that you see that people have linked over and over with the, the state of romantic love.

  • 00:18:44

    The first thing that happens is the person takes on what we call special meaning. Their car is different from every car in the parking lot. The street they live on, the books that they’re, everything is special. Then you focus on this person. You can list what you don’t like about them, but you just sweep that aside and focus on what you do.

  • 00:19:02

    Um, a real, uh, euphoria when things are going well. Horrible despair when things are going poorly. Emotional dependence. You’re just uh, you know, as Whitman said, uh, “I would stake all for you.” Uh, real separation anxiety, you don’t want to be apart. Frustration attraction. If they don’t call, they don’t write you, you want them even more. But the three main characteristics of roman-, romantic love, and you see this around the world, is craving for emotional union. Yeah, you’d like to sleep with them, but what you really want them to do is to write, to call, uh, to ask you out, to say that they love you. And last but not least, you’re highly motivated to win this person. These are the standard traits-

  • 00:19:42

    John Donvan

    Hmm.

  • 00:19:43

    Helen Fisher

    … around the world.

  • 00:19:45

    John Donvan

    I had a roommate in college who told me when we were 21 years old that he believed out there in the world there was a single person, a single woman… By single I don’t mean married. I mean, there was only one in the world, who he believed was going to turn out to be the perfect match for him. And, and he even said that she was out there and he knew that she, he, she was going to complete him.

  • 00:20:11

    And I remember thinking (laughs) that was a very, very high mountain to try to climb. And I believe he never married, by the way. Um, but I want to take that back to you, Renae. It sounds to me like he was really, really a believer in the soulmate theory, and um, I’m wondering is, is that pretty common to have that? And the other question I wanted to, to take you, have you move on to is, if that’s one end of the spectrum, what’s at the other end of the spectrum, and is the other end of the spectrum a better way to approach life?

  • 00:20:40

    Renae Franiuk

    So, okay. So first, you know, with the first one I would say it’s certainly common, especially in Western society, um, you know this notion of one true love. But I think as Helen is saying, pretty common around the world, this idea. These ideas are rooted in religion, and as she said, r-, rooted in story telling, poetry, media. So it’s rooted in a lot of aspects of our culture, this idea of finding, uh, a one true love, finding a person you are destined to be with, whether it is, you know, religious, and you know there’s a higher power destining you to, uh, find that person, or whether, you know, it’s, it’s the cosmos, the universe. So I think there’s a lot in our culture that encourages us to believe that there’s one right person.

  • 00:21:28

    I, I saw a study years ago that I tell my students about where they asked… It was college aged students. They asked college aged students if they are looking for their soulmate. 85% of students said yes. So back to your, um, roommate, it’s a really common belief. And again, this sample was from the United States but I think Helen would back up that people believe this around the world, that people are looking for this one true love.

  • 00:21:56

    Now, um, if you ask on the flip side of it, if we don’t believe that, what do we believe? Well it’s, it’s interesting because, um, we, we do conceptualize another theory or way of believing. We call it, um, a growth theory. So there’s the destiny theory, and then there’s the grown theory.

  • 00:22:16

    The growth theory is the idea that there are many people you could be happy with. There are many people you can fall in love with and have a good, healthy relationship with, that you’re not just looking for this one right person or soulmate to match with.

  • 00:22:31

    John Donvan

    And, and, and just to, just to clarify, there are, at any one time, there could be many people?

  • 00:22:36

    Renae Franiuk

    Yes.

  • 00:22:36

    John Donvan

    Not th-, not serially. At any one, okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

  • 00:22:39

    Renae Franiuk

    Right, that’s the idea that, um, you know, that you maybe have to meet some minimum threshold of similarity, of attractiveness, but that you could be happy with a lot of people if you do the right things. If you, you know, go into the relationship with sort of the right habits, communication patterns, you could have a pretty good relationship with most people. So your question, you know was, uh, you know, sort of, I think you said something about which one’s better, or, um, I…

  • 00:23:07

    What, what we find and uh, in our research is, it’s not exactly that one is better than the other, really. Um, there is such great benefit at times to believing in soulmates and believing you’ve found the right person. Helen has already kind of outlined a lot of the, um, benefits of, of believing that about your partner. It can be really good for your relationship to think so positively about your partner.

  • 00:23:34

    On the flip side, the growth theory can also be very good. Um, it can be really adaptive in relationships as well, um, where people, um, don’t find conflict as disturbing, as problematic. Someone, um, who is looking for their true love, if there’s a lot of fighting on, early, fighting early on in the relationship, conflict, they might leave quickly, break up quickly and say, “You’re not my true love.” Um, a person who has a more growth mentality might try to work through that, um, might try to work through conflict to stay in a relationship. So in moderation, we would say that either approach can be adaptive.

  • 00:24:15

    John Donvan

    So Helen, y-, I, I, I get the sense, and again I may be putting words, uh, in your mouth, and, and may not be, maybe jumping ahead with what you actually think, but that you’re, you are kind of a believer in the power of, of love at first sight, and um, that you like that idea that you, you’re, that excites you, you, that makes you happy for humanity. And I’m hearing Renae make a case that sometimes love comes really, really slowly and takes some building and takes some work and takes, as she says, some growth.

  • 00:24:45

    Um, d-, and, and that doesn’t, just doesn’t sound nearly as fun and as exciting as love at first sight (laughter). So I just wanted to ask you, you know, am I, am I wrong about, w-, the, the kind of love that, that you’re talking about here?

  • 00:24:15

    Helen Fisher

    Um, well, well first of all, I mean love at first sight does exist. This is a brain system, and it’s like the fear system or the anger system. You can be scared in a minute, in a second. You can be uh, uh, uh, angry in a second, and that brain circuitry, uh, for romantic love can be triggered in just a second. You’ve got to have what we call the right, uh, love map. I mean, you’ve got to be ready to fall in love. The person’s got to fit in to some sort of, of, uh, oh, matrix of what you’re looking for and you see them someplace, in the grocery store, in the airport, wherever, or on an internet, uh, a dating site, and uh, boom, they fit within what you’re looking for and you trigger that brain circuitry for romantic love.

    0025:42

    But that doesn’t mean it will be retained. I mean, you know, even though you fall madly in love with somebody, uh, there’s escalation points and there’s derailing points, and uh, you know, you, you, at first you think this is the best thing in the world and suddenly you realize their politics is entirely different or they’re rude or they’re lazy or they’re spendthrift or they’re horrible to kiss or something, and, and it goes away. So just because we have this experience of love at first sight, does not mean that that will be, uh, retained, um, over the course of the partnership.

  • 00:26:16

    But I do want to say one thing about this, uh, soulmate thing that Renae is thinking about. It’s very interesting, I really haven’t thought about it quite this way before. But you know, we are a picky animal. We’re looking for life’s greatest prize, which is a mating partner with whom we’re going to pass our DNA on into tomorrow. You know, I and my colleagues call romantic love a survival mechanism. I mean, the little factory that pumps out the dopamine that gives you this feeling lies right next to the factory that orchestrates thirst and hunger.

  • 00:26:47

    Thirst and hunger keep you alive today. Romantic love drives you to form a partnership and send your DNA into tomorrow. So it’s a very important mechanism, and when you lose that you not only lose, you know, daily habits but you might lose friends and family and houses and children and money, et cetera, et cetera. So I mean w-, we’re built to be picky, and we should be picky, and I really don’t mind the idea of, of, of people thinking, there’s somebody out there for me. But I do think, as Renae says, it becomes dangerous when you think there’s only one. If I miss on that opportunity, I’ll miss on all opportunities, and that’s where we agree.

  • 00:27:28

    John Donvan

    Well, that’s interesting Helen, because I, I was thinking during the debate you did, uh, for us on dating apps, one of your arguments and, and your partner’s argument, uh, on your side, was that in fact dating apps make it possible to enlarge the number of pool, to enlarge the pool of potential future romantic partners-

  • 00:27:47

    Helen Fisher

    Right.

  • 00:27:47

    John Donvan

    … because it’s not just the person in your town, it’s the person across the country and possibly across the world. So in a sense you were making an argument then that there isn’t just one person at a time, there’s po-, there’s a whole, there’s (laughs) a lot of fish in the sea.

  • 00:28:01

    Helen Fisher

    Well I would say, uh, you could still be looking for your one person even though there’s a lot of fish in the sea. So just because you’ve got… And that’s one of the problems with these dating sites. First of all, you know, they’re not dating sites. These are introducing sites, that’s all they do is introduce you. That’s all they do. But uh, just because you’ve got a, and that’s a problem with them, you know. People binge, and the brain is not built to deal with more than about nine choices. So the bottom line is uh, uh, even though there is a lot of uh, more alternatives, I don’t think that really follows that uh, that uh, you’re going to be looking for more than one, uh, particular individual.

  • 00:28:40

    John Donvan

    Renae, I’m guessing you get asked for advice all the time, like what’s the best, what’s the best way to do this? Do you have an answer for that? Do you have an answer for somebody who, who comes to you with a broken heart, and by the way it’s not the heart it’s the brain, I think you’re both arguing. (laughter) Um, do you, do you have an answer for how, uh, an individual should approach their next romance?

  • 00:29:00

    Renae Franiuk

    Hmm. Um, you know, that’s a, gosh, it’s a tough question, because, you know if someone comes to me I’m going to try to (laughs) find out what they did in the last one, you know, to try to take a, um, you know, for their next one. But, but maybe to give a, a general answer to what you’re saying is, I try to encourage people to be realistic in relationships, um, set realistic expectations. Um, but, but I also do, like Helen is saying, I certainly, you know like I said, I believe in love. I love falling in love (laughs), you know, I have loved falling in love. It’s a, it’s a wonderful experience.

  • 00:29:37

    So I try to, um, encourage people to pay attention to their feelings, right? Pay attention to emotions. Um, one of the things we know about relationships is that you can’t always logic away or logic through feelings. I’m a, of course a big proponent of logic and rational thinking and trying to reason about relationships, but I also tell people to pay attention to feelings and pay attention to emotions, and, and I mean that not only in identifying, you know, maybe dangerous characteristics in a relationship, like pay attention when you’re feeling bad, but also that feeling good, you know, is a signal, and it’s um, you know, even if you can’t put into words, even if you can’t always articulate what you love about someone or why you’re attracted to someone.

  • 00:30:25

    So what I, my main advice is kind of to pay attention to thoughts and feelings. And yes, my advice would also be, try to be realistic. Try to set expectations realistically. Um, I do think, um, w-, w-, while I completely understand people looking for their one true love, looking for their soul mate, um, I, I try to, you know, encourage people to, um, be realistic. Setting expectations too high can set us up for disappointment, and even your true love, you know, can disappoint you.

  • 00:30:58

    John Donvan

    All right, well Renae Franiuk and Helen Fisher, I, I, I sort of suspected that there would be a lot of agreement and there (laughs) and there was, and I, I, I, if there’s a synthesis here wh-, where I think you both agree, it might be, be realistic and let’s keep the poetry in the story as well. (laughter)

  • 00:31:12

    Um, I want to, I want to thank you both so much for joining us on Intelligence Squared, it’s been great to have you.

  • 00:30:58

    Helen Fisher

    Thank you, John.

  • 00:31:18

    Renae Franiuk

    Well, thanks for having me.

  • 00:31:19

    Helen Fisher

    Uh, thank you, Renae.

  • 00:31:22

    John Donvan

    I’m John Donvan. This is Intelligence Squared US. More when we return.

  • 00:31:37

    Welcome back. I’m John Donvan, and this is Intelligence Squared US. Now, I want to turn to a man who knows quite a bit about heart throbs and heartaches, and how much of that may have changed during the time of this pandemic. Daniel Jones is the editor of the Modern Love column for the New York Times, in which people out there, ordinary people, submit their true stories of their experiences of love and romance.

  • 00:32:01

    So now we pivot from a debate about true love, mythical or not, to a conversation with a collector of stories that people tell themselves about love. Daniel Jones is the editor of the Modern Love column in the New York Times. He has been since 2004. For those of you who don’t know, which would be kind of hard to believe, uh, Modern Love is a New York Times weekly column in which, uh, people out there, ordinary people, uh, submit their true stories of their experiences with love and romance and it’s, it’s a huge hit. It’s now, uh, the basis of an Amazon, uh, TV show in its second season called Modern Love. There’s a podcast, Modern Love. There have been books, Modern Love: Revised and Updated True Stories of Love Lost and Redemption, which I read the last time we were on stage with you, Daniel. That was really, really great. Do you remember that, in 2018?

  • 00:32:52

    Daniel Jones

    Of course, I loved it.

  • 00:32:53

    John Donvan

    The thing that we ended up talking about in that conversation was whether there’s such a thing as a soulmate, the, the idea, you know, that’s what true love ended up meaning in that conversation. True love means the idea that there’s one person for you, and that person completes you in, in a really important way. And I, it’s based on the I don’t know how many essay submissions you’ve read by now. It was 80,000 back in 2018. But based on however many you’ve read now, maybe you can tell us. Um, w-, what do you think about the idea of, uh, of soulmates?

  • 00:33:31

    Daniel Jones

    You know, I don’t know how many I’ve read either at this point, but, because I’ve kind of stopped counting (laughter) but probably 120,000 or so. Um, yeah, I’m not an, I’m not an expert in the sense of studying things, but I’m, um, I’m more sort of a collector of anecdotes, and anecdotes when you see so many of them start to add up to trends and, and an interesting cross section of how people are feeling about things.

  • 00:33:58

    And I guess um, what I’m interested in in the whole idea of a soulmate or true love is that it speaks to a kind of um, idealizing of love and relationships, and as there’s, as if there’s an ideal out there for you. And just, you know historically this is a relatively new concept. Like love really used to be, or at least marriage, um, relationships used to be more about practicality and religion and class and, you know, exchanging wealth.

  • 00:34:34

    Uh, there were, there were all kinds of reasons to get married. Love was, was not the, at the forefront of those. And I, and I just think we have moved in the direction of the love marriage, uh, you know, more, more worldwide. It’s no longer just a western ideal. And that has fed this idea that if we’re going to marry for love, then we’d, you know, be- (laughs) better be sure we find the person who is, or the set of people if there’s more than one, who’s absolutely perfect for us.

  • 00:35:06

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:35:07

    Daniel Jones

    And the overriding thing about that is just the great pressure that it puts on that search.

  • 00:35:12

    John Donvan

    Do, do a lot of the submissions, published or not, assume the idea that the person is either seeking or has found or has lost the one true love, or is that really not very frequently part of the conversation?

  • 00:35:27

    Daniel Jones

    I don’t sense that, um, that the overwhelming majority of people think there’s one person out there for them, or even just a handful of people. Um, I do think everyone’s trying for sort of the bes- (laughs) the best they can, they can get, in a way. But I, I sense a little more realism than, um, about it than there’s, you know, a meant to be w-, with just one person, and I think the um, I don’t know, I mean the way we are today, both sort of how most often Disney movies, like there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of fantasy associated with love that comes through in popularized love stories that point us in the direction of, you know, you need to find that one person.

  • 00:36:19

    And I think, uh, the volume of, provided through dating apps and that sort of thing, also tend to highlight that because they, they create this sort of frenetic feeling of, of the searching for the needle in the haystack kind of thing where there’s so many people available and you just need to find that one. Um, but I don’t, I don’t know how many people really count on there being that perfect 100% match, um, person out there for them.

  • 00:36:50

    John Donvan

    Yeah. It’s interesting. It, th-, that’s wh-, what Ranae Franiuk was saying in the conversation, that she’s concerned that people are being persuaded to believe that there’s only one person for them, and if they’re not, if they’re not buying into that then they’re not truly-

  • 00:37:02

    Daniel Jones

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:37:02

    John Donvan

    … they’re, they’re not truly going at this in the spirit of romance, uh, that is supposed to be appropriate, and that, and that’s her, her concern for it.

  • 00:37:11

    Daniel Jones

    Right.

  • 00:37:11

    John Donvan

    The, the, the, the, there was also a conversation about the ability for people to convince themselves that the object of their love is not who they really are, that they, they will overlook their flaws and overlook their shortcomings.

  • 00:37:28

    Daniel Jones

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:37:28

    John Donvan

    And, uh, again I’m wondering if that’s, if that illusion and then a process of disillusion is a theme that comes up again in the stories that people have been sharing with you, a sort of, you know, the, I, I finally realized that X was a jerk-

  • 00:37:44

    Daniel Jones

    (laughs)

  • 00:37:44

    John Donvan

    … or something like that.

  • 00:37:46

    Daniel Jones

    What I see again and again is, is, um, sort of in a, in a positive way, is how our own, how important our own story telling is to us, um, in terms of staying with someone through hard times or, um, you know believing… Once you’re with someone, you’re in a long term relationship, believing that you’re meant to be, um, can keep you together in a lot of ways. You, you have a, you create a mythology around your own, um, inevitability in a way, by saying, “Oh, you know, we, we met through this unusual circumstance and we have birthdays that are five days apart in the same year, in the same place.” Like people cling to any kind of (laughs) um, external validation of, of their union, that they were, they were supposed to be together. I think, uh, what I sense is in most cases that that helps. Um-

  • 00:38:45

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:38:45

    Daniel Jones

    Having a mythology about your own relationship helps you stay together through tough times. You think, “We can’t give up on this because w-, we’re meant to be.” Prob, you know, I’m sure there are cases where, um, where people stay in bad relationships, uh, for that same reason. Um, but I see more, much more on the positive side of that than the negative side.

  • 00:39:06

    John Donvan

    Well, what about you in all of that? Do you believe in true love?

  • 00:39:09

    Daniel Jones

    I, I believe, yes, I, I mean, again it gets back to this idea of what is, what is true love? Um, is, is that the, is that the meant to be kind of thing?

  • 00:39:19

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:39:20

    Daniel Jones

    Um, I believe in very deep love. Um-

  • 00:39:22

    John Donvan

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:39:23

    Daniel Jones

    I, I believe in, in that sort of commitment and deep love and getting to know someone, um, and having them know you better than any other person. Um, and I believe in a sense of… I guess more than anything, I don’t even think this just applies to romantic love, but the sense of care, and, uh, care taking of another person that goes beyond your own needs or desires, where you’re really putting yourself second to the needs of your child or the needs of your spouse or the needs of your parents. Um, that is true love to me-

  • 00:40:00

    John Donvan

    Yeah.

  • 00:40:01

    Daniel Jones

    And that is outside the bounds of romance. It’s, it’s, it’s that completely sort of surrending, surrendering yourself and your own needs to, to someone who, uh, who needs it more.

  • 00:40:12

    John Donvan

    So you, you put your finger on humility and you’ve put your finger on caring. I want to, I want to quote something you said when we met in 2018 on our stage. We, at that time we were talking about dating apps and, uh, their impact on dating and romantic interactions, and we had a conversation about well, what happens if the person who you are talking to online is, you know, cat fishing you, turns out not to be for real. And you said, I’m going to quote you, “It’s so easy to judge people who fall for the fake person online and fall deeply for the fake person online, but that’s what you have to do. You have to be open to that. And if you aren’t open to falling for the fake person online, then you really aren’t open to love, in a way.”

  • 00:40:56

    It sounds like you’re talking about a sort of innocence and naivety and vulnerability are also qualities of being able to get to true love.

  • 00:41:04

    Daniel Jones

    Yeah, I like that. I don’t remember saying that but it sounds like that was brilliant. (laughter) Yeah, there’s um, you, you have to be able to, um, believe, in sort of a child, child like way. If you’re, if you’re sort of wised up and cynical about love or a lot of things, you miss opportunities. You, you miss opportunities for connection. Um, and yeah, I think that’s absolutely true is, the, the sense of, I’m going to, I’m going to put my heart out there. I, I’d rather have it broken than never exposed to being broken.

  • 00:41:44

    John Donvan

    Wi-, so, back again in 2018 we talked about trends that were then in effect and things you had seen had changed in society and also changed between 2004 and 2018 in the kinds of stories people were writing. Uh, for example, they were, more, more people at that time you were saying were writing about, uh, same sex love affairs then had been years earlier.

  • 00:42:03

    Daniel Jones

    Uh-huh.

  • 00:42:04

    John Donvan

    Well, since 2018 we’ve had a very big social development called the pandemic.

  • 00:42:10

    Daniel Jones

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

  • 00:42:10

    John Donvan

    Has that changed the kinds of submissions that you’re getting, do you think?

  • 00:42:14

    Daniel Jones

    Oh, it absolutely has. First of all it, it just overtook our, our inbox. Um, it, it touched on every person’s story after a while. There was, there, it, we’ve received almost nothing during these past two years that hasn’t touched on the pandemic in one way or another. And it’s been so interesting, sort of from a social science perspective, to, to see what, almost in phases how this has affected people’s behavior, um, and, you know we’re, we’ve been talking about humility a bunch.

  • 00:42:46

    But I, I feel like the, I feel like the pandemic in a way has been sort of like the great humbling of the world. Um, and, as it applies to people in relationships or looking for relationships. Uh, I think there’s almost been a, a corrective to um, to people’s idealism and their, um, and their flakiness I guess, um, that had to do with looking for someone and having so much choice and this frenetic sense of, there’s always someone better out there, um, that can be fueled by dating apps and volume.

  • 00:43:28

    And I think it, it, during the, the thing during the pandemic was this overwhelming sense of isolation and restriction, and your choices are limited. Um, your choices are limited to the people in your pod or the, or the people who are safe. Your choices for going out with people in public places was limited for such a long time, and people got to know each other online. Um, and I just, I, I sense from the, from the stories we’ve gotten just a, a real, um, a pr-, a sort of a new appreciation of, of connection, um, n-, not the stratospheric expectations for romance but more-

  • 00:44:06

    John Donvan

    Can, can you be more specific about that? I know pulling something from 10,000 submissions might be hard, but are, are you talking about people basically-

  • 00:44:14

    Daniel Jones

    Yeah, I mean people were, people were forced to make choices. One example was a story, um, by a woman who, uh, was widowed in midlife and she met and married a man who was divorced, but they lived separate lives. She was living in New York in an apartment and didn’t want to uproot her life, and he was living in Baltimore and didn’t want to uproot his, and they had sort of an Amtrak (laughs) marriage back and forth.

  • 00:44:38

    And as the pandemic descended upon them, they just thought, I don’t want to be separate for six months. They, they, they, y-, and so she moved in with him in Baltimore, and it, and it took their marriage to a new level of intimacy that I don’t think they would have found otherwise. They prized their independence too much. Um, and I, that kind of choice that was forced upon people, um, had similar results in, in other kinds of stories. People had to choose, um, did they want to be with a person or did they want to be completely alone in some cases. And it was just interesting to see, once your choices are defined as that, uh, what becomes important to you.

  • 00:45:26

    John Donvan

    I, I absolutely want to talk about the Amazon show. Um, so I think you’re in your second season now, just completed a second season-

  • 00:45:34

    Daniel Jones

    Uh-huh.

  • 00:45:34

    John Donvan

    Am I correct about that?

  • 00:45:35

    Daniel Jones

    Yep. [inaudible

  • 00:45:37

    ]

  • 00:45:37

    John Donvan

    These are dramatizations with actors and lights, cameras and actions of stories that were actually submitted over the years. So-

  • 00:45:43

    Daniel Jones

    Right.

  • 00:45:44

    John Donvan

    … interestingly, it sort of goes from, these things that are meant to be real life end up being performed.

  • 00:45:49

    Daniel Jones

    Yeah.

  • 00:45:49

    John Donvan

    Um, but, that’s okay. I’m just curious. And you’re, you’re a producer of the program. What, what is that like for you?

  • 00:45:57

    Daniel Jones

    Well, for me it’s been fantastic. I, I just, um, other, the, putting, making a TV show is stress, stressful for the pe-, people making it. Um, but for me, uh, it’s seeing work that I, you know, um, that I had to sort of stress about and problem solve with these stories, and when it’s, when it’s done by others I can sort of sit back and be the audience for it, even if I’m involved in the process and recommending essays and being on set and that sort of thing.

  • 00:46:29

    To me it sort of speaks to, um, the universality of some of these emotions and conflicts, um, and yeah, seeing, seeing them in, you know, in, reinterpreted and performed was really one of the most moving experiences of my life, even if it was just sitting on my couch with my laptop watching the sort of rough cuts (laughs) of the episodes, and uh, and absolutely bawling my eyes out in a way that I would never had, um, reading any essays or working on any essays. It, it reintroduced them to me in such a profound way.

  • 00:47:05

    John Donvan

    Oh, how interesting. I, I guess it’s too early for any of the pandemic era stories to have turned into television yet, am I right about that?

  • 00:47:13

    Daniel Jones

    You know, there was one pandemic era story that, that made it into the second season, that was about, um, a couple being separated by the pandemic who met on a train, and, and wound up in se-, in separate countries. Um, it was actually a tiny love story. It wasn’t even an essay. A tiny love story about two people who were, who were separated. And um, yeah, it’s, it snuck in there.

  • 00:47:37

    John Donvan

    So, you know, on, on, on the COVID situation, one other thing we’re wondering is, after the pandemic, do you think that the impact that the pandemic has had on the shape of love and romance will vanish, will go back to the way things were before, or do you think it has a lasting impact?

  • 00:47:54

    Daniel Jones

    That’s really hard to predict. I, because it’s been so long, I think it will have a lasting impact. Um, and because I think we’ll come out of it gradually. But I, it’s my sense that people have really been changed by it, and changed in terms of what they, what they really value and um, and what they are looking for. It’s sort of shaken, shaken people up in terms of their, um, relationships, in terms of their career, um. It’s been bracing. It’s been (laughs), it’s been bracing and again, all about, um, sort of making people think about choices and making them think about, um, mortality as well. Like what, what is really important to me? Um, what is really important for me to be doing and who is really important for me to be with? And I think that’s going to, that’s going to stay.

  • 00:48:50

    John Donvan

    Well, the way to test it is wait a few years and, and have you back on Intelligence Squared (laughter) [inaudible

  • 00:48:55

    ] and see where we are. Uh, Daniel Jones, again, uh, editor of the Modern Love Column, uh, producer of the Amazon Modern Love Program, author of Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less, author of Modern Love: Revised and Updated True Stories of Love, Loss and Redemption. Uh, you always bring so much to our conversation. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for joining us, Daniel, on Intelligence Squared.

  • 00:49:19

    Daniel Jones

    Oh, John, I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you.

  • 00:49:29

    John Donvan

    I want to thank you, our audience, for tuning into this episode of Intelligence Squared. I hope you enjoyed it just as much as I did. Intelligence Squared is a nonprofit that is generously funded by listeners like you, members of Intelligence Squared, academic institutions and other partners, and by the Rosenkranz Foundation. Clea Conner is our CEO, David Ariosto is our head of editorial. Amy Kraft is our chief of staff and head of production. Shea O’Meara and Marlette Sandoval are our producers. Kim Stremple is our production coordinator. Damon Wildomar is our audio producer and Robert Rosenkranz is our chairman. Our mission here at Intelligence Squared is to restore critical thinking and facts and reason and civility to American public discourse. We would love your support in that effort. Please visit www.IntelligenceSquaredUS.org to join the debate and hear from both sides, at least both sides, of every issue. I’m John Donvan. Thanks so much for listening.

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