Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Apocalypse and 6 Reasons Winter is Good for Love

Hey LOVEanese! It's December 21, 2012, Gangnam Style amassed more than 1 BILLION views on YouTube today, and I'm assuming this is currently happening:

SO, you know that means! HAPPY APOCALYPSE/END OF THE WORLD!!!

Just kidding.

In reality, it also happens to be the winter solstice and the first day of winter. To celebrate the beginning of winter, I want to share a list I thought up of why winter is actually a great time for couples, relationships, and dating! Here they are, and feel free to add more in the comments:

#6. One word: Fireplaces. They're warm AND romantic! And in case they weren't good enough (or more likely that you just don't have have one), you can always make a bonfire! Just make sure you know how to do it responsibly. Winter camping with a bonfire is amazing!

#5. Since it gets darker sooner, use this as encouragement to stay out longer with each other and friends getting drinks. Or plan a fun night out, or a date emphasizing night-time activities, like stargazing, watching a meteor shower, going to a comedy or jazz club, go to the movies or go dancing, grab an nargile, or winter desserts.

#4. Lots of holidays and days off! Spend it doing something fun, plan a road trip or a vacation and head where it's warm. Go skiing/snowboarding in Faraya if you're in Lebanon, or go spend time with family and friends. Enjoy a drink or eggnog!

#3. Ample opportunities to spend quality time together: Go play in the snow, go sledding, have a snowball fight. OR if there's no snow, stay in and drink tea with cinnamon or hot chocolate, watch movies, listen to Christmas music (if that's your thing), play a board game or video game, do a jigsaw puzzle, FINGER PAINT!!! And there's some more suggestions here.

If you're in the southern hemisphere (cough, I'm talkin' to you Australia!), way to be all weird! Ok, just kidding. Even if it's not cold and/or snowy, go to the beach or otherwise, just enjoy your summer!

People get SAD, literally. It's called seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ever notice how two of the biggest consumer holidays are conveniently located in the winter (Christmas and Valentine's Day)? Maybe its a way to capitalize on people's sadness (money buys happiness, right??). Well, forget shopping! Let love bring you up! Feelings of love and attraction releases natural chemicals like endorphins and dopamine in your brain which make you feel better (I talk about it here). And if that doesn't help, check out this list of suggestions for making yourself feel better.

Lastly, and most importantly, it's the most conducive season for cuddling! No one wants to cuddle up when it's 40 degrees C (104 F) outside! But when it's cold, it practically forces people to get closer together to keep each other warm. Awesome, right!?

What else is good about Winter? What do you like? Tell me in the comments! And may Earth live to see many more millions of years!

Spread the love, and (if you celebrate), have a merry Christmas!

-Ogie, MA

P.S. I guess they were right. Better learn to swim...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Are We So Afraid Of Intimacy?

I have a problem. A problem with us, with our generation.

Last night, a friend showed it to me, and I harmlessly posted it on LOVEanon's Facebook page. It garnered a lot of Likes, and even a share:

I didn't think much of it until this morning, after I'd had a weird dream critiquing this idea. I began thinking about it more, and every second spent analyzing that dream, the more I realized this isn't ok -- the misunderstanding of romance. The angrier I became, the more frustrated. The more I realized that it isn't right, it isn't right that our generation has done a complete "180" in terms of relationships. Words I used in my head to describe how I feel about this included: awful, disappointing, concerning, disgusting. What happened to us!? Why is it that, now, it's easier to sleep with someone than go on a date? Why is it that now, you're more likely to sleep with someone than go on a date? Why is it that our generation is facing the end of courtship? In the past, you took the time to get to know someone. You took the time to care, to love. It wasn't always just about me, me, me. It wasn't always just about sex, or instant self-gratification. Conquering another's trust or simply using them period, just to tick another mark into our collective black book of unfulfillment and emptiness.

What happened? What happened to us that made us so... selfish? So disregarding of others? So shallow? Why have we become emotionally impotent? Am I being harsh? Am I being judgmental? Am I just merely being unrealistically or ridiculously, foolishly nostalgic?


I don't think so. Just as the title says, I think it's our problem. I think it's a very serious problem, I think that problem is that we are afraid of intimacy, and I'm not the only person who thinks this. We're afraid of getting close. We're afraid of trusting. We're afraid that we're just going to get hurt again, hurt -- that thing that we can't seem to shake. That terrible ghost that just keeps haunting us, hanging over our heads, never going away, just recycling in our lives, one person after another.

What is wrong with us? Do you feel it?

How many of you feel like this is strangely reflective of your experiences?

Surely it's a problem, a social problem at that. Hell, a world problem, a global problem. I saw it in Lebanon just as often as I see it in the United States. I see it with friends in Europe, in Australia. In fact, a March 2007 article in Time Magazine highlighted how, after a 12-week period, "fear of intimacy" was the second-most searched fear on Google. The only thing that beat it was flying, however, "fear of intimacy" beat out the fear of the dark, death, spiders, even God. Moreover, intimacy was second, but love was seventh, and "being alone" was tenth. Isn't it just a bit troubling that love in today's world has become something feared!? In an attempt to explain it, the author provides suggestions:

"Sifting through over 1,500 "fear of" searches in the last 12 weeks, there are two opposites that play out repeatedly: we're afraid of being isolated ("fear of being alone") almost as much as we are of making a connection ("fear of intimacy"). Maybe this disconnect is fueled by our "fear of rejection" or a "fear of losing a loved one," or "fear of being dumped." Or maybe we've succumbed to the overwhelming volume of sexual dysfunction spam that's driven our "fear of not performing." Or maybe the discrepancy between these two most common fears is the concern we have about discussing our weaknesses with others. As email, text, and instant messaging replace our face-to-face communication, perhaps it's become easier to disconnect. [Maybe] we're more comfortable talking with a non-judgmental search engine about our problems, or maybe we're simply afraid of what our fears reveal about ourselves..."

I think he's right about a lot of things. I sincerely think that when it comes to love, we have lost our direction. Whether it is because of conspicuous consumption, materialism, globalization, urbanization, hyper-individualism, technology and the breakdown of face-to-face communication and small social networks, economic disparity and wealth inequality, generational gaps/distance, or worse, because of personal torment: abuse, hurt, pain, cynicism, pessimism, disdain, and even hate, we as human race seem to have lost the will to love. But in losing this, we have also lost so much more including our connectivity, our empathy, and our compassion.

As someone who has spent time researching this, it's not difficult to figure out where this is coming from either. Without trying to get into feminist perspectives on sexuality and love, and without trying to critique the sexual revolution, I just want to point out that some take a more positive approach to the changing nature of intimacy. This includes British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1992) who purported there's been a "Transformation of Intimacy" that is intrinsically linked to modernity and the various revolutions -- industrial, urban, technological, sexual -- which are causing historic changes in the way our sexuality functions (and is separate from reproduction). He thinks it's a good thing for society, for freedom, and for women especially. However, what is really obvious isn't just the macro-social change, but the actors and the context in our lives: our family, our parents, our peers, our culture, the mass media, and our own experiences. These were the pillars that contextualized my thesis, but really, they establish the foundation for romantic relationship development among adolescents and young adults period.

So, why are we so afraid of intimacy? Simple: it comes down to fear.

Look at the following illustration (original link from TruthSeekerDaily). Does it resonate with you?

"To love is to be vulnerable" - C. S. Lewis. How applicable is this to your life?

When I conducted interviews for my thesis in 2011, parents/family, peers, personal experiences, the media, and culture were all mentioned either directly or indirectly as influencing the participant's perceptions of romantic love. For instance, both positive and negative experiences helped shape their perspective, whether it was learning through positive relational behavior of their parents, or through the negative behaviors or consequences that befell their parents such as a divorce, or the heartbreak of a friend or other family member. Moreover, the interviewees were aware of these consequences, and often communicated that they took conscious measures to protect themselves from the experiences of these individuals, especially their parents.

A connected recurring theme was an expression of insecurity or fear related to either losing someone they love or getting emotionally hurt. While there is much literature related to uncertainty and insecurity within a relationship (e.g., Afifi and Burgoon, 1998; Knobloch and Solomon, 2003, 2005), Polish sociologist/social theorist Zygmunt Bauman (2003, 2006, 2007) proposed a theoretical conceptualization for understanding the fear of emotional hurt. In his 2003 book Liquid Love, he discussed "Liquid Modernity," the current state of human society where there's a lack of permanent, lasting social bonds. Due to this "liquidity," individuals have frail social bonds, which, in turn, generates insecurity; through this insecurity, individuals face the conflicting paradox of desiring to tighten their social bonds, yet simultaneously keep them loose (Bauman, 2003). In a beautiful passage, Bauman (2003) articulates the importance of love in modern times:

"In every love, there are at least two beings, each of them the great unknown in the equations of the other. This is what makes love feel like a caprice of fate -- that eerie and mysterious love means opening up to that fate, that most sublime of all human conditions, one in which fear blends with joy into an alloy that no longer allows its ingredients to separate. Opening up to that fate means...admission of freedom into being: that freedom which is embodied in the Other, the companion of love" (P. 7).

He also sheds light, however, on the idea that lasting human bonds/commitments have become "analogous to stocks people have to constantly manage, but can also [be] acquire[d], and let go of" (Bauman, 2003: 14). He continues by stating: "If you invest in a relationship, the profit you expect is first and foremost security [i.e., support and companionship]...but be warned: promises of commitment to the relationship, once it is entered, are "meaningless in the long-term" [because]...relationships are investments like any other, but would it ever occur to you to take an oath of loyalty to the stocks you just bought from the broker? To swear you'd remain...through thick and thin, for richer and poorer, "'till death do us part?"" (Bauman, 2003: 14).

His perspective includes the breakdown of permanent social bonds and the reinforcement of the idea that social -- in this case, romantic -- relationships are not necessarily meant to last forever or always lead to sustained happiness. Moreover, it leads to uncertainty and severe insecurity which permeates almost every aspect of our lives. Many of the participants in my thesis reflected this through their parents’ relationships as well as many of the romantic relationships experienced by their peers.

I think it's time for some comic relief.

Intense, right? Well, we're surrounded by negativity. Call me nostalgic or romantic, but I wish we could emphasize a model like this instead:

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love. When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God." And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night; to know the pain of too much tenderness; to be wounded by your own understanding of love; and to bleed willingly and joyfully. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; to rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy; to return home at eventide with gratitude; And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips." -- Khalil Gibran, "On Love," The Prophet.

When did we forget this? Did we ever really know it?

I remember when I was in college, I was lonely, but it wasn't just me. It seemed like almost everyone was in the same boat. In addition to them being lonely, I felt surrounded by their hurt from the burn of past experiences and their perceptions. And even with the guise of masculinity or sarcasm, that pain never seemed to heal. So, caught in-between loneliness and the complacency of non–commitment coupled with rejection, I personally lost faith in myself, in part, because I didn't love who I was and I wanted something from someone else; some kind of "completion."

What happened there?

I didn't really love myself, and I lost the courage to try and date. I lost the courage to just ask someone, "Hey, would you like to get dinner Friday night?" Call me a romantic at best, old–fashioned at worst, but when study after study validates how, at least certain Western societies, have become a "hook-up culture" (e.g., Manning, Giordano, and Longmore, 2006), it makes me wonder what happened to dating culture. What ever happened to taking someone out because you were interested in getting to know them? Because they made you laugh? Or you always smiled when you were with them? Because they understood you, or can identify with you? Are we so hurt, we don't let anyone in? Are we so jaded by the lack of romantic commitment in our lives and the lives of others that it's simply not worth it? Whatever happened to respect, and wanting to be with someone for what you could potentially share with someone, and not what they could give you?

As a long-time fan of his, Thomas Merton, evoking John Donne, once wrote a book called No Man is an Island, discussing how we can never experience true love, unselfishly, until we first love ourselves (I covered it extensively in this blog post). I realize this is a two-way street. Maybe you tried, and they rejected you. Maybe you put a lot of effort in, only to be tossed aside for someone else. Maybe they wanted something you couldn't offer. Maybe emotional fulfillment, emotional (and physical) support, and self-love manifest as a complex game of chicken and the egg. The fact is, the equation for attraction is so complex and is determined by such an infinite number of factors; it is the most advanced equation that makes quantum physics seem pale in comparison. Add to that the fact that being single is hard. As I've discussed previously in my post on monogamy and jealousy, if the added value vs. cost of pairing up were lower, we wouldn't have evolved, both biologically as well as socio-culturally, to favor it so strongly. In other words, the grass is always greener, but when it comes to the benefits of being in a loving relationship, the science speaks loud and clear (especially if you're male).

Unfortunately, this is -- or at least seems to be -- the nature of human relationships. But, in the future, what can you do differently? How about ask if true sincerity exists? Exists in such a way to look past our desire for instant gratification? How about instead, we reinvent the "date," that little event where two individuals can negotiate their attraction and chemistry, and see if things would work out? Take some time, get to know someone better. Remember that vulnerability is a powerful and beautiful thing that can lead to happiness as well. For who they are, not what they can offer. Away from social media, instant messaging, texting, college parties, university classrooms, work... somewhere special, romantic, personal. Something where you can show emotional investment, not merely exchanging time and a meal for a later reward. Dating doesn't exist so you can get something in return, it exists to understand someone better. By no means am I trying to generalize or be presumptuous, nor am I unintentionally trying to reinforce outdated gender and sexual stereotypes. But, my challenge is to have the courage to do what I often did not do enough: take the time to love yourself, so that you can love someone else. Take the time to overcome reservation with commitment and your insecurities; believe in love, trust once again, and always strive for emotional fulfillment.

I know this is contentious, and that's usually something I try to avoid. But we can't avoid this anymore. I WANT to talk about it. And if you don't, you should. We can't go on not talking about it anymore. It's your problem, it's my problem, is our problem -- we can't keep sweeping it under the rug, and pretending like it isn't happening. Don't think these problems will just go away or be fixed by either a relationship or an engagement ring. And even if you don't want to talk to me or comment on this post, that's beyond fine. But talk to yourself, be honest with yourself. Talk to a friend, a counselor, someone. We can't keep compounding our emotional hurt and relationship fears/insecurities, and burying them. They are only going to lead to more unhappiness. I refuse to back down, I will be aggressive about this! Whether you're in Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE, Europe, Japan, America, wherever, we NEED to talk about this! So, whether you start with yourself, or work on loving yourself more, just do something! Stop hiding behind your fear if you are! Stop hiding behind serial monogamy if you are!

If you think you may be afraid of intimacy, it's ok, there's nothing you can't overcome. A counseling website offers this quick test/assessment to help you if you're interested, and I suggest also reading this article that I linked to above with an interview with a sexual therapist.

I want to conclude by re-posting the transcript of what I attempted to write on Facebook after I had my 4 wisdom teeth extracted last Friday (and edited for grammar). I don't really remember writing it, but I think I was just voicing my -- otherwise, diplomatic -- opinion about people who don't care about anyone other than themselves. It seems like I just wasn't afraid to speak my mind (in my opinion, quite a vindicating feeling):

"In lieu of the wisdom teeth surgery (which was a great success), I just want to candidly state my disdain for selfish assholes who really don't care about how their actions ultimately lead to greater insecurity in both themselves, but more importantly, their relationship partners -- and fuck up people. Just love each other because they are a gift, not because of your own personal insecurities. It's not fair. And it not right. Treat people how they deserve to be treated: with dignity and respect."

I sincerely think we have a problem, and we NEED to fix it. Do you think I'm being too harsh? Am I being presumptuous or judgmental? What DO YOU think? I'm eager to hear. In the meantime, listen to this impassioned plea for why intimacy isn't just important, but it is ingrained into humanity's existence -- both historically and currently:

Have courage, love yourself, do not fear intimacy, face your insecurities, and spread the love,

-Ogie, MA

Update: Please see the comments section below for some updates/clarification, and some great additional points by others.

P.S. This video may shed more light on why we're afraid of intimacy:


Afifi, Walid A., and Judee K. Burgoon. 1998. ""We Never Talk About That:" A Comparison of Cross-sex Friendships and Dating Relationships on Uncertainty and Topic Avoidance." Personal Relationships, 5: 255-272.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2007. Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

----. 2006. Liquid Fear. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. 

----. 2003. Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Giddens, Anthony. 1992. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Knobloch, Leanne K., and Denise Haunani Solomon. 2005. "Relational Uncertainty and  Relational Information Processing: Questions Without Answers?". Communication Research, 32(3): 349-388.

----. 2003. "Responses to Changes in Relational Uncertainty Within Dating Relationships:  Emotions and Communication Strategies." Communication Studies, 54(3): 282-305.

Manning, Wendy D., Peggy C. Giordano, and Monica A. Longmore. 2006. "Hooking Up: The Relationship Contexts of "Nonrelationship" Sex." Journal of Adolescent Research, 21(5): 459-483.