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Think You Know All About Love? This Author Will Tell You Different

November 24, 2000|MARY JO KOCHAKIAN | HARTFORD COURANT

We, so well-read in matters of men versus women and women versus men; so thoroughly entertained by movies romantic and movies cynical; so conversant in the language of therapists; so familiar with Oprah--we know what love is.

"Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong," contends Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist, with that as the title of her new book (Putnam, $23.95).

A good deal of the advice coming out now on love and sex has a political "culture wars" tone.

But this is not the case with Schwartz, who is willing to upset both camps even though she is apparently an unrepentant liberal. ("I lived the '60s and '70s with enthusiasm, have been married twice, and have two teenagers and stepchildren, all of which has taught me a lot," she writes cheerfully. Additionally, we note, she is really into sex.)

*

She tackles 25 relationship "myths" in the book. Here are a few:

* Your lover should be your best friend.

* You will know when you have met "the one."

* Everyone should cohabit before marriage; it can only help.

Of the "best friend" idea, she writes: "I know this is the mantra of every modern textbook and counselor, and I admit I've recommended it myself. But the goal of 'best friendship' really isn't for everyone."

Looking for a "soul mate friendship" is bound to bring you misery, as it is unrealistic and an unfair standard. For one thing, friendships have limits and are straightforward compared to sexual relationships, which give rise to complicated emotions.

Also, a degree of emotional privacy is good for many couples, she writes: "Looking for a soul mate--baring all regularly--could be more exhausting than fulfilling."

Now, about "the one."

Belief in a fated union with "the one" is distorting--"Once you have decided that someone is the person you are destined to marry, you ignore information to the contrary because you don't want to know anything that doesn't support your belief," Schwartz writes. "I have seen women watch their beloved scream at their children, or become highly agitated over nothing, or leer at high schoolers, and come up with a totally lame excuse for it."

She advises this mantra: "There is more than one great person for me in the world. I will not get desperate and do something precipitous because I believe it is this person or no one."

Does Schwartz come across as an anti-romantic?

No.

"Romance is one of the sweetest things in the world," she said over the phone. "But it is a phase--it may begin a great love affair, but you have to realize that it makes you mentally unbalanced. Enjoy it, and use it to discover your relationship. But don't act on it.

"Don't use it to excuse egregious myths like, 'You have to do everything for the one you love,' because the next thing you know, you're a doormat. You really, really can have some horrible outcomes."

On cohabiting versus marriage--it pains Schwartz to say it, "But I have to. I've seen the research--in fact, I've done the research, and so I've reluctantly come to this conclusion: OK, live together if you want to. For some people it's the only way they'll feel secure about making a commitment.

"But if you do want an eventual commitment, don't live together very long because there is good evidence that cohabitation really does change the way couples learn to relate to each other, and a lot of those changes don't bode well for marriage," she writes.

Cohabitors, it has been found, "are notably less generous with each other than engaged or married people." Cohabitors tend to split costs 50-50, even if one person makes much less, unlike married couples.

"And you have a strong possibility of spending a lot of time together and breaking up at just the wrong time--thereby sabotaging chances for parenthood or building a solid financial future."

And this, yikes: "Living in a cohabiting relationship seems to breed cynicism and ambivalence."

If you find the idea of living together irresistible, she writes, go ahead, but set a one-year limit.

In matters of the heart--whether the heart tends to be too romantic or too detached--Schwartz's message is the same:

Let's be reasonable here. You've got to use your head if you want good results.

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