Living with Love

Living with Love is my blog where I will comment on various things related to psychology, society, and culture.

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What About the Chemistry?

December 5, 2012

71552-61942Single adults—young and old—often talk about wanting the right “chemistry” in a relationship. They mean that rare combination of the new and different with an unexpected ease, the sense that the other, a stranger, is somehow instantly familiar and compelling. Words such as “hot” and “way cool” go with “chemistry” and imply that we’re speaking of bodily states. Depicting our human emotional life as “chemistry” expresses the extent to which, consciously or unconsciously, we have accepted neuroscience and biology–pre-programmed drives, configurations of facial features, hormones or the urge to reproduce-as the most fitting way to narrate our closest human relationships. Have we forgotten the utter complexity and subtle nuances of human relationships?

Not that singles believe they are really mindlessly pre-programmed in their search for the right partner. On the contrary, they hope to… READ MORE

Parents and Children

December 4, 2012

77950-68619How Parents And Children Can Finally Come to Love Each Other

The following is another story about the ways parents’ wishes for their children’s happiness and success can become a formidable obstacle to well-being and true love. I met “Tyler” – a 19 year-old – at a Philadelphia dinner party where his parents and I were guests of a mutual friend. The dinner party was a festive affair with formal seating, and I sat next to Tyler as his dinner partner. Early on, over our red wine, Tyler glanced slyly in my direction and asked, “So, what do you do?” I responded, “I’m a psychoanalyst.” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Do psychoanalysts believe in facts at all?”

Because Tyler was being annoyingly impudent with someone his mother’s age, I assumed my best professional manner and replied, “It depends on what you mean by facts. All facts occur in a context, right? They don’t make any sense without that context and the conversation surrounding it. And we psychoanalysts care a great deal about context and deep conversation. So, yes, we care about facts, but we care also about the whole context in which they occur.” His reply to that was something like, “Oh.”

We then settled down to our wine and salad. After another five minutes, he ventured out again to ask, “What are you doing here in Philadelphia?” I told him I was there to give a series of presentations on my new book, The Self-Esteem Trap, about a psychological condition suffered by many young adults in college or entering the workforce. When he asked me what I had found, I listed…


Too Commonly, “I’m Bored” Is Our Response to the Mystery of Life

October 4, 2012

89440-856371-230x204When I speak with groups of parents or educators about the “self-esteem trap”—about kids’ obsessive self-concern, unreadiness to engage in adult life, restless dissatisfaction, and desire for celebrity and wealth—several recurrent themes appear. First are worries about the absence of meaning and purpose in their children’s lives. Usually, they say something like “I don’t know how to convey spirituality to my kids.” Or, “It seems as though our children have lost a feeling for moral integrity; they don’t know why they shouldn’t lie or cheat or steal if those actions are not immediately harmful to someone they personally know.”

Why should we be surprised that children feel this way? Many of their parents—especially the best educated ones—live their lives without a sense of mystery or awe about how and why we happen to be here on this planet spinning in space. And they raise their children with the same attitude. Some are nominally involved in a church or synagogue. Usually they say, “Even though I don’t really believe in my religion anymore, I think I should take my kids to church/temple so they can make their own choice when they grow up.” When I see young adults in psychotherapy who came of age amid such ambivalent or tepid religious practices, I find they are not impressed with their parents’ “open-mindedness.” In most cases, the parents either have no clear religious beliefs, or they’re exploring Eastern religions and New Age spirituality without the daily time-consuming activities of devotion or contemplation or meditation that sincere religious practice requires. Many educated parents don’t give priority to such activities.

In fact…