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Romantic Failure: A Cultural and Cognitive Bias

We are socialized to blame ourselves when things go wrong in love because that is what is available to refashion when you are in a psychiatrist’s office. 

If you feel that you have failed in your quest to find your romantic ideal is that because there is something wrong with you? Everyone has probably felt that way at least at some point. That is because we are socialized to blame ourselves when things go wrong in love. 

In the video below, Eva Illouz, a cultural sociologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation, says that sociology can help rid us of the idea that failure and suffering in love is self-inflicted and reflexive.

Furthermore, Illouz says it is a mistake to look into our emotional baggage to understand the predicaments we are in today. This kind of self-analysis and rationalization, Illouz says, is self-defeating and is sucking the passion out of love.

Watch the video here:

What’s the Big Idea?

Illouz says there is a widespread belief today that if an individual fails at something, “it must be because his or her psyche has some hidden flaw or overt flaw, which we are going to use to explain the failure of the person to do something.”

This is both a cognitive bias and a cultural one as well, Illouz says, because the idea has been ingrained in us “through the predominance of psychology, of Freudianism, of clinical psychology in how we think about other people.”

Illouz wants you to drop this “psychological mode of thinking” and consider an alternative explanation for why people have difficulties in their romantic life. A sociological mode of thinking, on the other hand, can help explain the idea of commitment phobia, which has been explained as “a psychological deficiency of men.”

Illouz describes this condition in strictly sociological terms: it is a reaction of masculinity to “the ways in which men have been incorporated in the capitalist workplace.” 19th-century men, on the other hand, were inclined to commit themselves “quickly and intensely to a woman.” 20th-century masculinity, on the other hand, “often wants to keep its options open and wants to maximize it’s choices,” Illouz says. 

What’s the Significance?

Illouz is not a therapist, and says she tends to “shy away from bestowing any therapeutic value to my work.” However, what Illouz says her book can help people understand is the way that our therapeutic culture, has made men and women, but especially women, “feel responsible for their own failures – for their own romantic failures.”

When you can understand the collective dimension of your struggles, however, the issue of romantic failure takes on a political dimension. After all, Illouz explains:

Politics is understanding that what you’re struggling with is not your own private story but the story of many people. And once you become aware of the collective dimension of your experience, then it becomes a political experience. This was precisely the effect of feminism. It was to take the woman’s experience and show that what felt like in private was much more collective and much more well-shared. And this in itself has a kind of liberatory and therapeutic effect. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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