To understand the way Americans feel about and experience this “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” music is probably the first—but worst—place to look. A quick search for “American songs about love” results in “Love Hurts,” but also “Love Will Conquer All.” Further, “Love Takes Time” and “Love Runs Out,” but “Love Is Forever.” How to untangle this mixtape? Sociologists and their research show some of the reasons Americans are so “Crazy in Love.”
Some sociologists have pointed to a somewhat linear evolution in the way love is experienced in America. They argue there’s been a move away from love as a permanent obligation to love as an individual choice that only lasts as long as it is beneficial for everyone involved.
- Anthony Giddens. 1992. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies.
- Francesca Cancian. 1987. Love in America: Gender and Self Development.
Others argue a more complicated evolution. Ann Swidler finds that people go back and forth between the romance of “love at first sight” and love as permanence to seeing love as fragile and requiring hard work. Swidler proposes this tension is largely due to the demands of marriage as an institution: the ideals of marriage fit the romanticized version, but the realities of a relationship fit better with more realistic conceptions. So, most Americans hold both views at the same time.
Modern Americans’ increasingly individualized form of love fosters more democratic relationships and increased gender egalitarianism, though it can also lead to increased anxiety about love and relationships. Eva Illouz believes American culture promotes love as “difficult and painful,” offering advice from Cosmo quizzes to sex therapists to self-help books. Combined with the rise in for-profit online dating sites and the ubiquity of advertisements encouraging us to demonstrate love through consumption, Illouz says we’ve come to a “commodification of love,” where you have to work, and often pay, to find and keep romance.
- Eva Illouz. 1997. Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.
- Eva Illouz. 2012. Why Love Hurts: A Sociological Explanation.