TWO WAYS TO SEE LOVE
All of the nineteenth-century founders of sociology touched on the topic of emotion and some did more. Max Weber elucidated the anxious “spirit of capitalism,” the magnetic draw of charisma, and questioned—though not from this viewpoint—“rationality.” Emile Durkheim focused on the experience of “solidarity.” Karl Marx explored alienation and, in his analysis of class conflict, implied much about resentment and anger. Georg Simmel examined love and friendship, and Max Scheler explored empathy and sympathy. In the twentieth century, Erving Goffman traced out the complex web of unconscious rules of acting that people use to get through the day. Goffman strongly implied, though he draws back from actually positing, the existence of feeding rules and the sort of person who would be able to take them into account. Current sociology’ is rich in works that are either theoretically relevant to or empirical descriptions of the full cornucopia of feelings and emotions. The sociology of emotion takes off from these early beginnings. As with any newf body of work, it has generated lively debate and become quickly subdivided by area, theoretical approach, and methodology. So it is no easier to speak these days of a typical sociologist of emotion than it is to speak of a typical sociologist. Still, we can ask what it is like to see the world from the point of view of the sociologist of emotion.1
How does one convey this way of seeing? One way is to look very closely at a grain of sand and to compare the various worlds a person sees in it. Drawing from my book The Managed, let us listen to one young woman’s description of her wedding day:
My marriage ceremony was chaotic and completely different than I imagined it would be. Unfortunately, we rehearsed at 8 o’clock the morning of the wedding. I had imagined that everyone would know what to do, but they didn’t. That made me nervous. My sister didn’t help me get dressed or flatter me and no one in the dressing room helped until I asked. I was depressed. I wanted to be so happy on our wedding day. … This is supposed to be the happiest day of one’s life. I couldn’t believe that some of my best friends couldn’t make it to my wedding. So as I started out to the church thinking about all these
things, that I always thought would not happen at my wedding, going through my mind, I broke down and cried. But 1 thought to myself, uBe happy for the friends, the relatives, the presents." Finally, 1 said to myself, “Hey, [other] people aren’t getting married, you are." From down the long aisle I saw my husband. We looked at each other’s eyes. His love for me changed my whole being from that point on. When we joined arms, I was relieved. The tension was gone. From then on, it was beautiful. It was indescribable.2
From childhood on, we actually “rehearse” for our wedding. As Emile Durkheim notes in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, rituals create for any social group a circle within which things come to seem extraordinary, amazing, sacred, and outside of which things seem ordinary, unremarkable, profane. In modern Western society, the marriage ceremony itself sacralizes the bond between bride and groom. The vows and rings bring everyone’s shared attention to the same thing, making the couple feel enhanced by being part of and supported by a larger whole—a community of family and friends, society. Their love is held from the outside as well as the inside.
But this young woman’s wedding was not doing its Durkheimian job. For one after another of her family and friends were falling away from their ceremonial roles. Only when the bride focused on herself—“Hey [other] people aren’t getting married, you are”—and on her groom did she feel moved. She was coping with a de-ceremonialized ceremony, a Durkheimian rite in a non-Durkheimian ambiance. Nervous and disappointed, she realized that she must remove herself from the ceremony in order to feel her wedding as sacred and to feel herself personally transformed. Endings are important and the bride ends her story by describing how she locked into a mutual ga2e with her husband and felt transformed by it. The discombobulated ceremony suggests a larger modem story: when the surrounding community does not surround a couple, each partner has to be like a whole community to the other. The Durkheimian circle remains magical but it shrinks.
What in our bride’s tale might catch the psychoanalyst’s eye? Christa Rohde-Dachser (a commentator on an earlier version of this essay given at the German Psychoanalytic Association in 1995) ‘ offered this interpretation: The young bride held “narcissistic expectations of this day.” She expected to feel central, elevated, enhanced, and was disappointed that these expectations weren’t met. When faced with an inattentive sister, an absent friend, and bumbling bridesmaids, she grew anxious at having to adopt the “female depressive solution”—to abandon hope of fulfilling her own needs and to focus on the more urgent needs of others. But then she experienced a moment of “Oedipal triumph” (“People aren’t getting married, you are”), a moment in which she leaves the “white desert” of her early development in which she watched her parents’ sexual happiness from the sidelines – Now she may enjoy her own sexual gratification. Why, Rohde-
Dachser also asks, does the story end when it ends, at a moment of happy union? Is this a fusion of her narcissistic expectation with her Oedipal triumph—central and united forever—and do these form a denial of reality?
In looking at our bride in this way, the psychiatrist relies on the idea of personality structure, itself formed in the course of early psychosexual development within the immediate family. This is because psychoanalysis is a body of theory about individual human. Since its focus is on
those moments in human development when things go wrong, psychiatrists often dwell on extreme or pathological emotion and, as a practice, focus on healing emotional injuries. Culture enters in as the medium in which human development, injury and repair, takes place. The psychoan* alyst might not ask how it is that a certain emotion—feeling “his love for me"—stands out from an array of expectable or appropriate feelings. She might rely on an intuitive notion of appropriate affect, based on a prior notion of a mentally healthy response to this situation in this culture at this time.
So how would a sociologist of emotion approach the same bride? Like the psychoanalyst, the sociologist of emotion notices the bride is anxious and connects her anxiety with the meanings she attaches to this event. The sociologist is not focusing on human development per se, injury or repair, but on the cultural and social context of individuals, healthy and injured alike. Part of that context is a culture of emotion. What did the bride expect or hope to feel before she felt what she felt? She tells us, “I wanted to be so happy on our wedding day. This is supposed to be the happiest day of one’s life."
To expect or hope to feel a certain feeling, the bride had to have a prior idea about what feelings arefeelable. She had to rely on a prior notion of what feelings were “on the cultural shelf," pre-acknowledged, pre-named, pre-articulated, culturally available to be f elt We can say that our bride intuitively matches her feeling to a nearest feeling in a collectively shared emotional dictionary. Let us picture this dictionary not as a small object outside herself, but as a giant cultural entity and her as a small being upon its pages.4 Matching her feelings to the emotional dictionary, she discovers that some feelings are feelable and others are not. Were she to feel homosexual attraction and love in China, for example, she would discover that to many people, homosexual love isn’t simply “bad,” it is not in the dictionary. It does not exist.
Like other dictionaries, the emotional dictionary reflects agreement among the authorities, and does not recognize all local usages. It is also subject to gradual change over time. But it expresses the idea that within an emotional language group there are given emotional experiences, each with its own ontology. So, to begin with, the sociology of emotion asks: With what feelings in the cultural dictionary’ of her time and place is our bride matching her inner experience? Is her feeling of happiness on her wedding
day a perfect match, a near match, a frightening mismatch? This powerful, unconscious process of matching inner experience to a cultural dictionary becomes for the sociologist of emotion a complex, mysterious, important part of the drama of this bride’s inner life.
Second, what does the bride believe she should feel? She is matching her experience not only to a dictionary but to a bible. Our bride has ideals about when to feel excited, central, enhanced, and when not to. She has ideas about whom she should love and whom not, and about how deeply and in what ways she should love. She has ideas about what the indications of this love are, and how important this love should be to her. The poet Byron wrote, “Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart, ’tis woman’s whole existence.” Does love loom larger for our bride than it does for her groom? Or does she now try to make love a smaller part of her life, as men in her culture have tried to do in the past? What are the new feeling rules about the place of love in a woman’s life? How desirable or valued is the emotion of love or the state of attachment? To what set of cultural meanings is this couple’s magical mutual gaze linked?
Cultures differ in the pictures they project of “perfect love.”"1 According to the Western ‘‘romantic love ethic” of the industrial period, the individual is supposed to fall “head over heels” in love, to feel he or she is losing control. In German, Romantische Liebe has a slightly derogatory connotation that it lacks in the United States. In many parts of non-Westem societies like India, romantic love is seen as a dangerous, chaotic emotion, which threatens to destabilize the devotion the married couple owes the son’s parents, with whom they live in a joint household. On the basis of interviews with Hindu men on the subject of love, the sociologist Steve Deme found that Hindu men felt that “head over heels” romantic love could and did occur, but it inspired dread and guilt.6 This dread, of course, mixes with and alters the feeling of love itself.
So people in different eras and places do not just feel the same old emotion and express it differently. They feel it differently. Love in a New England farming village of the 1790s, say, is not the same old love as in upper-class Beverly Hills, California, in 1995 or among working-class Catholic miners in Saarbrucken, Germany. Each culture has its unique emotional dictionary, which defines what is and isn’t, and its emotional bible, which defines should and shouldn 4. As aspects of “civilizing” culture, they determine our stance toward emotional experience. They shape the predispositions with which we interact with ourselves over time. Some feelings in the ongoing stream of emotional life we gladly acknowledge, welcome, foster. Others we grudgingly acknowledge, and still others the culture invites us to completely deny. And the dictionary, the bible, the stance alter to some extent what we feel.
Like other sociologists, the sociologist of emotion looks at the social
text of a feeling. Is the bride’s mother divorced? Is her estranged father at the wedding? And the groom’s family? Who of their friends appeared at the wedding and what marital stances do they bring with them? Who is present in fantasy? What were the histories of their “happiest days”? This context also lends meaning to the bride’s feelings on her wedding day—as ground lends meaning to a figure, or a puzzle to a piece of it.
Given die current emotional dictionary and bible in use on the one hand and the social context on die other, each culture delivers to its members a unique paradox. The modem Western paradox of love seems to be diis: As never before, the culture now invites a couple to aspire to a richly communicative, intimate, playful, sexually fulfilling love. But, at the same time, the social context itself warns against trusting such a love too much. Thus, the culture increasingly invites couples to “really let go” and trust fully. But it also cautions: “You’re not really safe if you do. Your loved one could leave,” Just as advertisements saturating American television evoke la belle vie in a declining economy that denies it to so many, so die new cultural permission for a rich, full, satisfying love life has risen just as new uncertainties subvert it.
Let me elaborate, t )n one hand, love is increasingly expected to be more expressive and emotionally fulfilling. Economic reasons for men and women to join lives have grown less important, and emotional reasons have grown more important. In addition, modem love has also become more pluralistic. What the Protestant Reformation did to the hegemony of the Catholic church, the sexual and emotional revolution of the last thirty years has done to romantic love." The ideal of heterosexual romantic love is now a slighdy smaller model of love within an expanding pantheon of valued loves, each with its supporting subculture. In the United States gay and lesbian lovers are beginning to enjoy open acknowledgment. Some unmarried heterosexual women look forward, if the right guy doesn’t come along, to a series of exciting affairs with men, which they supplement with warm, abiding friendships with women. Some of this diversification of love expands the social categories of people eligible to experience romantic love, and some provides alternatives to it. On the whole, though, the ideal of romantic love seems to be retaining its powerful cultural hold by extend;ng and adapting itself to more populations.
Paradoxically, while people feel freer to love as fully as they wish, they are less and less sure that love will last. The American divorce rate has risen from 20 percent at the turn of the twentieth century to 50 percent today and remains the highest in the world. The breakup rate for unmarried couples who live together is higher still. More women also bear and raise children on their own, and more women have no children.8 Norms that used to apply to American teenagers in the 1950s—‘‘going steady,” breaking up, going steady again with another—now apply to adults.
These trends present our young bride with a tease. She is inspired by the
image of a greater love, but sobered by its “incredible lightness of being.”-’ The promise of expressive openness is undercut by the fear of loss. For in order to dare to share our innermost fears, it greatly helps to feel safe that our beloved—perhaps, in the last instance, a symbol of mother—isn’t going to ditch us.
Faced with this paradox, our bride may try to manage her emotions in one of several ways. She might try to make love last by unconscious, “magical” means. In one study of responses to the “divorce culture,” the sociologist Karla HackstafF notes that some young lovers who had grown up in divorced homes unconsciously warded off the “evil eye” of divorce in their own love life by creating a First-Love-That-Fails and a Second-Love-That – Works.10 Our bride could have met a perfectly nice boyfriend before she met her husband. But because she felt there was a divorce she was destined to suffer and eager to avoid, she projects onto a first lover “everything bad” and tries to detach herself from him. Then she meets a second young man, just like the first, onto whom she projects “everything good.” With him, she tries to stay in love, the “divorce” now behind her. Through this unconscious magic, our bride makes her first marriage into a symbolic second one and clears away the danger of divorce.
Alternatively, the bride can try to adapt to the disquieting uncertainties of love by defending herself not against a dangerous bad-news guy but against her own need for anyone.11 She tries to expect less, to care less. In an era of sexual and emotional laissez-faire, our bride becomes an emotional Spartan. She can don this emotional armor in many ways. In one study of a small sample of African American single women, Kim DaCosta found that the women tried to limit their trust of men, to dampen their fantasies of rich, emotional bonds with men, while simultaneously expanding their fantasies of great love for children. With children, they could dare to “fall in love” and displace onto the children, perhaps, the dependency needs they felt they couldn’t afford to feel with men. Faced with the paradox of modern love, more young women may follow the emotional strategy of these African American women.12
Fear of loss itself is hardly new. Through the ages, people have lost loved ones to disease, to war, to rivals, and have guarded themselves against such loss. But when the defenses against uncertainty arise from the culture of love itself, when the cultural dictionary elaborates varieties of guarded loves and ex-loves—and when this culture of love is linked to capitalism—we need the best thinking we have to understand it.
The paradox of modern love may result from its bumpy ride on the runaway horse of capitalism. Capitalism is a culture as well as an economic sys – tern. As Anthony Giddens and others have argued, the economy, the state,
and the mass media have become a vast, far-flung empire, which dwarfs, undermines, and “disembeds” local cultures. If we all live in a “village” of
some sort, capitalism transforms and sometimes dissolves the ties that bind us to it. One way in which we disembed ourselves from our local culture is through the application of metaphors. In our collective unconscious, we may be applying the metaphor of “emotional capital,” posing for ourselves a new set of questions. Can we speak of new emotional investment strategies? Do people think of emotion as that which they invest or divest so that the self is ever more lighdy connected to feeling? Does emotion itself take on the properties of capital?13 Is this emotional capital now more “mobile” across social territory than in previous eras? Can we speak of a deregulation of emotional life, so that it flows across new boundaries linked to notions of private profit? If so, how does this affect the emotion management of a young bride? Given that half the divorced fathers in one American study, five years after divorce, had not seen their children during the last year, we can also ask how such a capitalized emotional culture affects children.
I am not arguing that people enter relationships more lightly nowadays than they did thirty years ago, or that they think shallow connections are better than deep ones. I am suggesting that one important strategy of emotion management is to develop the ability to limit emotional connection since this strategy adapts us to survival in a destabilizing culture of capitalism.
Fleeting as they are, moments of emotion management tell a great deal about the self we develop when we live in such a capitalist culture. In the case of mild feelings, acts of self-control can help shape feeling itself. We may try to alter the expression of our feeling and in doing so actually alter the inward feeling (one kind of deep acting). We can verbally prompt ourselves to feel one emotion and not another (another kind of deep acting). Or we can try to enter into a different way of seeing the world (and yet another, “method acting”).
Whatever the method of emotion management, the emotions managed are not independent of our management of them. Emotions always involve the body, but they are not sealed biological events. Both the act of “getting in touch with feeling” and the act of “trying to feel” become part of the process that makes the feeling we get in touch with what it is. In managing feeling, wfe partly create it.11 Through how it makes us see relations, define experience, and manage feeling, the culture of capitalism insinuates its way into the very’ core of our being. Weaving together the tatters of a waning tradition, the bride seeks to enter a private emotional bubble, her happiest day. In this light, her wedding is both a holdover and an act of resistance. She w’ants this day to be the happiest day of her life, but the day is stubbornly lodged in a larger culture, which expresses the paradox of modem love. Ultimately, this may be the source of the bride’s unease.
This paradox is itself a result of the disjuncture between old feeling rules (a former emotional dictionary-bible) and a newly emergent social context. But feeling rules change and so do social contexts. So as sociologists olemo-
tion, we need to ask: What emotional dilemma are we trying to resolve in order to live the lives we want? By what dialectical interaction between rules and context is an emotional paradox produced? In light of these paradoxes, what emotional strategies come to make sense? Do we think a given emotional strategy, however “normal” it may seem, hurts or helps us?
In the end, perhaps the bride is fixing all her attention, her hopes, her sense of meaning on her groom because the rest of the wedding scene, that supposedly magical Durkheimian circle, has fallen apart. The groom himself becomes the worshipped totem and the bride the lone worshipper. This could intensify her love, as the culture prescribes. But it also exaggerates the demands put on each party to that love. If the wedding is any reflection of her other social ties, we can ask how the bride’s love for the groom is related to her absence of connections to others. When the micro-Durkheimian circles of marriage are so fragile, maybe we need—paradoxically—more proper weddings in wl rich sisters are sisterly and friends are true friends. For it may take a whole village to make love work, and a repair to that village to make it last