Please join me in welcoming author Mari Ruti, Ph.D., as the special guest blogger here at Thoughts in Progress to discuss her latest release just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Mari invites us to rethink our notions of love in THE CASE FOR FALLING IN LOVE: WHY WE CAN’T MASTER THE MADNESS OF LOVE —AND WHY THAT’S THE BEST PART (ISBN: 9781402250804). Here’s a brief synopsis:
Are you tired of reading book after book and playing game after game, trying to avoid heartbreak? It seems impossible, and maybe that's because you can't lock up your heart like that-not if you want the real thing. And maybe that's one of the best things about love.
We've been thinking about it all wrong. Our culture's insistence that women need to learn how to catch and keep a man is actually doing much more harm than good. The more we try to manipulate our relationships, the less we are truly able to experience love's benefits and wonders.
Love is a slippery, unruly thing, and trying to control and manage it robs us of its delicious unpredictability.
Sure, letting go of the reins a bit might mean a broken heart, but heartbreak, in fact, offers a wealth of possibilities-creativity, wisdom, and growth-that we need in order to make the most of our lives.
Liberating for women who are frustrated by the idea that they just need to learn the right "formula," THE CASE FOR FALLING IN LOVE shows that there isn't a method to mastering the madness of love. But that might be exactly what's so wonderful about it.
Mari has stopped by to answer some questions about her book and her writing.
Mason - What inspired you to write THE CASE FOR FALLING IN LOVE?
Mari - Two things, primarily. First, I was troubled by the fact that so many women in our society blame themselves for relationship failures, as if they were single-handedly responsible for ensuring a happy ending. I think that many women are culturally conditioned to think that to make romance work, they need to make a superhuman effort: learn to read the male psyche, figure out the right strategy, play the game flawlessly, show just the right amount of vulnerability, etc. I wrote the book in part to show that when things don’t work out, it’s usually not because we did something wrong. It’s not because we came on too strong, crushed the guy’s ego, wore the wrong dress, or left our toothbrush in his bathroom. Love is inherently fickle and volatile. Often it’s not meant to last. This is not anyone’s fault – it’s just how life is sometimes. So, basically, I wanted to tell women that they should stop trying so hard – that there is no clear correlation between effort and happiness. If a guy genuinely likes you, he’s not going to walk away because you somehow botched the “game.” As I say in one of the chapters, when it comes to love, what is meant to happen always will. Why not, then, let go of the reins a bit and allow ourselves to experience love’s wonder?
Second, I was disturbed by the fact that our self-help culture perpetuates drastically outdated stereotypes about men and women. I think that when we approach our relationships with a Mars/Venus mentality, we end up focusing on the most superficial aspects of love (what men are “supposed” to be like, what women are “supposed” to do). This means that we no longer see our partner for who he actually is: we do not respect what is distinctive about him, but reduce him to a “category” that has been handed to us by our culture. I think that authentic love isn’t in the least bit interested in such categories. It couldn’t care less about our gendered games, or about the façade that we build around ourselves. It aims at the very core of our being – at what makes each us a unique and irreplaceable creature. The more we let stereotypes rule our romantic behavior, the less likely we are to release this inimitable spirit, with the result that we rob love of its soul. One of my goals in the book is to rescue this soul – to return to love some of the complexity, magic, and mystery that it has lost because of overly pragmatic romantic advice.
Mason - What was the easiest part of writing this and what was the most difficult?
Mari - Writing a book is never easy, but this one sort of leapt out of me in the sense that I wrote it in about ten weeks of concentrated passion. The most difficult part was having to read a couple of dozen self-help books that all give women the same advice: deciphering “the male psyche” is necessary for romantic success; men are turned off by women who are too strong or competent; don’t let slip that you know how to parallel park, use a power drill, or (my favorite) change the light bulb; massage your guy’s ego; never insist on asking for directions; play hard to get; wait three days before returning his call; learn to dilate your pupils at the right moment. It was as if a time machine had dumped me in 1953. The whole thing made me want to cry. But it also helped me formulate one of the main questions of the book: Why would any woman want to date a guy who falls into the stereotype – who thinks that women are “prey” to be conquered, or who claims that it’s in men’s “nature” to stray, fear commitment, forget your birthday, or fail to understand emotions. Why are so many self-help gurus trying to sell us a guy like this? My advice would be to run in the other direction.
Mason - What type of research did you do in preparing for this book?
Mari - As a university professor, I have researched, taught, and written on issues related to the book for more than ten years. I have a strong background in gender studies and cultural studies, which made it possible for me to make an argument about how gender stereotypes over time solidify into the kinds of cultural ideals and belief systems we no longer think to question. And I also had the necessary background in psychology and philosophy to counter the idea that our romantic behavior is biologically determined. Most importantly, I had taught a course on romantic love at Harvard for a few years, so I had spent a lot of time thinking about love, desire, and fantasy in the context of gender and sexuality. And in recent years, I’ve taught a couple of courses on popular culture – movies and television – which also gave me some good material, such as the chapter on Gossip Girl. In many ways, the book grew organically from everything I’ve done as an academic, including the countless conversations I’ve had with my students over the last decade.
Mason - With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what is your idea of a perfect Valentine’s Day date?
Mari - Trying to have the perfect Valentine’s Day date is like chasing Tinkerbell with a fly swapper. I think that the more we pursue the Hallmark image of chocolate-covered perfection, the more likely we are to feel disappointed (which, of course, is my overall point about love: the more perfect we try to make it, the less alive – and thus less perfect – it becomes). So my inclination would be to keep things simple. This is not to say that I would fault a guy for buying me a dozen of roses and a Harry Winston necklace. And if he wants to book me a ticket to Maui, even better. But, honestly, I would rather split a bottle of good wine and some takeout at home than go to one of those revolving restaurants overlooking Niagara Falls.
Mason - What can readers expect next from you?
Mari - If I write another mainstream book, it will most likely be one of those “what is the meaning of life” kinds of meditations. I would like to talk about different ways of finding meaning in one’s life; about the fragility, complexity, and unpredictability of human existence; as well as about loss, pain, heartbreak, mourning, hope, healing, renewal, and self-transformation. I touch on some of these topics in the second half of THE CASE FOR FALLING IN LOVE, but I have a lot more to say. I’m less interested in telling people how to tackle specific problems than in giving them new and hopefully inspiring ways of thinking about their lives. And I like the challenge posed by a wide-ranging, “universal” topic such as this because there are few female authors who have written such books.
Mari, thanks for guest blogging here today. I like your take on romance. Enjoying simple things with the one you love means so much more than trying to have a ‘perfect’ date where nothing works.
Now for a little background on Mari. She was educated at Brown, Harvard, and the University of Paris. After finishing her Harvard doctorate in 2000, she spent four years as assistant director of the university’s program for the study of women, gender, and sexuality. Mari is currently associate professor of critical theory in the University of Toronto’s English Department. She splits her time between Toronto, the East Coast, and Maui. For more on Mari, check out her website at www.mariruti.com.