Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

What's Wrong With Silly Love Songs? Plenty.

The problem with silly love songs is that they celebrate silly love.

Paul McCartney once noted that “some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.” “What’s wrong with that?” he asked. So what is wrong with that? Plenty.

Three decades older and $50 million poorer, thanks to his recent divorce settlement, we’d bet that Sir Paul won’t be writing more silly love songs any time soon.

The problem with silly love songs is that they celebrate silly love. Silly love is a house made of Valentine’s day cards. It’s a short-term illusion fueled by equal parts narcissism and delusional thinking. It’s the sort of “love” in which you believe the crap you’re saying as much as the crap you’re hearing -- always a dangerous condition in which to find oneself. Sure, it can provoke a fleeting rush of wondrous sensation, but so can addiction to opiates and really, who’s singing the praises of that anymore?

Silly love would have you believe that:
• There’s only one girl/guy for you in the whole wide world – and you’ve found him/her. Longer odds than winning the lottery. Lucky you.
• That the giddy feeling you’re presently mistaking for “love” will last forever and ever (good luck with that).
• That this feeling is reason enough to make life-changing decisions (marriage/divorce, pregnancy, drop your life to be with him/her, etc.).
• That it’s impossible to feel this for more than one person at a time.
• That if something goes wrong, you’ll never feel anything like this again. This is your ONE chance for love!
• That if the object of your “love” has any sort of sexual relation with anyone else, he/she has destroyed your trust, broken your heart, never really loved you, etc., etc.

Now, don’t get us wrong: we feel nothing but compassion for Sir Paul, who seems like a pretty nice guy whose sappy weakness for this adolescent notion of “love” left him defenseless against a woman who shows every sign of being a real piece of work, to put it nicely. But our compassion is limited by our suspicion that silly love songs like Silly Love Songs may have been the final shove for thousands – maybe millions – over the edge into their own Heather Millsian catastrophes.

Of course, not everyone’s pushing childish “love” in their music, but when you start thinking this way, you begin hearing the message everywhere.

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Hey fellas! Did you know that When a Man Loves a Woman, he’ll:

• Spend his last dime on her?
• Turn his back on his very best friend (if the friend dares to suggest she might not be all she seems at the moment)?
• Sleep out in the rain if she tells him to?

And you thought a night on the sofa was bad.

Can we all grow up a bit? If you insist on looking for love lessons on the radio, forget the Paul McCartney/Percy Sledge silliness. Maybe head down the dial to the country-western station, where you’ll find some Tammy Wynette realism to live by:

If you love him you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand …
After all, he’s just a man.

Forgiveness, acceptance, endless attempts to understand … now that’s amore!

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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