Letter From the Editor

Love Frenzy: Can I learn to love the media? By Editor in Chief Robert Epstein

By Robert Epstein Ph.D., published October 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Two issues ago I announced that I was embarking on a modest personal experiment. I've long been disillusioned by two myths that appear to underlie the quest for love and romance in much of the Western world: the myth of "the one" (absurd) and the myth of "happily ever after" (dangerous)-both fed to us daily by romance novels, Hollywood movies and the like. I've also come to believe that dating is a kind of farce, a silly game in which we display far more plumage than probity.

Most marriages in the world are arranged by family members or matchmakers, and in many of these, partners somehow learn to love each other over time. Can this process, I asked, be packaged for Western couples? I indicated that I was looking for a partner who would sign a "love contract"with me in which we agreed (a) not to date anyone else for six months or so, (b) to undergo intensive counseling in which we set out to learn to communicate effectively, to trust each other, to learn about each other's needs, to overcome past traumas, to forgive each other and so on, and (c) to attend retreats and participate in exercises that will foster our mutual love. This procedure, I speculated, has the potential to bring about a deep romantic love and, perhaps more important, to prepare people for success in a long-term relationship. I'm suggesting, in effect, that we develop a proactive approach to love and romance. At the moment, we enter into couples counseling only after a relationship has failed; by that time it's often too late to save it. Why not teach essential relationship skills and help people bond right from the first kiss?

I'm more convinced than ever that this concept is sound, but my public announcement has had unexpected-and somewhat overwhelming-results. I've been bombarded with calls from media professionals and, although I've never solicited "applications," I've received hundreds of letters, photos and phone calls from women all over the world who want to try the experiment with me. Many say that even if I don't pick them, they desperately want the experiment to work. One woman sent me a $1,200 plane ticket, asking me to meet her on her private island off St. Thomas (no, I'm not going) and, as I type-and over my gentle objections-another woman is flying from Michigan to San Diego to meet me. My staff has met four times to try to figure out what to do with all the letters; so far, we're stumped. As much as I'd like to, I simply cannot correspond with a thousand women, never mind take them out to dinner.

I've turned down interview requests from CNN, the "Today" show, "Good Morning America," "20/20, "Prime Time," "48 Hours," "Inside Edition," "Dateline" and other television programs, most of which want to follow me around with cameras for the next six months. Prompted by an article in USA Today, pundit Bill Maher gave my project a thumbs-up on one of the final episodes of "Politically Incorrect." I've given about a hundred radio and newspaper interviews, two television networks are vying for the rights to create a reality TV show around my concept (scary!) and the largest radio program in the U.K. is already testing out my love contract with multiple couples.

This is just a glimpse of the chaos that my simple idea has created, and interest appears to be growing, not waning. Please note that I have no data and that I haven't even found a partner. Also note that the experiment I've proposed is a "personal" one, not a scientific one (although a student at Oxford has just made "learned love" the topic of her dissertation research, and other careful projects are getting underway). What can we conclude from this frenzy? Well, for one thing, neither the press nor the public seems to be concerned about a lack of data. More important, the strong interest that people are showing suggests that many in the Western world are fed up with our naive approach to love and romance and are desperate for viable alternatives. Have I found one?

Robert Epstein is editor in chief ofPsychology Today , university research professor at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University.