love in the regime of choice
October 28, 2015 7:35 AM   Subscribe

By analysing the language of popular magazines, TV shows and self-help books and by conducting interviews with men and women in different countries, scholars including Eva Illouz, Laura Kipnis and Frank Furedi have demonstrated clearly that our ideas about love are dominated by powerful political, economic and social forces. Together, these forces lead to the establishment of what we can call romantic regimes: systems of emotional conduct that affect how we speak about how we feel, determine 'normal' behaviours, and establish who is eligible for love – and who is not.
posted by divined by radio (23 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was super interested in this. It's funny, I feel like Ask Metafilter - not Seventeen, or The Rules - is the loudest voice in my head enunciating the laws of the Regime of Choice. I am still mostly an adherent, but it's actually been very necessary to me to define the kind of advice you get on Ask as only one way of conceptualizing how to negotiate relationships. It's a good one - maybe the best one out there - but it has its flaws, and it's in some ways an imperfect match for me. The advice you get from Ask is the advice that has worked for a particular culture, one that skews brainy, introverted, tech-savvy, liberal, slightly older. It's a very good framework, overall, but it has its blind spots and it's definitely not one-size-fits-all.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:04 AM on October 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


Only partway through it, but this is super-interesting so far; I wonder how (if at all) the proposed "Regimes" map to different cultures as seen through the now-classic Ask Culture V. Guess Culture perspective. (Thanks again for that amazing comment, Tangerine!)
posted by mhoye at 8:07 AM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


This was interesting.

Ask Metafilter is definitely all about the regime of choice, but that's what advice culture is for; it's a bourgeois product of modernity that's about heuristics, averages and rules.

It's definitely a relief to have someone assert that the regime of choice is not universal. (Also, I really like any theory that describes something as a "regime of [THING]".

But I think the regime of choice needs to be historicized a bit - it's not just this thing we have in America because of magazines. Off the top of my head (and I surmise that Illouz deals with this; I like her work but she's kind of anti-feminist IMO) we have a regime of choice precisely because we are a country with a strong democratic ideology and some democratic practice, and because this is a country which tends to split up multigenerational families. Also, at the moment, we have the internet, a culture of autodidacticism and no real safety net; having a child when it doesn't "feel right" is the best recipe for disaster, this writer aside. While Russia also has no real safety net, I surmise that the whole "from serfs to socialism inside a couple of generations, then oligarchs" thing probably supports the regime of fate.

I also wonder where gender, feminism and class go in these regimes. The "regime of choice" is often framed as a way for women to control their lives in a misogynist world - if you don't follow it, you're going to be discarded, and because of misogyny, that's a huge deal. The regime of choice is a workaround form of liberation for women, not the misguided idea that you can get pregnant from bubble baths or whatever. (I felt like that paragraph was missing a clause.)

Then too, I think the regime of choice is used as a weapon against poor women, in particular women of color - it's a fundamentally middle/upper class thing, and the assumption is that working class/poor women who have babies out of wedlock or quite young are failing to make good choices, instead of understanding that they negotiate a different and more severe set of choices and constraints.

Also, I think that the regime of fate persists even here in choiceland; it's just that it exists very much in tension with or contrast to the regime of choice. There are certainly plenty of movies, television shows, books, etc that are all about the regime of fate.

Also, it occurs to me now - we have the regime of fate, but we have it for work! All that "follow your passion" nonsense that's so popular. There too, class, gender and race get disappeared.

Perhaps we should take a no gods, no masters approach to both these regimes, as neither seem to account well for the material forces in our lives.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on October 28, 2015 [37 favorites]


Metafilter: a bourgeois product of modernity that's about heuristics, averages and rules.
posted by mhoye at 8:20 AM on October 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


I was expecting it to have more details - well, more than one regime, fate vs choice, but I can still identify with the theme.

Coming from a mental framework that defaults to the regime of choice, I thought I would choose who I loved, after carefully assessing them. I assumed I was demisexual, or sapiosexual, something like that, which would explain my lack of attraction to most people (rather than assuming that most people are not attracted to most people).

Experience has not confirmed this. The only times I fell in love were when I fell in love wildly, before assessing, without assessing, with the risk of having my heart broken if they proved 'unsuitable'. Putting the brakes on early, with the idea that I could take them off later, once I was happy I knew the person I was with, so I could then 'fall in love', never once actually happened.

I act from the regime of choice, I suspect the regime of fate is closer to the truth for me, and I think, by and large, I don't actually want to fall in love.
Not if it means falling in love with a stranger I don't trust yet.
posted by Elysum at 8:20 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


My own Ask Mefi experience turned up what sort of look like these two regimes. Exemplar of the "regime of choice" is How to be an Adult in Relationships: "Steady progress towards a healthy relationship between two autonomous individuals who satisfy each other’s emotional needs".

On the other side is Hold Me Tight, which doesn't mention rational analysis of your own or your partner's strengths and weaknesses; it's all about diving into emotional connection with the partner you've got, however randomly you might've ended up with them.
posted by clawsoon at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The author's advocating for the risky mindset of recognizing love as an uncontrollable force sounds a lot like the Surrealists' proclamations on behalf of "l'amour fou" (mad love). They, too, thought love should not be linked--at all--with reason (or, here, choice). They, too, were/are suspicious of capitalism's control over our mental and emotional lives.
posted by kozad at 8:36 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


And yet, l'amour fou (etc etc) exacts quite a lot of costs from women, especially if there's financial/class/other inequality in the relationship. Consider the many, many artists' wives of history, immiserated, impregnated and abandoned. Consider Verlaine's wife - or at least I've been considering her a bit. Or, god knows, that poor woman who married Robert Graves.

I think the regime of fate isn't some realm of freedom and real desire; I think it's a place where people with more power get to do what they want, with what they want being just as mediated by the market as anywhere else.

I don't think we get outside of capitalism through trying to find some unmediated source of impulse and desire, because there is no unmediated source of impulse and desire.
posted by Frowner at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


In the Regime of Choice, the no-man’s land of love – that minefield of unreturned calls, ambiguous emails, erased dating profiles and awkward silences – must be minimised. No more pondering ‘what if’ and ‘why’. No more tears. No more sweaty palms. No more suicides. No more poetry, novels, sonatas, symphonies, paintings, letters, myths, sculptures.

**squints at article skeptically**

Lifelong captivity in a bad relationship, we are told, is for Neanderthals.

I know she's just repeating a cliché phrase for "primitive" but I felt suddenly distracted by the idea that we know anything about Neanderthal relationships.

I think my more specific hangups for this article come from:

1. Self-help books and articles will tell you what a lot of us think we should do, but not necessarily what we actually do (how many people who bought The Rules actually followed them?). They tell you what we're anxious about (in this case: not getting married/being a doormat who is used by men), but not very much about our actual relationships. In other words, lots of people are still getting together into relationships, good and bad, based purely on emotion.

2. Advice focused on choice, self-protection and logic aimed at women is largely a result of sexism making bad relationships more destructive, and often physically dangerous, for women. Actual lives are at stake; setting boundaries/questioning your attraction to brooding, possessive strangers is not just about logic but about not wanting to end up dead.

3. Personally speaking, when I found someone who "checked off all the boxes" in terms of respect, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity, as well as being physically attractive, it was like opening a floodgate of emotion. I felt disbelief, elation, apprehension, obsession. I stopped eating and didn't sleep well during that phase of our relationship, we spent every spare moment together and were on the phone the rest of the time and sent each other love letters. We were ridiculous. We wrote (awful) poetry to each other. But we got to that place by being cautious, learning about each other, respecting each others' boundaries, not pressuring each other. We still respect each others' boundaries 18 years in.

I mean, it is easier to write a gripping story about Romeo and Juliet the doomed teen lovers than it is about Romeo and Juliet, the happily married couple living quietly together for many years. But which story do you really want for your own life?
posted by emjaybee at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


Both Regimes are slightly mad. Russia and America are both outliers on this, I suspect. I often think free arranged marriage is the most rational approach.
posted by Segundus at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2015


From the article: "A middle-class American who falls in love with a married woman is advised to break up with the lady and to schedule 50 hours of therapy. A Russian in a similar situation, however, storms the woman’s house and pulls her out by the hand, straight from the hob with stewing borsch, past crying children and a husband frozen with game controller in hand. Sometimes, it goes well: I know a couple who have been together happily for 15 years since the day he had kidnapped her from a conjugal New Year’s feast. But in most cases, the Regime of Fate produces mess."

Wow, way to completely leave out The Woman's lived experiences in both of these scenarios.
posted by hush at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I mean, honestly, if David Brooks, in a moment of Sunday afternoon desperation, wrote a column about Americans loving like this and Russians loving like this, declared himself open, but opposed, to both, and concluded with a paen to true, mad, love, even in the case of a woman snatched from her house and marriage, it would get guffaws from everyone on the internet.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:12 AM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


But perhaps the greatest problem with the Regime of Choice stems from its misconception of maturity as absolute self-sufficiency. Attachment is infantilised. The desire for recognition is rendered as ‘neediness’. Intimacy must never challenge ‘personal boundaries’. While incessantly scolded to take responsibility for our own selves, we are strongly discouraged from taking any for our loved ones...
The book Attached makes this argument, too. However, it suggests that there's a third choice, beyond tears, sweaty palms and suicide on the one hand ("anxious attachment") and the game-playing and self-reliance of The Rules or Mark Manson on the other ("avoidant attachment"). There are magical people - apparently 50% of the population - who are "securely attached", who get the best of both worlds.
posted by clawsoon at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or, god knows, that poor woman who married Robert Graves.

Got what was coming to him from Laura Riding, though -- not that it made his wife's life anything but worse.
posted by jamjam at 9:34 AM on October 28, 2015


Got what was coming to him from Laura Riding, though -- not that it made his wife's life anything but worse.

I think I must be one of about ten people living who like Laura Riding's poetry.

I mean, honestly, if David Brooks, in a moment of Sunday afternoon desperation, wrote a column about Americans loving like this and Russians loving like this, declared himself open, but opposed, to both, and concluded with a paen to true, mad, love, even in the case of a woman snatched from her house and marriage, it would get guffaws from everyone on the internet.

On the other hand, David Brooks would never have actually read any Illouz, etc., so he'd be relying on a pretty thin reed. There's some substance to this one in terms of actual sociology - but I think the issue is that these big "regimes" that are typical of regions/classes/cultures don't actually operate at the level of a jogging routine - arguing for or against one as if you can declare yourself independent of your entire culture and just pick doesn't work, and I think the essay does not stress enough that an ideological regime is not primarily about what people literally do every day, it's about how they understand the world. That's why people generally don't follow too many of the Rules.
posted by Frowner at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't agree with everything in this article but holy crap I have never considered the imperatives about "working on your relationship" and "therapy" and "self-assessment" and "keeping your independence" from the perspective of the Protestant work ethic before, and man, does that make a lot of sense. If you're hurt it's because you're not doing it right, because you haven't learned enough or become adult enough or worked hard enough on yourself, and only if you can achieve some kind of perfect self-actualized adulthood, relationships with others and all the feelings those entail will no longer be scary and unpredictable and insane. See also: Western neo-Buddhism's tenets about giving up desire. If only you worked harder at enlightenment..

(Not that the work mentioned above can't be worthwhile, but it also explains why I felt so goddamn guilty about being so very very upset about a not-great relationship that ended over the summer. I was deep in love as unsuitable madness and my Protestant work ethic was yelling at me that I hadn't done a good enough job. I've had suspicions that my guilt was bullshit but I haven't been able to nail it down until now.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:04 AM on October 28, 2015 [28 favorites]


I think I must be one of about ten people living who like Laura Riding's poetry.

In that case you only have eight more left to find; your comments renew a desire to find a repository online, but I don't anticipate much time to look today.
posted by jamjam at 10:24 AM on October 28, 2015


I don't agree with everything in this article but holy crap I have never considered the imperatives about "working on your relationship" and "therapy" and "self-assessment" and "keeping your independence" from the perspective of the Protestant work ethic before, and man, does that make a lot of sense. If you're hurt it's because you're not doing it right, because you haven't learned enough or become adult enough or worked hard enough on yourself, and only if you can achieve some kind of perfect self-actualized adulthood, relationships with others and all the feelings those entail will no longer be scary and unpredictable and insane. See also: Western neo-Buddhism's tenets about giving up desire. If only you worked harder at enlightenment...

Despite disagreeing with the idea of Love Must Be Crazy, I hate this too. Relationships take some work, but sometimes they will fail no matter what you do. You can't force them to work. Sometimes you can't figure out why a great relationship on paper still doesn't work. But it just doesn't. So there is an emotional/illogical component that you have to respect/allow for.

Much like friendship, actually. You can't force it or easily quantify it. Humans: we're weird like that.
posted by emjaybee at 11:12 AM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


"I thought I would choose who I loved, after carefully assessing them. I assumed I was demisexual, or sapiosexual, something like that, which would explain my lack of attraction to most people (rather than assuming that most people are not attracted to most people).
Experience has not confirmed this. The only times I fell in love were when I fell in love wildly, before assessing, without assessing, with the risk of having my heart broken if they proved 'unsuitable'. Putting the brakes on early, with the idea that I could take them off later, once I was happy I knew the person I was with, so I could then 'fall in love', never once actually happened."


Hah, I am sooooo regime of fate. It's very rare and inexplicable, the few times I've fallen for someone, but it was pretty much immediate. I can't even choose to fall for someone---I've tried it and it's a boring, bloodless affair. It's one of the many reasons why I won't even consider online dating, because I either get lucky or I don't, but going into it like I'm shopping for socks doesn't even work.

"If you're hurt it's because you're not doing it right, because you haven't learned enough or become adult enough or worked hard enough on yourself, and only if you can achieve some kind of perfect self-actualized adulthood, relationships with others and all the feelings those entail will no longer be scary and unpredictable and insane."

Also, you can't find real, lasting, decent love until you are 100% perfect and self-actualized, because until then all you'll ever attract are horrible people. Which makes me want to get someone to explain to me my relatives who met and fell in love and have been happy ever after since the teen years, because that could NOT possibly apply to them? Or am I just so horrible that I can't have any of that until I'm perfect? That I don't deserve it until then? That love has to be earned like a bunch of Girl Scout badges?

Oh yeah, and then there's the joy of knowing I'm inadequate for love because I'm an older female who isn't domestic and doesn't want babies.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is an odd binary. It feels very Charlotte Brontë - Reason v Passion v the Indomitable Will - and I love Jane Eyre as much as anyone but I don't think it supplies a completely accurate map of human possibilities. The logic of the dominance of irrational passion and the logic of the self-interested choice of the individual both seem like nineteenth century products to me (romanticism and market attitudes to human relationships generally). Why can't we adopt neither and just treat our emotions as reasonable but not infallible guides to what we want and rely on common sense, moral principles and probabilities for the rest? I think that taking your emotions seriously while also being a moral agent is good enough reason to avoid (1) dragging a woman out of her house without her consent while she's in the middle of something and (2) grimly refusing to call someone you're in love with because The Rules.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:34 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, just remembered what it reminds me of XKCD: Commitment.
For 95% of my relationships, they've been the former - it wasn't fireworks or obsession, but I figured that's just me. I've been in good, committed relationships with partners I respected, and most of whom I am still friends with.
Then a few years ago I actually fell in love for the first time, and I'm still pissed about it.
Like, I'm honestly angry about it, that that's how it works for me.
I think I would have been happier thinking that what I had before, thinking love like love for a friend or family member with the addition of good sex, was the same thing.
I realise what was different, that I jumped in emotionally, before evaluating. I kind of 'tried it' again. I guess I 'know how love works' for me now, which is great I guess, but as far as I can tell, there's some kind of window of opportunity for jumping in both feet first emotionally, and once I've missed it, it's never happened.
That window is small enough that there's no overlap with feeling like I've been able to evaluate my partner as a person, as someone I trust. I have to hope that they are trustworthy, rather than have the knowledge they are.

Emotionally, it seems like all I can do is fall in love first, and then once I have the chance to get to know them/evaluate them, if they aren't checking all the boxes, I could choose to break up. That sounds so simple, doesn't it? But in practice, is incredibly gut-wrenching and traumatic. The actual process of moving on, incompletely, seems to take years, even for a 3 month relationship.
I had a friend explain to me that she settled down with her husband quite young, partly because she'd been in love in the two relationships before that too, and they took such large parts of her heart that she couldn't imagine having relationships/falling in love, more than a few times in her life. Luckily he was onboard with the program.
I didn't really get it at the time, but now I do.


3. Personally speaking, when I found someone who "checked off all the boxes" in terms of respect, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity, as well as being physically attractive, it was like opening a floodgate of emotion. I felt disbelief, elation, apprehension, obsession. I stopped eating and didn't sleep well during that phase of our relationship, we spent every spare moment together and were on the phone the rest of the time and sent each other love letters. We were ridiculous. We wrote (awful) poetry to each other. But we got to that place by being cautious, learning about each other, respecting each others' boundaries, not pressuring each other. We still respect each others' boundaries 18 years in.

That is incredibly romantic.
I did the heartfelt sigh thing.
Wow, I hardly ever describe myself as jealous, but I am incredibly jealous about this.
This is it. This is my fantasy, this is how I want it to work for me.
I've just never fallen in love with someone after being cautious, and learning about them. I'd like to take my heart-brain meats and exchange them for ones that work like this please.


On the other hand, certain courting rituals make so much more sense. I think I need an old-school matchmaker. Someone to check over partners for me, and decide that we're a suitable match. For our friends and family to meet and approve (they support me in finding my happiness, so I trust and value my friends and family's opinions).
Then, once everyone else has confirmed all the boxes are checked, meet them and wildly fan the flames. Hit the ground running! Attempt to fall in love!



This is why I thought the article excerpt was more interesting than the article. I thought it would go into the many different types of ways that people fall in love.
I want to know all the different ways.
Some people near instantaneously, fate-centered, some people in time frames of a few weeks, some people turning around to someone they very know well and viewing them in a new light, choice-centered.
How this would affect the ways you date.
How you might have entirely different tactics for dating depending on the ways you fall in love, and how, if you haven't ever fallen in love, you probably shouldn't assume you'll fall into the category you would prefer.
If that was a book? I would buy it.


(Somehow I feel like it's related, but also that saying about sex getting better? Nuh uh. Yes, it gets a bit better, but for me, someone who was just good, has never ever reached the level of someone with whom it was amazing the first time, and of course, they kept getting better too).
posted by Elysum at 4:05 AM on October 29, 2015


In the Regime of Choice, the no-man’s land of love – that minefield of unreturned calls, ambiguous emails, erased dating profiles and awkward silences – must be minimised. No more pondering ‘what if’ and ‘why’. No more tears. No more sweaty palms. No more suicides. No more poetry, novels, sonatas, symphonies, paintings, letters, myths, sculptures. The psychological man or woman needs only one thing: steady progress towards a healthy relationship between two autonomous individuals who satisfy each other’s emotional needs – until a new choice sets them apart.

Great article, but this paragraph is laughable.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:23 AM on October 29, 2015


Sitcherbeast--why is it laughable? I see this attitude all the time--like it's your fault you actually believed someone when they said they loved you and wanted to be with you forever. If you're hurt, there's something wrong with YOU.

God, I am so fucking sick of the victim-blameyness of "regime of choice," which I see all the time on metafilter as well as everywhere else. I HATE it, it doesn't match my emotional experience at all, it doesn't make sense to me that anyone could ever believe this. Get rid of "He's Just Not That Into You" and "Tiny Beautiful Things," and "How To Be an Adult in Relationships," and DTMFA and all the other victim-blaming bullshit we keep pushing in order to pretend we have some control over this horror. If you believe that your romantic partner should just be "the icing on the cake and not the whole cake" (as I read on here just yesterday!), then a) why even fucking bother and b) stay the heck away from me, you sociopath. All that adds up to a vast lack of empathy, and people need to be socialized better than that. Romantic love is an attachment bond, like that between a mother and an infant. That's not a choice.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:21 PM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


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