Press Box

The Federal Department of Love

How to keep passion alive? A government subsidy, please.

How do you keep love alive? It’s a question worth asking during the week of St. Valentine’s Day, and a science story in today’s Washington Post, “No One Way to Keep Love in Bloom, Experts Say,” taps the professoriate for answers.

Most of the “experts” quoted by Post reporter Shankar Vedantam emphasize the importance of managing irreconcilable differences, working hard to keep “bliss” in the marriage in the early years, and finding experiences—travel, a summer home, volunteer work—that the couple can share.

All very sensible advice, and all very predictable, until the last two paragraphs of the piece. There the microanalysis turns macro in a helluva hurry, and Vedantam writes, “And factors beyond individual circumstance—social and family supports, socioeconomic status, government and workplace policies—can help and hinder relationships.” Vedantam concludes:

For example, said Marilyn Yalom, a cultural historian at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at StanfordUniversity and the author of “A History of the Wife,” the arrival of babies significantly adds to parents’ stress. Inexpensive and affordable child care, equitable benefits for gay and lesbian families, and more generous leave policies after the birth of a child can influence how lovers feel about themselves—and each other.

It’s obvious that family-related stress is no friend to romantic love—see the lyrics to “Making Whoopee” for more details. But at the risk of sounding like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, why fixate on the stress “caused” by chintzy benefits packages? Every part of life—playing, driving, drinking, eating, gift-giving, reading, theatergoing, vacationing—becomes less stressful if somebody else—the government or the employer—picks up that tab. Why doesn’t Yalom simply say that being richer relieves stress and that that will make love stay? Because, as we all know, it’s not true. Money can’t buy me love.

The creepy thing about the article’s close is that it implies that 1) political conservatives and employers who don’t rubber-stamp gilded benefit packages are enemies of love and by extension the family; and 2) it’s not your fault if you’re totally unlovable. Blame Washington. Blame your cheap boss. Don’t blame Cupid.