Bonus: Love, Romance, Sex, and Passion

Monday, Feb 4 : TOPIC:  Love, Romance, Sex, and Passion.  A special video interview with Dan Ariely and Cathy Davidson and @DukeSuprise.  We will film today, and post on Valentine’s Day.  Wear red, everyone!  


Below are the readings for the February 4 class.  For the blogging assignment this week, please do two things:  (1) Suggest a  favorite love story, love poem, or movie where love, passion, romance, or heartbreak are central themes;  (2) Ask a question or two about love that we can use for our class discussion and our on-camera open discussion on February 4.


1) Three Short Stories About Love
O. Henry, “Gift of the Magi”
Alice Walker, “Am I Blue?”
Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

2) The Book of Love: Writers and their Love Letters (A PDF of these selections is available for students on our Duke Sakai page)
Cathy N. Davidson, Introduction: “In Theory In Practice In Love,” pp. 1-20.  Writers on love and in love can be just as irrational as the rest of us.  These actual, personal love letters by famous writers make an interesting contrast to the powerful fiction, poetry, and short stories they write about love.

Falling in Love
p. 23-24 Sappho to Anactoria, mid-Seventh Century BCE
pp. 31-34  Gustave Flaubert to Louise Colet
pp. 36-37  Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
pp. 50-51  Zelda Sayre to F. Scott Fitzgerald
pp. 52-53  Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
pp. 63-65  Pablo Neruda to Matilda Urrutia

Love Is Tender and Passionate
pp. 77-79  Emily Dickinson to Susan Gilbert
pp. 79-80  Emma Goldman to Ben Reitman

Parents and Children
pp. 139-140  Anne Sexton to Linda Gray Sexton

Remembrance of Love Past
pp. 256-259  Fred Vaughan to Walt Whitman

Falling in Love Again
pp. 273-274  Colette to Maurice Goudeket

3) What Social Science Says About Finding Love.

“An economist goes to a bar…”

“Selective Versus Unselective Romantic Desire”

“People are Experience Goods: Improving Online Dating with Virtual Dates”

eLove in the News
“The End of Courtship?” Alex Williams, New York Times
“Technology Killed Courtship. Good Riddance” Amanda Hess, Slate Magazine.

4) Suggested (optional) movie:  Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.

*For an extended list of crowd-source Recommended Readings, see our Surprise Endings Facebook page.

59 responses to “Bonus: Love, Romance, Sex, and Passion

  1. ASSIGNMENT FOR FEBRUARY 4: It’s Valentine’s Day Filming today so make sure to WEAR RED, everyone . . . be forewarned, if you don’t, we’ll have lots of silly ridiculous red things for you to wear.

    For the literary reading, Junot Diaz has compiled a list of his 10 favorite short stories about love and they happen to be my favorite too: I’ll select two or at most three from this amazing list but, if you want to treat yourselves, read them all.

  2. And sometimes love is about a researcher’s love of his or her subject–remember what Dan said about his “biggest lack of self-control” is how much he loves his work, cannot stop doing experiments, and Cathy said it takes no self-control NOT to blog every day but requires self-control to stop. Freud said a happy person had “love and work,” leiben und arbeiten, and my friend, the scholar, the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, said her biggest triumph in her life was there was no difference between her love and her work. Here is an amazing video about an artist who makes a movie with stop-action animation, in sand, an act of love and work, and a gift to us all. That’s what art is, really: Enjoy!

  3. (I) My favorite Romantic movie: Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

    (II) Questions I am interested in pertaining to love:
    1. Is making your girlfriend jealous an effective strategy in edifying her interest in you?
    2. Do girls like receiving gifts (flowers, chocolates etc) because of the thought or simply because they like to advertise this to their friends?
    3. Is social media – Facebook, Instagram, twitter – helpful or harmful to the longevity of relationships?
    4. Are girls who cheat on guys looked down upon more or less than guys who cheat on girls?
    5. Are women secretly attracted to arrogant men?
    6. Does success in our society attract gold diggers while pushing away the girls who are genuinely attracted to us?
    7. Why are intelligent and successful women romantically intimidating?
    8. Are divorce rates in the US indicative of a changing dynamic in marriage, or are there other factors that are influencing it?
    10. Why do women who sleep around get criticized while men who sleep around get lauded? Do girls prefer guys who sleep with a lot of other girls?

  4. Hi everyone, I’ve made Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution optional. What makes it so interesting for our class, especially after our last unit on self-control is that characters make long-term decisions that take enormously self-control, planning, deferred gratification, and even suffering to reach those goals–but they don’t understand a lot about their own personal feelings. I won’t say more because it will ruin the plot but this one is a beautiful, shocking, raw movie that entangles last week’s theme with this one.

  5. Why is it that the mental aspect of a relationship is so intimately related to the physical aspect?

  6. I enjoyed the readings, the stories especially. Each took a stab at a vulnerable slice of love. The letters were intriguing: some felt exaggerated, some understated, and all imbibed with passion. I wonder how I would feel having my love letters publicized one day.

    And the newspaper articles try to capture how love is changing. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned for my generation but I haven’t experienced what they depict. I think it’s sad. I like dates. They’re fun to go on and fun to plan and see it unravel and induce reactions in your partner.

    1. Forrest Gump. “I may be stupid, but I know what love is!” I find Forrest’s love for Jenny pure and unconditional.
    2. Is there a decreasing marginal utility for love (i.e., does the utility you get from love decrease as the number of past and current partners increase?
    Why do we want to feel as though “it’s the first time doing/experiencing x” or “this is so special” when in love?

  7. Favorite Movie: Once

    Questions about love:
    What’s the relationship between race and love? When people say that they have preferences for people with certain features, are they discriminating in the name of love? Or they are going against what love is which should universal, tolerant and indiscriminating?

    Can love ever be rational? Or it is as what Nietzsche says—a “many brief follies” followed by “one long stupidity” which is marriage? What’s the best way to live a romantic life in college, as thought of from an economist’s point of view?

  8. Favorite movie: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    How did you know that you were in love with your significant other?
    What is the most important characteristic of love?
    Is the ever-increasing rate of divorce in the US indicative of a population that misinterprets feelings of love as just passion related to sex?

  9. 1) Favorite movie: American Beauty

    2) A few questions about love:

    Are women really more emotional/sensitive than men, or do they just express their emotions in different ways? Does “playing hard to get” actually work? If so, does it work better for one sex than the other? What is the psychology and neurology of “falling in love”?

  10. I also really enjoyed this week’s readings– “The Gift of the Magi” and “Am I Blue?” really touched me, while Cathy’s introduction exploring love letters and the article on improving online dating were incredibly thought-provoking. I can’t wait to hear where this discussion will lead.

    1) I have several different takes on this question, and almost none of them are the traditional sweeping romance. For me, the best literature about love are the ones that are truthful– “Take This Waltz,” a film by Sarah Polley, is heart-wrenching in that regard, in what it conveys about love and relationships. Similarly, the film “Away We Go” is the portrait of a believably perfect couple, while “An Education” features a love story, but speaks more to the power of the allure and life that comes with love. The quote on love from “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” expresses the nature of quiet forever that comes from committing to someone, as do Abigail Adams’ eloquent and beautifully simple letters to her husband; but Sullivan Ballou’s Civil War letter to his wife is a heartbreaking illustration of the strength and the conflict of love. Finally, though related most notably by name, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Elliot, for me, shows the existence of a life without love, trapped in perpetual solitude and self-doubt. However, I will openly admit to indulging in Nora Ephron films , “Titanic,” and perfectly written, tear-filled confessions of undying love.

    2) -How do different people make the distinction between “love” and “like”?
    -What does love feel like in marriage? What was different about that love that, unlike the others, convinced you to commit to forever?
    -Do people fall in love while casually hooking up?
    -Is monogamy economically advantageous?
    -Which love is stronger: that between happy spouses, or the love that those spouses have for their children?
    -What are the biggest misconceptions that guys have about girls, and girls have about guys, in regards to love and relationships?
    -What affects how long it takes for someone to get over their ex?
    -In this modern age, do people still equate sex with romance?
    -People complain that literature and films (“the Disney movie effect”) have twisted their expectations of love. Does literature hyper-idealize love and romance, or does it actually show us a version of the truth that we just have not attained?

  11. Favorite movie about love: The Princess Bride

    Questions: Is love irrational? Does love always make one blind, and how is this blindness related to attention blindness? How does one make love last? And just curious, professor Ariely: has your speed dating experiment led to any lasing relationships among participants?

  12. 1. Hmm…I’m going to go with a slightly different approach and say the biblical Song of Solomon. It’s quite a different depiction of love in Old Testament times, during what many think is the reign of King Solomon.

    2. What’s the difference between “I love you” and “I’m in love with you”?

    Is love more of a fleeting feeling, or is it more permanent of a choice? As in, if somebody “loved” somebody and stopped later, was it really love?

    People seem to follow societal rules in dating and marriage, whether that’s religious tradition, conservative cultural tradition, or the always evolving and often nebulous set of rules that seems to characterize 21st century American society. Given today’s increasing globalization, what happens when people coming from different traditions and societal backgrounds meet and have different expectations? Is there an “optimal” set of rules, or are different sets of rules equally valid? (As two extreme examples, consider arranged marriages on one hand and vaguely-defined hook-up culture on the other.)

  13. 1. I want to second Gordon Gekko’s romantic movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I love when the protagonist Peter Bretter explains why he’s writing a Dracula puppet musical: “Because he’s just a man, he wants to be loved but every woman he gets near he ends up smothering and killing, and I’ve had similar experiences.” Lovely.
    Because the movie has already been mentioned, I want to share my favorite love poem, “Yes Yes” by Charles Bukowski. I think it accurately portrays the totality of love, or at least the way I’ve idealized it in my head.
    2. Is love experienced similarly by everyone –both mentally and biologically (as in, does love cause the release of more endorphins, is it the same biological reaction for everyone, etc)? Or is how we experience love overwhelmingly affected by external /cultural factors? Are some people “hardwired” to fall in love easily –at least more so than others?

  14. Before Sunrise (1995) is a film about two people who meet on a train, make a connection, and decided to get off in Vienna together. The movie is essentially one conversation over the course of 24 hours. The two actors co-wrote the movie script that is defined by a minimalist, slow plot. If that wasn’t enough the sequel was directed and set 10 years later. In Before Sunset (2004) they meet again in Paris and spend another day together. The two films show how the same love between two people can change as we grow older. This movie plot brings me to a question I have always wondered about love: Do people love better the older they get? I would also like to ask whether or not we first have to love ourselves before we can love other people? Also how do the wonders of being in love impact self control and attention blindness?

  15. My favorite love poem is a song: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. It is an honest ballad about the search for love amidst the discovery of its imperfection. Much like love, its beauty lies in its abundance of contradictions; fear and faith, anxiety and ambition, frustration and triumph.

    My first question regards divorce rates. The numbers are staggering — roughly half of marriages end in divorce. Why is this? Should we be disturbed by this trend? And what do such high divorce rates say about societies evolving perception of love?

    Secondly, a question regarding college culture — and especially the Duke culture. Why is “hooking up” so prevalent? Is this an unhealthy trend that reveals larger problems with the culture at Duke or is it natural? And finally, to what extent does the hook up culture have an impact on — or reflect — ones self-esteem, and happiness?

  16. Favorite movie(s) about love: The Princess Bride, Love Actually

    Is the “When Harry Met Sally” theory true — that is, can men and women ever be just friends? Does “friends with benefits” work? Can exes be friends?

  17. I’m also going to go with a favorite song about love- “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. One of my favorite songs of all time with some interesting metaphors about love.

    -What is the most efficient way to get over an ex? Is the “rebound” an effective or ineffective strategy?
    -Do you believe in soul mates? Why or why not?
    -Can exes ever be friends?

  18. I) Favorite love stories/poems:
    -“Love one another” by Khalil Gibran
    -“Sonnet 116” by Shakespeare
    -“Fix You” by Coldplay, a song which deals with comforting a loved one in the face of loss and despair.

    II) There seems to be, in some way or another, a biological tension at the heart of sexual relationships. Man is wired to procreate prolifically, to spread his genes wherever possible. On the other side, women bear greater responsibility in sexual relationships, most fundamentally because they will see 9 months of pregnancy through, and thus are more commitment focused. (Obviously there exist exceptions to these rules, but evidence suggest that they generally hold). How can we deal with this conflict, especially given the vast emotional and societal components of love that exist beyond its simple biological impulses?

    How has removing the child bearing/rearing consequences of sex (via birth control) changed sexual dynamics in contemporary society? How will it continue to change it?

    In light of what we know about humans, human relationships, and their biological impulses that underly sexual desire, how, if at all, can we make the institution of marriage work better?

    What separates the relationships that remain solid after the passionate, “honeymoon” phase wears off, and those that break down and eventually fail?

  19. Favorite movie about love? I’m going to have to go with “500 days of summer.” From IMDB: “An offbeat romantic comedy about a woman who doesn’t believe true love exists, and the young man who falls for her.” Phenomenal film – I highly recommend it.

    Questions about dating and romance:
    1) I remember in health class my senior year of high school our teacher gave a lecture about four types of love. One of them was “Addictive Love” which is a more extreme version of co-dependency. It describes how a couple can be so addicted and absorbed by their relationship that they treat each other poorly without realizing it. What is the verdict on love addiction? Can people truly love each other so much that they end up victimizing one another or isolating themselves? Is there psychological research on this phenomenon?

    2) What is the deal with public display of affection? The phrase “Get a room” doesn’t get through to some people at Duke. Are they truly so magnetized to one another that they can’t resist being affectionate? Or do couples simply do this for attention? Is it more common among younger couples? Let’s talk PDA!

    3) What’s the secret to a girls heart on Valentine’s day?

  20. (I) Wedding Crashers

    Is playing hard to get a legitimate strategy for getting someone to be interested in you? Does it create a misguided understanding of feelings? Does it create a lack of trust?
    Conversely, is being too available unattractive? Does it not allow people to give you a real chance because it hinders the game (makes it too easy)?

    Is it bad to be a ‘tease’? What are the pros/cons from both perspectives?

    Sometimes when guys cheat, people justify it with “He couldn’t control himself because he’s a guy.” Is it true hormonally/biologically that some boys actually cannot control themselves, or do they just choose not to?

  21. (I) Wedding Crashers. Not only favorite romcom, but favorite contemporary film.

    Are there biological differences that influence the way men and women feel about sex or are the societally perpetuated differences primarily of cultural origin?

    How much do familial relationships influence romantic relationships?

  22. (1) The English major part of me is a sucker for the tragic romance of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. This clip (starting at 5:00) is the introduction to the couple in the movie Sylvia. The two lovebirds aren’t at each other’s throats yet (though apparently, ears aren’t off limits to Sylvia!):

    When reading the introduction to The Book of Love by Professor Davidson, I was particularly struck by her characterization of the love letter as a “performance.” Part of what draws me to the love story of Plath and Hughes is the artfulness of their love, which played out in their poems and journals through beautiful and piercing words. Love, even when it ends tragically, can have an aesthetic quality with strong emotional effects on not just the two in love, but also on readers and other observers.

    Perhaps the aesthetics of literary love are what drew me to the love letter from Pablo Neruda to his wife, Matilde Urrutia, in Professor Davidson’s book. The poet’s description of how he wrote his sonnets for Matilde is as vivid and touching as the sonnets themselves:

    “I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears. … I built up these lumber piles of love, and with fourteen boards each I built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them.”

    The poet’s imagery is simple, and all the more poignant for its simplicity. Anyone can build something out of wood, but Neruda builds “lumber piles of love” that turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, the unique, the precious.

    (2) According to Einstein, “Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” Well, if it’s not gravitation, then how do we explain the phenomenon of “falling in love”? From the perspective of social science and your own experience, what causes two people to fall for each other? Specifically, I’m interested in the extent to which the fall is predetermined by laws—apparently not gravity, but perhaps genetics or social norms—and the extent to which it depends on environmental factors or chance occurrences.

    In his New York Times article on the recent deterioration of courtship rituals, Alex Williams blames social media and our “hookup culture” for “leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.” Well, if we’re doing dating wrong, then how to do it right? Using findings from social science about how people fall in love, could you design the perfect date?

  23. 1) A recent movie that truly affected me and made me think about what love actually is, was Amour by Michael Haneke. Favorite love song La Boheme by Charles Aznavour and favorite love poem is Your Beauty is Utterly Worthless by Asik Veysel.

    2) What is the difference between the people that we fall in love with from the people that we don’t? What makes us choose that single person from other possibilities?
    What is love? Is the immediate attraction at first sight or the sustained intimacy?
    Is love emotional or rational? Is the thing we call love actually simply a un/conscious mechanism of estimating what is good for us vs what is not?
    Does everyone fall in love?
    Can long-distance relationships work?

  24. I
    Favorite show with love themes:
    Game of Thrones, the whole dynamic of the plot is based around forbidden love.

    Along the same lines, is any love forbidden? Even among siblings?
    What can you tell us about the scientific reasoning explaining homosexuality?

  25. 1) Some of my favorite love stories in movies are 500 Days of Summer and Shakespeare in Love, both of which are incredible movies that do not require the accompaniment of dates to view. 500 Days of Summer is a somewhat sad movie that tells it like it is: sometimes the guy does not get the girl (even if the guy is Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Shakespeare in Love details the classic plot of, guy meets girl, they both fall in love, they break up over a misunderstanding/extraneous circumstances, then they get back together. Oh, and Jim and Pam’s relationship in The Office is fantastic.

    2) Is love a universal language? Or does “love” mean different things in different cultures?
    How long does it typically take to “fall in love” with someone? 5 months? 2 years? Ever?
    Does “love at first sight” actually happen? Or is it just lust at first sight?
    Is there always a “reacher” and a “settler” in every relationship?
    Is the hook-up culture at Duke a good thing? Or is it further breeding a culture that allows promiscuity, cheating, and divorce?

  26. Favorite Movies about love: Moulin Rouge, Love Actually
    Favorite Books: Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice

    1) To what extent does intellect play a role in love? Do people with similar levels of intelligence tend to fall in love? Is a similar level of intelligence necessary to sustain love?
    2) Can best friends fall in love? Can men and women ever really be just friends?
    3) How do introverts and extraverts differ in their approach to love? What are the nuances of relationships between two introverts v. two extraverts v. introvert/extravert ?
    4) Do first loves really never go away? Does losing your virginity to someone create a unique sense of attachment?

  27. 1) Orpheus and Eurydice

    2) What makes love fade? Why do we need the doctrine of marriage to bind a union if love can truly be sustained through many decades? Some people argue that the loss of faith in marriage predicts an increase of entropy in our society. Is marriage as the basic societal unit necessary to maintain order and to promote morality?

    3) What are the social and political reasons that polygamy, once an accepted norm of many cultures, has become taboo? Furthermore, why are there far more historical and cultural instances of polygamy than polyandry even in areas with skewed gender ratios?

  28. 1. Suggest a favorite love story, love poem, or movie where love, passion, romance, or heartbreak are central themes;
    a. The Notebook
    2. Ask a question or two about love that we can use for our class discussion and our on-camera open discussion on February 4.
    a. Is the amount of attachment between two partners in a relationship correlated to how long it takes for the partners to get over each other if they break up?
    b. Who typically takes longer to “get over” break ups? Women or men?
    c. Does cohabitation make couples more or less likely to get married or get divorced if the relationship proceeds into marriage?

  29. Favorite Romantic Book/Movie: Never Let Me Go

    Is the idea of fate romantic? Do we fall in love because of choice, or because of coincidence?
    Is it chemically/ biologically possible to stay in love forever?

  30. (1) Suggest a favorite love story, love poem, or movie where love, passion, romance, or heartbreak are central themes;
    – I think what resonates with me more so than passion and romance types of love is the ‘love’ shown in Toy Story among the other toys and to Andy.
    – Also, in Up, that one montage of the two people’s lives is so moving.

    A more love-y film would be Love, Actually.

    – My favorite poem about love, however, would be Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I love Thee?”
    I love the imagery that the poet goes into in describing her love.

    (2) Ask a question or two about love that we can use for our class discussion and our on-camera open discussion on February 4.

    – Can you tell early on if there will be a ‘chemistry’ between two people?
    – Is there any correlation between
    – When people break up and get back together constantly, is there anything wrong in the relationship (other than people judging them)?

    I know I posted late and this video is quite long, but I think this video describes the process of a relationship rather well:

    In the video, it shows that the relationship started breaking off after “comfortable.” What can be done to keep a healthy relationship after this stage?

    – Can long distance work? If so, how?

  31. Favorite movie: Shallow Hal

    Questions: -Why are men typically labeled more unfaithful than women?
    -What is the most common turn-off to men? and women?
    -Does distance truly strengthen a relationship?

  32. 1) Book: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept
    2) -Is monogamy a biological tendency, or is it a social construction? Are there fundamental differences in the nature or strength of this tendency between men and women?

    -What makes people stay in dysfunctional relationships? Is it the renewed passion that comes with the drama of separating and reuniting?

    -In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “We hurt people that love us, Love people that hurt us.” Why is this? What is the nature and cause of unrequited love?

  33. Maintenant, je suis le seul a seul dans mon cercle d’amis qui fonctionne en utilisant, nous sommes bizarre? LoL

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