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Undressing for Success in the Bedroom

by Michael J. Russer

Here is one simple thing you can do that will tremendously enhance your lovemaking and bond for each other…

Undressing for Success

What I’m about to share with you has led to countless hours of exquisite lovemaking and a deeper emotional bond and appreciation between my partner and me. It is so ridiculously simple that it is probably the reason many couples have never even considered it as an intimate ritual that could make such a huge difference. I say this because we only stumbled upon it after a particularly playful episode one evening together. Since then it has become such a powerful component of our relationship that we use it every single time we are together…

Frenetic Disrobing

I suspect that most couples have experienced the lust-laced frantic ripping of each other’s clothes off in a moment of unbridled passion. Yes, it is exciting, breath-taking (literally) and usually very short-lived –as is the coitus that typically follows. This is a phase that eventually succumbs to a more subdued process of self-disrobing before any of the exciting stuff happens.

Part of what drives this frenzied first stage of sexual entanglement is the novelty of exploring each other as new lovers. Where expectation and arousal combine into a highly combustible mixture of erotic adventure, discovery and explosive release. Which can be incredibly exciting while it lasts. However, because its very foundation is based upon the newness of the relationship, it will eventually fade.

My Partner and I have been together for about three and a half years and enjoy an 001extraordinary intimate life that only gets better over time. This is a significant fact because most couples will likely admit that their initial honeymoon period represented the most exciting phase of their physical relationship. One of the reasons that ours continues to achieve new heights of passion and pleasurable fulfillment is that we are constantly exploring what is possible. And, we are always listening to our sensual intuition in this regard.

One intimate ritual we discovered quite by accident and in a spirit of playfulness is the way we undress each other. We do this before we make love, before we take a shower together, before retiring to bed with no thought of sex and as we change clothes our before we go out on the town. In other words, any time it is required that we need to get naked for any reason whatsoever we follow this ritual. And the payoff has been and continues to be enormous for the health and mutual enjoyment of our overall relationship.

Slow, Sensual and Present

We make a point of always being fully present any time we do anything together. This means ridding our minds of distraction, agendas, goals, expectations and simply being there for each other in the moment, the Now. It is within this very sensually fertile environment that we conduct our mutual disrobing ritual.

We usually start out facing each other practically nose-to-nose as we gaze into each other’s eyes in acknowledgement of our mutual love and appreciation. Then we typically start lightly stroking each other’s fully clothed bodies as if our hands needed to first get a lay of the land so-to-speak on what should come off first.

Where we start really doesn’t matter. What does make a difference however is that we slowly and sensually undress each other while in this state of full presence. We find that when we remove a piece of the other’s clothing (which happens simultaneously) and do it very slowly, it builds an enormous amount of sensual energy between us. Just the feel of a blouse or shirt slowly lifting off and lightly rubbing our skin as our Partner does it with full intention while they look longingly at what is being slowly revealed can be almost overwhelmingly powerful. And, that’s a potential trap if you are not careful or being fully present. That’s because this heightened state of arousal can easily devolve into the more frantic shedding which will definitely break the spell.

Once the first of our garments are removed we typically take a while to lightly caress and kiss each other in the exposed areas. This is accompanied by soft, gentle kissing where our lips are barely touching yet megawatts of sensual energy is passing between them. Then we continue the process of slow, thoughtful mutual undressing and caressing / kissing until we are standing together fully nude.

A very, very sexy variation of this that we often apply is when we look in a large mirror observing each other doing this. In these instances, our caressing is often more overtly sexually explorative and designed to ignite our sensual imaginations. Despite the fact that we’ve done this many times, it still gets me extremely hot just thinking about it as I write this.

Granted, not every couple may want to see each other naked in the glaring light of a brightly lit room. If this is the case, then consider turning down the lights or even off. Use your imagination, hands and lips as the tools of exploration as you go through this mutual undressing ritual. In either case, lights on or off, you will find this to be a deeply connecting experience that keeps things fresh (since each time is unique) and juicy.

What if You Don’t Want to have Sex?

Of course, this practically begs the question as to why a couple would bother with this ritual if they have no intention of following it up with sex. And my answer to that is “Why not?”. Consider this for a moment: If you and your partner could do something every time you are together that resulted in re-kindling passion, desire, love and appreciation for each other, why wouldn’t you?

I think women in particular appreciate this kind of sensual gift that doesn’t always have to lead to sex. And guys, this is an important point. It is not uncommon for women to hesitate kissing a long-term partner for fear that he may get the idea she wants sex when in fact she just wants to express love and affection.

002So imagine the impact to your relationship (no matter how many years you’ve been together) if you were to include this ritual even for reasons that did not always end up in having sex (i.e. getting dressed up to go out on the town). By doing so you build an enormous bank account of trust and appreciation within your Partner. And, you are both likely to enjoy each other far more when you do have physical intimacy. Trust me, that buildup of sensual energy lasts a long time. Now granted, this can be difficult to practice if you are always in a hurry. If that is the case, just plan ahead to set aside the time to do it right.

So here’s my challenge to you and your Partner. Incorporate this ritual for the next seven days any time you are both together and your clothes have to come off for any reason whatsoever. And then let me know what that did for your relationship by emailing me directly at contact@MichaelRusserLive.com. I would love to hear from you!

Nothing ventured, nothing gained –and believe me, there is a whole world of intimate adventure to be gained awaiting you both.

Complete Article HERE!

The Toxic Attraction Between An Empath And A Narcissist

by

toxic-relationship

We know that “narcissist” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, and some folks are quick to apply it to an ex-lover or family member or friend. While awareness of this concept is healthy, so is remembering that it is, in a mental health context, a serious condition that shouldn’t be applied to someone you’re mad at because they stole your mirror. ~ Eds. 

I am an empath. I discovered I was an empath after I got involved in a very deep and highly destructive relationship with a narcissist.

I am writing this article from the perspective of an empath, however, would love to read the view from the opposite side if there are any narcissists that would like to offer their perception on this.

Through writing about the empath personality type I have connected with many other people who class themselves as an empath and time and again I have heard people tell me how they have also attracted relationships with narcissists. There is a link. So, I decided to explore it further.

This is my theory…

From my own experience and studies on the narcissist personality type, there is always one core trait: A narcissist is wounded.

Something, somewhere along the line, usually stemming from childhood causes a person to feel worthless and unvalued and, due to this, they will constantly and very desperately seek validation.

Here comes the empath, the healer. An empath has the ability to sense and absorb other people’s pain and often takes it on as though it were their own. If an empath is not consciously aware of boundaries and does not understand how to protect themselves, they will very easily and very quickly bond with the narcissist in order to try to fix and repair any damage and attempt to eradicate all their pain.

What the empath fails to realise is that the narcissist is a taker. An energy sucker, a vampire so to speak. They will draw the life and soul out of anyone they come into contact with, given the chance. This is so that they can build up their own reserves and, in doing so, they can use the imbalance to their advantage.

This dynamic will confuse and debilitate an empath, as if they do not have a full understanding of their own or other people’s capabilities, they will fail to see that not everyone is like them. An empath will always put themselves into other people’s shoes and experience the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others, while forgetting that other people may have an agenda very different to their own and that not everyone is sincere.

The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.

The more powerful the narcissist becomes, the more likely the empath will retreat into a victim status. Then, there is a very big change—the empath will take on narcissistic traits as they too become wounded and are constantly triggered by the damage being in the company with a narcissist creates. Before long, an extremely vicious circle has begun to swirl.

When a narcissist sees that an empath is wounded they will play on this and the main intention will be to keep the empath down. The lower down an empath becomes, the higher a narcissist will feel. An empath will begin to frantically seek love, validation, confirmation and acceptance from a narcissist and each cry for help as such will affirm to the narcissist what they are desperate to feel inside—worthy. A bitter battle can ensue.

As an empath focuses solely on their pain, trauma and the destruction of their lives, they become self-obsessed and fail to see where the damage is coming from. Instead of looking outwards and seeing what is causing it, the empath will turn everything inward and blame themselves.

An empath at this stage must realise the situation they are in and wake up to it, as anyone who is deeply in pain and has been hurt can then become a narcissist themselves as they turn their focus onto their own pain and look for others to make them feel okay again.

Any attempt to communicate authentically with the narcissist will be futile as they will certainly not be looking to soothe and heal anyone else. Not only this, they are extremely charismatic and manipulative and have a powerful way of turning everything away from themselves and onto others. A narcissist will blame their own pain on an empath, plus they will also make sure the empath feels responsible for the pain they too are suffering.

An empath will know that they are in a destructive relationship by this stage and will feel so insecure, unloved and unworthy and it can be easy to blame all of their destruction onto the narcissist.

However, an empath should not be looking to blame anyone else. An empath has a choice, to remain the victim, a pawn in the narcissists game or to garner all strength they can muster and find a way out.

Emotionally exhausted, lost, depleted and debilitated an empath will struggle to understand what has happened to the once loving, attentive and charismatic person they were attracted to.

However we allow ourselves to be treated is a result of our own choices. If an empath chooses to stay in a relationship with a narcissist and refuses to take responsibility for the dynamic, they are choosing at some level what they believe they are worth on the inside. An empath cannot let their self-worth be determined by a narcissist. It is imperative they trust and believe in themselves enough to recognise that they are not deserving of the words and actions the narcissist delivers and to look for an escape.

In an empath’s eyes, all they searched and looked for was someone to take care of and love and to ultimately fix.” That is where the trouble began and that is the most profound part of this that an empath must realise.

We are not here to fix anyone. We cannot fix anyone. Everyone is responsible for and capable of fixing themselves, but only if they so choose to.

The more an empath can learn about the personality of a narcissist the sooner they will spot one and the less chance they have of developing a relationship with one. If a relationship is already underway, it is never too late to seek help, seek understanding and knowledge and to dig deep into one’s soul and recognise our own strengths and capabilities and do everything we can to build the courage and confidence to see it for what it is and walk away—for good.

The chance of a narcissist changing is highly unlikely, so we shouldn’t stick around waiting for it to happen. If a narcissist wants to change, then great, but it should never happen at the expense of anyone else. They are not consciously aware of their behaviour and the damage it causes and in their game they will sacrifice anyone and anything for their own gain—regardless of what pretty lies and sweet nothings they try to whisper.

An empath is authentic and is desperate to live true to their soul’s purpose and will very likely find the whole relationship a huge lesson, a dodged bullet and painfully awakening.

A narcissist will struggle to have any connection to their authentic self and will likely walk away from the relationship very easily once they realise they have lost their ability to control the empath. The game is no longer pleasurable if they are not having their ego constantly stroked, so they will seek out their next victim.

The ability for these two types to bond is quite simply impossible. The narcissist’s heart is closed, an empath’s is open—it is nothing short of a recipe for a huge disaster, and not a beautiful one.

Complete Article HERE!

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch

Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.

Touch Isolation

By Mark Green

“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…What do boys learn when they do not see men with close friendships, where there are no visible models of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?” -Kindlon and Thompson, Raising Cain
(With thanks to BRETT & KATE MCKAY)

Recently I wrote an article titled The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer in which I asked people to consider the following:

American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives. I’ll call it touch isolation. Homophobic social stigmas, the  long-standing challenges of rampant sexual abuse, and a society steeped in a generations old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days or weeks at a time without touching another human being. The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is lasting and meant to provide connection and comfort. Think, leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

Touch Isolation2While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt. Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as cry babies.

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay for an article they titled: Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

The McKays note in their article the following observation:

But at the turn of the 20th century, … Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images.  You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put ten people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in his article, Escape the “Act Like a Man” Box. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.

“As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society.”

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support gay marriage initiatives. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

Recently, when visiting my 87 year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair. Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show fifty years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial. I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed/obsessed American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

Price of Intimacy: The Time I Hired a Sex Worker

“Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll.”

By Andrew Gurza

learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair

I’d never considered the price of intimacy until I hired a sex worker. Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll. Even so, I didn’t come to my decision lightly. I was worried about shame, stigma, and fear, and concerned I’d pay for time and still not get what I needed. I spent weeks quieting the voices in my head telling me that using the services of a sex worker was not a good idea. Would this be the only way I could find intimacy? Would someone even want to do this with me, or would he only view it as a charitable opportunity to help a cripple? Despite all these questions, I sat in my apartment reflecting on my nearly year-long celibacy. It was time to take care of myself.

After scouring site after site with rows and rows of horny men holding their hard-ons, I found David. His smile was warm, inviting, and intriguingly devious all at once. He was older than me, in his mid-40s, and his photos showed off a powerful body, a strong charisma, and an undeniable charm. I’d often felt physically invisible within the mainstream LGBT community, but David possessed everything I longed for.

I sent David a cursory email, telling him that I was interested in using his services, but that I had never done this before, that I was nervous. I also casually explained as best I could that I lived with a disability and used a chair. He emailed back some hours later, letting me know that he had experience working with clients with disabilities. David wrote bluntly: “If I’m unsure of something, I’ll just ask.” It was a refreshing change from all the guys who tripped and tumbled over their discomfort.

We ironed out the logistics—a time, a location, a fee. Knowing that my sexuality would be broken down into a succinct session was daunting, and it took away from the fantasy and spontaneity I had dreamed of. But this, perhaps, was the cost of getting what I wanted, what I needed. David gently reminded me that I was paying for his time, and whatever happened happened. On our very last exchange, just a day before we’d meet, he called and asked me a simple question, though one I have never been asked before: “What do you want?”

Shyly and nervously I outlined my likes and dislikes as well as my abilities. I wanted kissing. I craved body contact. I couldn’t bottom for him because of my spasticity and tight muscles. I’d need help undressing and being put in bed. I paused, smiled. My needs were at the forefront.

On a rainy, blustery Saturday afternoon, my iPhone blinked with the message that David was in my lobby. I looked at myself in the mirror: a long-sleeve shirt, cozy winter sweats, a baseball cap. I headed downstairs in the elevator. When the door opened, I recognized him immediately. “Hey there! How are you?” he said, giving me a big hug as if we were long-lost friends. I kept watching him, in part because I still couldn’t believe this was happening, and because he looked really good in those tight blue jeans and that leather jacket.

A sexy man was in my house. We made small talk, waiting for someone to strike. He led himself into my bedroom and asked me about the transfer device I use to get into bed. I told him he would have to lift my legs while I held on to two gymnastic rings fastened to a hydraulic lift in my ceiling. I continued babbling, watching him get closer to me, taking off his coat, revealing a tank top and thick, muscled arms. He then straddled my chair, bent down, and kissed me. As I reached and pawed at him—my limbs flailing, not wanting to miss an inch—he stopped me. He looked into my eyes, past the rejection and pain caused by other lovers, and spoke with a firm honesty. “It’s OK.”

David drank in my disability and I dared not stop him. He lifted me out of my chair and held me in his arms. He grabbed me, cradled me, and kissed me. I curled up into him so he could feel the scars, curves, rods, and contractures that inform my disability. I felt sexy. He took off my shirt, and together we revealed my skin. As he moved down my body, and took off my pants and shoes, I worried what he would do when he saw my leg bag and my toes, which curled into each other. But David made this act of care exciting and real for me. When I was finally naked with him on the bed—my body going into spastic fits as a result of CP—I started to tense even more as I neared climax. In a piercing moment of release, I felt my two identities collide: queer and crippled came together in a surge of pure, uncomplicated pleasure.

The afterglow was setting in as David lay beside me. He held me tight and kissed my forehead. He told me that I was handsome, and as I looked at his arms wrapped around my spindly legs, I felt he meant it. Moments passed and he placed me in my chair, planting one last soft kiss on my lips before ending our session and saying goodbye. As I sat alone, my adrenaline became diluted by a calming bliss. I could not shame this experience because it marked a passage greater than a fleeting carnal exchange. It was the start of my own physical assertion. I would not settle for an affectionless existence, and I had to strive to honor what I wanted as a seated, but sexually alive, man. I finally had someone see me, and regardless of the cost, I finally showed myself to someone else.

Complete Article HERE!

There’s No Such Thing as Everlasting Love (According to Science)

Just in time for Valentine’s day!

A new book argues that the emotion happens in “micro-moments of positivity resonance.”

love story

By Emily Esfahani Smith

In her new book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson offers a radically new conception of love.

Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.

Rather, it is what she calls a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in “It’s a Wonderful World” when he sang, “I see friends shaking hands, sayin ‘how do you do?’ / They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.'”

sad on valentine's day

Fredrickson’s unconventional ideas are important to think about at this time of year. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many Americans are facing a grim reality: They are love-starved. Rates of loneliness are on the rise as social supports are disintegrating. In 1985, when the General Social Survey polled Americans on the number of confidants they have in their lives, the most common response was three. In 2004, when the survey was given again, the most common response was zero.

According to the University of Chicago’s John Cacioppo, an expert on loneliness, and his co-author William Patrick, “at any given time, roughly 20 percent of individuals—that would be 60 million people in the U.S. alone—feel sufficiently isolated for it to be a major source of unhappiness in their lives.” For older Americans, that number is closer to 35 percent. At the same time, rates of depression have been on the rise. In his 2011 book Flourish, the psychologist Martin Seligman notes that according to some estimates, depression is 10 times more prevalent now than it was five decades ago. Depression affects about 10 percent of the American population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A global poll taken last Valentine’s Day showed that most married people—or those with a significant other—list their romantic partner as the greatest source of happiness in their lives. According to the same poll, nearly half of all single people are looking for a romantic partner, saying that finding a special person to love would contribute greatly to their happiness.

But to Fredrickson, these numbers reveal a “worldwide collapse of imagination,” as she writes in her book. “Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person—as it appears most on earth do—surely limits the health and happiness you derive” from love.

“My conception of love,” she tells me, “gives hope to people who are single or divorced or widowed this Valentine’s Day to find smaller ways to experience love.”

Vincent Valentine RIDEHARD

You have to physically be with the person to experience the micro-moment. For example, if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.

To understand why, it’s important to see how love works biologically. Like all emotions, love has a biochemical and physiological component. But unlike some of the other positive emotions, like joy or happiness, love cannot be kindled individually—it only exists in the physical connection between two people. Specifically, there are three players in the biological love system—mirror neurons, oxytocin, and vagal tone. Each involves connection and each contributes to those micro-moment of positivity resonance that Fredrickson calls love.

When you experience love, your brain mirrors the person’s you are connecting with in a special way. Pioneering research by Princeton University’s Uri Hasson shows what happens inside the brains of two people who connect in conversation. Because brains are scanned inside of noisy fMRI machines, where carrying on a conversation is nearly impossible, Hasson’s team had his subjects mimic a natural conversation in an ingenious way. They recorded a young woman telling a lively, long, and circuitous story about her high school prom. Then, they played the recording for the participants in the study, who were listening to it as their brains were being scanned. Next, the researchers asked each participant to recreate the story so they, the researchers, could determine who was listening well and who was not. Good listeners, the logic goes, would probably be the ones who clicked in a natural conversation with the story-teller.

001

What they found was remarkable. In some cases, the brain patterns of the listener mirrored those of the storyteller after a short time gap. The listener needed time to process the story after all. In other cases, the brain activity was almost perfectly synchronized; there was no time lag at all between the speaker and the listener. But in some rare cases, if the listener was particularly tuned in to the story—if he was hanging on to every word of the story and really got it—his brain activity actually anticipated the story-teller’s in some cortical areas.

The mutual understanding and shared emotions, especially in that third category of listener, generated a micro-moment of love, which “is a single act, performed by two brains,” as Fredrickson writes in her book.

valentine

Oxytocin, the so-called love and cuddle hormone, facilitates these moments of shared intimacy and is part of the mammalian “calm-and-connect” system (as opposed to the more stressful “fight-or-flight” system that closes us off to others). The hormone, which is released in huge quantities during sex, and in lesser amounts during other moments of intimate connection, works by making people feel more trusting and open to connection. This is the hormone of attachment and bonding that spikes during micro-moments of love. Researchers have found, for instance, that when a parent acts affectionately with his or her infant—through micro-moments of love like making eye contact, smiling, hugging, and playing—oxytocin levels in both the parent and the child rise in sync.

The final player is the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to your heart and subtly but sophisticatedly allows you to meaningfully experience love. As Fredrickson explains in her book, “Your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the miniscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track her voice against any background noise.”

The vagus nerve’s potential for love can actually be measured by examining a person’s heart rate in association with his breathing rate, what’s called “vagal tone.” Having a high vagal tone is good: People who have a high “vagal tone” can regulate their biological processes like their glucose levels better; they have more control over their emotions, behavior, and attention; they are socially adept and can kindle more positive connections with others; and, most importantly, they are more loving. In research from her lab, Fredrickson found that people with high vagal tone report more experiences of love in their days than those with a lower vagal tone.

Historically, vagal tone was considered stable from person to person. You either had a high one or you didn’t; you either had a high potential for love or you didn’t. Fredrickson’s recent research has debunked that notion.valentine's_pose

In a 2010 study from her lab, Fredrickson randomly assigned half of her participants to a “love” condition and half to a control condition. In the love condition, participants devoted about one hour of their weeks for several months to the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation. In loving-kindness meditation, you sit in silence for a period of time and cultivate feelings of tenderness, warmth, and compassion for another person by repeating a series of phrases to yourself wishing them love, peace, strength, and general well-being. Ultimately, the practice helps people step outside of themselves and become more aware of other people and their needs, desires, and struggles—something that can be difficult to do in our hyper individualistic culture.

Fredrickson measured the participants’ vagal tone before and after the intervention. The results were so powerful that she was invited to present them before the Dalai Lama himself in 2010. Fredrickson and her team found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, people could significantly increase their vagal tone by self-generating love through loving-kindness meditation. Since vagal tone mediates social connections and bonds, people whose vagal tones increased were suddenly capable of experiencing more micro-moments of love in their days. Beyond that, their growing capacity to love more will translate into health benefits given that high vagal tone is associated with lowered risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Fredrickson likes to call love a nutrient. If you are getting enough of the nutrient, then the health benefits of love can dramatically alter your biochemistry in ways that perpetuate more micro-moments of love in your life, and which ultimately contribute to your health, well-being, and longevity.

Fredrickson’s ideas about love are not exactly the stuff of romantic comedies. Describing love as a “micro-moment of positivity resonance” seems like a buzz-kill. But if love now seems less glamorous and mysterious then you thought it was, then good. Part of Fredrickson’s project is to lower cultural expectations about love—expectations that are so misguidedly high today that they have inflated love into something that it isn’t, and into something that no sane person could actually experience.

Jonathan Haidt, another psychologist, calls these unrealistic expectations “the love myth” in his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis:

True love is passionate love that never fades; if you are in true love, you should marry that person; if love ends, you should leave that person because it was not true love; and if you can find the right person, you will have true love forever. You might not believe this myth yourself, particularly if you are older than thirty; but many young people in Western nations are raised on it, and it acts as an ideal that they unconsciously carry with them even if they scoff at it… But if true love is defined as eternal passion, it is biologically impossible.

Love 2.0 is, by contrast, far humbler. Fredrickson tells me, “I love the idea that it lowers the bar of love. If you don’t have a Valentine, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have love. It puts love much more in our reach everyday regardless of our relationship status.”

Lonely people who are looking for love are making a mistake if they are sitting around and waiting for love in the form of the “love myth” to take hold of them. If they instead sought out love in little moments of connection that we all experience many times a day, perhaps their loneliness would begin to subside.

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