Some people go over-the-top for Valentine’s Day, showering their loved ones with candy and roses. Others bemoan Valentine’s Day as the ultimate Hallmark holiday. Wherever you stand on this spectrum — as Cupid pulls back his bow this week — it’s hard not to think about your own relationship or lack thereof. It’s a question deeply embedded in all our minds: what, exactly, does it mean to love in our technology-soaked era?Helen Fisher: The brain in love
Inspired by Helen Fisher’s classic TED Talk, “The brain in love,” we invited three speakers with big ideas on relationships, sex and family to our New York office for a TED@250 salon, part of a program to tackle timely topics. Love was certainly in the air.
After a screening of the incredibly sweet office-romance film “Post-It Love,” Christian Rudder stepped to the stage. The co-founder and editorial director of OKCupid, Rudder set out to parse some of the data pouring into the site at all times from its users. For example, Rudder shared that when a man on the site writes a woman without any previous interaction, he has a 25% chance of getting a response from her. Meanwhile, women cold-writing men through the site have a 40% chance of a reply. Rudder shared another interesting tidbit — that half of responses are sent to a message are sent with seven hours. As Rudder put it to a big laugh, “Seven hours is basically the half-life of your hopes and dreams.”
But Rudder shared an inspiring bit of news. Every day, 500 people deactivate their OKCupid profiles because they met someone through the site. “All it takes is one,” says Rudder. This sentiment was echoed in the ahhhh-worthy Google video, “Parisian Love,” which tells a moving love story via search.
Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible and the new book The Secrets of Happy Families, stepped up next to share the surprising thing that has revolutionized his family life: agile programming. A method of software development, agile breaks down large projects into small, do-able bits — allowing people throughout the process to give feedback as they go. Agile was developed in opposition to the “waterfall method,” where people in charge determine the flow of the project and people inside the process have no input.
Applying this to a family means creating detailed daily checklists. “You can’t underestimate the power of making a checkmark,” says Feiler. “It works in offices and it works with kids.” Agile in the home also involves having weekly meetings to talk about what went well over the course of seven days and what needs improvement. And Feiler reveals a surprising fact about his twin 8-year-olds: that they’re able to pick their own punishments and they generally give themselves harsher ones than their parents would have picked.
Finally, we heard from Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, who spoke about keeping passion in long-term relationships now that human beings “live twice as long” as we used to. Perel nailed the basic challenge of modern relationships — that, on the one hand, they must satisfy our deep-seated need for security, dependability and permanence while at the same time meeting our equally strong need for adventure, mystery and the unexpected.
“Can we want what we already have?” Perel asked. The answer is yes. But because Perel sees desire as the space between the self and the other, she reveals that this can be achieved in some counter-intuitive ways — in part by being more selfish and savoring moments of absence. Her thoughts were truly surprising and inspiring.
Stay tuned for these great talks on TED.com and the TED Blog in the upcoming weeks. And a special thanks to Built It Green, who donated the wood for the beautiful backdrop you see in these images.
Photos by Cloe Shasha