“A guy knows he’s in love when he loses interest in his car for a couple of days.”
What fools indeed we morals are
To lavish care upon a Car,
With ne’er a bit of time to see
About our own machinery!
–John Kendrick Bangs
Since we moved to downtown Fort Worth, I get a chance to see lots of different types of people when we go on our dog walks. Invariably, about once a week, I see someone who fits a perfect stereotype.
He (it has to be a he, right?) owns a convertible car. He’s usually single. He’s middle aged. Sometimes, there’s even a combover.
The car is spotless. There’s not a speck of dust. No bird dares, you know, drop a bomb on that car lest his life be immediately endangered. The last time the car saw a coat of wax was approximately 3 minutes, 48 seconds ago.
Occasionally, the car comes with a vanity license plate that says something like “MIDLYPH” or “304EVAR” or “THISISMYCARANDIKNOWYOUREJEALOUSANDYOUWANTTORIDEINIT
You can almost imagine how this guy spends his weekends. He spends at least 8 hours a weekend cleaning, waxing, polishing, and working on his car. He only buys premium gasoline. He buys kits for the car. He himself may live in a cardboard box, but it’s only the best for his car.
One place where he probably doesn’t spend time is with his wife or girlfriend. The only human interaction he gets is when he goes to the FancyPants Car Club meetings to be with his kindred spirits who really get what it’s like for him. There, he shares the latest tips about the newest, waxiest car polish he’s found.
He’s in love with his car.
You think I use hyperbole.
Recent research by Arizona State’s John Lastovicka and TCU’s Nancy Sirianni (hey, gotta support fellow Fort Worth folks!) shows that my story isn’t that far-fetched.
Their findings indicate that we share some of the same emotional bonds with objects as we do with people.
In other words, as they put it, we can experience material possession love.
We’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
Falling in Love With Stuff
According to Lastovicka and Sirianni, we experience three different scales of love. First, there’s passion – that hot, steamy infatuation where your heart beats six times as fast when you think about the object of your affection. Then, you actually get to know the private aspects of your object and experience intimacy. Finally, you can’t imagine ever living without your object of affection, and you have commitment.
There are some combinations of these feelings that yield different types of love:
- Intimacy + passion = romantic love
- Intimacy + commitment = companionate love
- Passion + commitment = fatuous love
- Passion + intimacy + commitment = endearing romantic love
If you’ve known a car lover or a gun lover or someone who was really into computers, you’ve probably seen these stages of love and of a relationship developing – well, at least, a one-way relationship developing. The car couldn’t care less who drives it, no matter how many times the owner calls it his “baby.”
What happens when we fall in love with an object?
To find out how we react to falling in love with an object, the researchers interviewed people who displayed their cars at car shows, people at shooting ranges, bicycle enthusiasts, and computer owners. These were some typical responses:
Researcher: You said before that you only changed the oil on this one, but not on the other cars [that you own]? Why is that?
Jerry: Well, that’s because this one is my baby. And I just don’t want anyone else touching her. I just don’t want anything screwed up. She has a special aftermarket oil filtration system with a reusable filter. Most shops just don’t have the patience to work on a mid-engined car and they don’t know what to do with a reusable stainless-steel oil filter. But I know her and I know how to do it right.
So, I bought my car when I was in high school, long before I met Candi here. . . . About 30 years, 33 years now. So, yeah, my heirs will sell it, but I’ll never sell it.
Love is in the air.
I may be flippant, but the impact of falling in love with an object can be very real.
It’s a cost in both time and money.
According to the research, people who were in romantic love with their cars spent six times more hours on their cars than the average person. Those in enduring romantic love spent six times more money on their cars than those who did not feel love at all for their cars, and three times as much as those who felt other, less intense forms of love for their cars. It was the same with other objects: gun owners in romantic love spent six times as much as those not in love; computer owners in companionate love spent twice as much money as those not in love; and bicycle owners in companionate love spent twice as much money as those not in love.
It’s not just car lovers.
Why do we fall in love?
All of the research on falling in love with material possessions leads to a one word conclusion about why people fall in love with objects:
When we don’t have someone to love, nurture, and cherish, then we turn to something.
If you’ve ever fallen in love, you’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops about how great she/he was. You tell all of your friends, your family, the dog, and anyone who will listen about how in love you are.
Most of your friends are really happy for you and want to listen, share in your joy, and meet the new object of your affection so that they can provide the third degree of questioning.
However, when you fall in love with an object, those closest to you probably won’t share the same level of appreciation that you do. They quickly tire of you talking about 380 brake horsepower, or 128 GB of DRAM, or the Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.
Soon, they revert back to the same lonely state because they have nobody to share the experience with.
That’s why word of mouth for objects of love is different than word of mouth for other things we share.
Know a great restaurant? You tell your friends. You’re happy with the restaurant, you want your friends to be happy, and Monkey Brain wants to be a little closer in the in-group by being that trusted source for information.
However, we can’t build up our street cred if nobody wants to listen.
That’s why there are Corvette owners groups.
The people who are in love with their Corvettes find other people who are also in love with their Corvettes. They share insider tips about motor oil, lubricants, and boring out pistons. They get to have their standings within the group increased when they share that special knowledge, and to have the special knowledge, they spend time and money to learn something that someone else doesn’t know.
Except, they’re missing one thing.
Those cars, guns, computers, and bikes don’t love them back.
It’s a one-way street, unrequited love.
As Florida State’s Roy Baumeister (whom we’ve seen before in “How Ego Depletion Allows Monkey Brain to Buy Junk”) and his colleagues researched, unrequited love creates a sense of frustration in the would-be lovers because of the inequity of emotions experienced. While one aspect of unrequited love – the inability to direct your feelings towards the object of your desire – is not there in the human → object love scenario, the object doesn’t love its lover back, creating unbalanced feelings, and eventual frustration and dissatisfaction.
If you’re in love with an object, you need to break the chain by having human interactions.
Using real, live people to combat loneliness
It’s important to have actual human interactions to break your dependency on an object to provide you with satisfaction (and to suck away your time and money). Furthermore, this needs to happen outside of work, as the relationships built at work are built for a purpose – to help you do your job better. You can have relationships with co-workers outside of work, too, but it has to be away from the workplace.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, you need to have a cue and a reward for your behavior. In this case, you need to have some sort of prompt to remind you to socialize – maybe an alarm on your phone or an e-mail reminder – and then, after you socialize, if the socialization itself isn’t reward on its own right (for introverts, it probably isn’t at first), you need a reward. This could be playing a game, watching a movie or a TV show, or, even, yes, spending time with the object of your love.
But, to make the habit stick, you need to do it, over and over, until the benefits of the habit become intrinsic, and the habit sticks.
According to Benjamin Gardner and Susanne Meisel of the University of Central London, it takes about 66 days to make a habit stick.
So, for two straight months, you need to socialize outside of work.
If you do that, you should find that your attachment to the (hopefully) former object of your affection will decrease, and your attachment to humans will increase.
You’ll be happier as a result, and so too may your checkbook.
Ever fallen in love with an object? Still love your car or computer or something else? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!