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    • My son is going through a tough break-up. We talked for quite awhile last night as he tried to figure out what went wrong. He dredged up memories of her various odd responses, refusals to act, destructive habits, etc. as he was sifting through the last 18 months trying to understand the relationship from a new distance of time and space. It got me thinking...

      This morning, I did some cursory research (I googled) and found that there are some new psychological studies relative to a person’s capacity to love (CTL). Very interesting. (In my six decades, I’ve come to realize that some people just don’t *have* a capacity to love...) These studies are showing the CTL may be an indicator of certain mental illnesses, too. Hmmmm.

      Is it crazy to hope that somehow some new online dating site might grab hold of these assessment tools and integrate them into their algorithms so that each person’s CTL score shows up next to their profile? Ha. That would be a huge leap forward...!

      Here’s a recent very scientific-y paper on a CTL study:

    • Part of the problem is that our society has confused the ultimate degree of liking someone or receiving pleasure from someone with Love. When we no longer know what love means, we lose the concept of Love.

      When a parent wakes up at 3:00 in the morning and discovers that there small child is critically ill, the parent's concern is not motivated primarily by liking the child but hopefully by a fervent self-sacrificial desire for what is best for that child.

      Self centeredness is detrimental to loving someone else. It is often possible to see true love when someone is bed ridden or dying. The one who loves that person will drop everything else that they can drop without getting in trouble to focus on caring for the one who is loved. There is nothing of benefit to the caregiver. In fact, some caregivers have their own health break down because the caregiver is not centered on self but on the one who is loved.

      True love even loves the unlikeable. Sometimes a parent becomes disappointed in one of their children's life choices. The parent may not even find the child likeable anymore. Yet the parent may still be seeking the long term benefit for that child because of Love.

      Love sometimes requires will power and resolve in order to keep on loving.

    • ^Good points, all.

      The CTL researchers recognize three *types* of love: parent-to-child, child-to-parent, and peer-to-peer. They say the most meaningful romantic relationships exhibit all three types of love. You don’t have to be a parent to care for a loved one in a parental way. You don’t have to be a child to care for a loved one in a childlike way.

    • Is it crazy to hope that somehow some new online dating site might grab hold of these assessment tools and integrate them into their algorithms so that each person’s CTL score shows up next to their profile? Ha. That would be a huge leap forward...!

      That sounds like something out of Black Mirror to me--no thanks. What evidence is there that these metrics are predictive or reliable? Sorry @lidja but my skeptic alarms are sounding.

      Edit: I wrote the above before reading the paper cited, and I apologize for that--I should know better, However, reading the paper reminded me of why I decided not to pursue social science as a career. The study only validated one metric against other metrics but did nothing to objectively record how the subjects were actually behaving in the real world. There may actually be something like CTL, but I'm not convinced it can be put on a scale and measured. Sorry, still skeptical.

    • Richard, I, too, am skeptical. Since it is a self-reporting assessment, of course it could (and would) be gamed. But what a boon if one could actually learn another’s capacity to love before spending 18 months in a relationship that was doomed to fail from the beginning! Wishful thinking, I suppose...

    • I got extremely lucky and married a woman with a huge capacity to love and that has made all the difference. Through mental illnesses, divorces and hurt feelings on both sides of our families, her capacity to love has made all the difference.

      The exception is squirrels. They eat our apples and she can't forgive them.

    • That's a little like saying it would be nice to know the future, which is true but not possible. I'm not really sure of this, but I suspect that a capacity to love may be highly dependent on the dynamics of a specific relationship, not something that is just a property of an individual. If this is true, then the metric would need to answer the question, "can this person love me?" not "is this person capable of love?" That doubles the uncertainty of the metric, which I think is dubious to begin with. While it may be true that some people are incapable of loving anyone, I suspect that would be a consequence of other pathologies, not a basic, independent property. I could be wrong about that, of course. The paper cited showed correlations of CTL with other metrics of pathology, but this does not say anything about causation. And it certainly doesn't say anything about people who are not suffering from mental illness.

    • Capacity to Love and seems to me these are the two separate things. My son’s 18 month relationship started based on a mutual attraction, but could not sustain itself on that for very long—eventually, the vast difference in CTL became painfully obvious and eventually led to a break up.

      At first, I thought the researchers may be trying to measure degrees of *compassion*, although compassion isn’t really what a child feels toward a parent, so that’s not quite right... The way researchers have framed this study implies that we each have a unique but finite ability (capacity) to love. That sort of changes the way we might judge one another, doesn’t it?

      I have four adult children. They each appear to have different capacities to love. I am puzzled by the one who seems to have very little capacity - I’ll call that person Les for purposes of discussion. The nurturing through childhood was similar for each child, and yet Les seems not to have developed a degree of capacity that siblings did. That’s a challenge for all of us, including Les. Siblings interpret the absence of capacity as selfishness, or ‘being spoiled,” but upon closer examination, that’s not quite right. Les is not exactly selfish—it seems more like Les doesn’t have the same “compassion- bandwidth” as the others. Interestingly, Les has chosen a very intellectually demanding career field where incidentally, low CTL may actually be a personal advantage.

      IMHO, Les’ spouse is similarly limited in CTL. This makes it easier for them to understand each other and agree on priorities, but it has a deep impact on their child, who seems to have an inordinately large CTL. I wonder how the parents’ limited capacity to love will impact the child’s development. Other family members with a larger capacity to love are innately aware of this inconguence and can’t help but step in and compensate whenever there is an opportunity.

      I guess one of the reasons why I am so intrigued by this idea of *capacity* is because it undermines our human inclination to judge. It gets me past my tendency to criticize/condemn someone and changes my perspective. It is easier to understand Les and move past my knee-jerk frustration regarding that one shortcoming, and again see Les as a whole person with a whole host of strengths and weaknesses. When CTL is isolated as a quantifiable aspect of personality, it becomes easier for us to understand one another instead of judge one another. The ultimate challenge, I suppose, is for those with a low CTL to develop a self-awareness and come to terms with the consequences.

      Richard, thanks for engaging in this discussion. Your thoughts have spurred me to think more deeply about this topic. I really appreciate your input.

    • I have to confess that I don't think I completely understood the paper when I read it, I guess because it's too far from stuff I know about. And yet the concept of CTL has stuck with me these last few days. My concept of it is a lot like empathy.

      And I'll confess to a bias: this varies tremendously among individuals, of course, but I've believed probably all my life that, on average, women have a higher capacity to love than men do. Is there any basis to that?

    • I, too, have been mulling this over in my mind a lot. Empathy, compassion, sympathy, warmth, kindness, charity, intimacy, mercy, friendliness... Do you really think women have a corner on this market? I am not so sure. Perhaps further down the road of studies we’ll find out...? (And maybe it doesn’t matter all that much?)

      What intrigues me right now is how individual differences in capacity might matter. And what those differences ultimately mean for interpersonal relationships. How empowering or debilitating is it to have a significant CTL? Certainly, our own personal CTL impacts the way we feel empathy or not, and hence, has an impact on how we see (and judge) others.

      And as @Richard suggested, perhaps one’s CTL expands or diminishes depending on outside factors... but my own experience with my own children suggests to me that, if this is so, there is still a limit to that flexibility.

      I’ll be pondering on this topic for some time to come...

    • I, too, have been mulling this over in my mind a lot. Empathy, compassion, sympathy, warmth, kindness, charity, intimacy, mercy, friendliness...

      I have also been thinking about this, @lidja. My initial response was probably due to a general mistrust of psychometrics, but your and @Chris's more humanistic approach made me reconsider the matter. Personal experience certainly confirms that some people are warmer than others, though I'm not convinced that men have less CTL than women. Do you think that CTL is a fundamental property that enables empathy, compassion, etc.? Could it be that empathy enables CTL? Are they separate properties? Could they all be manifestations of some other underlying factor? I'm not sure how much it matters, but I believe some neuroscientists think that mirror neurons may play a role in empathy, though this whole area is controversial. I'd give greater consideration to a CTL metric if there were a known neurological basis.

    • As it applies to dating sites: Very interesting topic but just like psychopaths ability to game the assessments, someone with a low CTL would or could just change their answers/responses to get the appropriate score. People already say things on their profiles that are lies or stretch the truth so it's not inconceivable that a CTL score would be meaningless.

    • In my time at SmugMug, I became fascinated with photojournalists, especially ones who cover wars or shoot in dangerous parts of the world. Who are these people? Why do they do what they do?

      I became determined to interview Carol Guzy, the only journalist to win 4 Pulitzer Prizes. I have spoken to her on the phone and via email and came to the conclusion that what makes her so extraordinary is her CTL (she says empathy, but I don't know if she is familiar with the concept of CTL).

      At times she became so attached to the people she photographed that she took a leave of absence from her job at The Washington Post to stay and help the victims of the Haiti Earthquake, Colombia mudslide, or war in Kosovo with her own savings.

      Sometimes another photographer gets a photo of her:

    You've been invited!