May/June 2004


Shy Affectionate SF

My husband is a self-described “hard” scientist. He studies chemicals in the brain — how desire actually works in the cells. He listens to me talk about what it means to love a place, but says I can’t just assume that people care about places. He says I need data. “I’m a philosopher,” I tell him. “Philosophers don’t do data.”

But the fact is, I have been conducting a study of sorts. For several months I have been reading the love ads in the local Saturday paper. The secret, coded yearnings, the SWFs and DMs all ISO, in search of, something — this interested me. I never had the occasion or even the temptation to phone the Lonesome Horseman or send a photo to Teddy Bear or tell Endangered Species that I’m a rarity myself, but I was curious. Love ads are a data bank of human nature far more revealing than the Human Genome Project: fifty people every week explaining who they are and what they are looking for, in twenty-five words or less.

I kept a count of the love ads in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, tallying up what people were searching for. The typical SF, a LARGE & BEAUTIFUL momma, thirty-one, who is shy and honest, likes the outdoors, movies, and walking on the beach, in that order. The typical SM is a VERY FIT MALE, who is also very sensitive. He likes the outdoors, romance, and tattoos, again, in that order. In all, fully two-thirds of the SFs and SMs put the outdoors first on their lists.

After the outdoors, the runner-up was watching movies. Beaches and camping tied for third place. Walks and hikes came in fourth. Then came dancing and dinner, followed by romance. (Notice how long it has taken to get to romance — sixth on the list.) After romance, there was a three-way tie among cuddling, fishing, and country-western music, although none of the people who liked to cuddle also liked to fish, and there was one vote each for mountains, darkness, blues, Harleys, hand-holding, friendship, and vampires. My research found no significant difference between men and women, except that three women liked sports, which are evidently of no interest whatsoever to the men. So there it is. People like the outdoors best of all, they say, better even than sex.

My husband received these data with astonishment and chagrin. “Kathy, this is bad science.” I know that; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I don’t claim that everybody loves the outdoors; I just want to point out that many people do, and that love for place and love for people are mixed together in beautiful and mysterious ways. It’s significant that, more often than not, when people envision their unlived lives, imagine starting over and doing it right this time, the outdoors is the setting for their dreams. Big-Hearted Bob and Chantilly Lace walking hand in hand at the edge of the sea: the raised pulse, the rhythmic waves, the salty, exultant wind.

In 1984 Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson advanced the biophilia hypothesis, arguing that humans have an innate attraction to living things. I like this hypothesis. It offers hope: If human beings naturally love the living things on this planet, then maybe we can find a way to act lovingly toward them.

That is why I was happy to present my husband with evidence consistent with Wilson’s hypothesis, and to suggest one more thing. Read the love ads closely: “ISO LTR.” In search of a long-term relationship. The people who place ads in my hometown newspaper aren’t just advertising for partners. What they seek is lasting relationship — with people and the planet — and what they cherish is a caring connection with a person and a place. We are creatures who are born to love. It’s more than biophilia that drives us. It’s philophilia — the love of love itself.

Kathleen Dean Moore is an Oregon author and activist. Her newest work is a music/spoken-word performance with pianist Rachelle McCabe about the moral urgency of the global extinction crisis.