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A. Love, American Style

Narrator: This is Science Today. When it comes to love and marriage, Americans are apparently full of contradictions -and surprisingly, this is considered a good thing. Ann Swidler, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, studied American middle class cultures and says the strongest contradiction she found involved a 'Hollywood' conception of one true love.

Swidler: If you interview middle class and mid-life people, they insist that love isn't like it is in the movies. And if you believe that, they say, you'll just be disillusioned. But those same people, when they're solving a different set of problems, use exactly that one true love idea in which love is perfect - if it's right and true love lasts forever.

Narrator: Swidler attributes this contradiction to cultural beliefs that love and marriage should be a permanent commitment and freely chosen. And this, she says, is a good thing.

Swidler: If you didn't have the cultural tools that allow you to think about love in that way, you wouldn't be able to bring yourself to make such fateful decisions.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.