In the past twenty-five years, Americans have gained considerable freedom in their personal lives. Relationships are now more flexible, and self-development has become a primary goal for both men and women. Most scholars have criticized this trend to greater freedom, arguing that it undermines family bonds and promotes selfishness and extreme independence. Francesca Cancian is more optimistic. In this book she compares these newer images of close relationships with "traditional" forms of marriage, in which love is seen as the responsibility of women, while self-development is regarded as a male concern. She shows that many American couples succeed in combining self-development with commitment. For them, interdependence, not independence, is their ideal, and love and self-development do not conflict, but reinforce each other. Changes in images of love are documented, in part, by examining case studies, popular magazines of 1900 to 1979 and selected articles in them on how to have a happy marriage. In sum, the author concludes that images of love in America have shifted from polarized gender roles toward more flexible roles and interdependence, thus fostering both love and self-development.
"Amid the plethora of scholarly and popular books on the current state of love, marriage, and community life in the United States, Francesca Cancian's Love in America stands out as a welcome and needed contribution. Drawing on survey findings, in-depth interviews, and content analysis of popular magazines, it offers an original account of the range of love relationships that has emerged in recent decades as women and men 'have gained considerable freedom in their personal lives'. The book also provides a well-reasoned and convincing rebuttal to the prevalent view that modern structural and cultural arrangements produce the disintegration of close, enduring personal bonds." American Journal of Sociology