Kirstin Michelle Cills (00:01)
Hello and welcome to “So Curious” presented by the Franklin Institute.
The Bul Bey (00:05)
We are your hosts- I am the Bul Bey.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (00:08)
And I am Kirsten Michelle Cills. I don’t want to speak for Bey, but I’m confident when I say that Bey and I are so stoked to bring you this season because it talks all about the science behind love, sex and relationships. Everything from what your brain looks like when it’s in love to why we obsess over our favorite television characters to how science and tech are changing our relationships with one another.
The Bul Bey (00:33)
On this episode, we’re going to look at one of the major factors that influences our cultural norms around relationships in the media. We’re going to talk with Dr. Jessica Moormon about her award winning project “Being Single Is…”
Kirstin Michelle Cills (00:46)
Later, we’re going to talk to Dr. Valerie Kretz about why we fall in love, mourn and laugh with our favorite TV characters. So stay tuned for this episode of So curious. All right, Bey, what piece of media I’ll open it up to movie or TV do you think has shaped your view of relationships the most?
The Bul Bey (01:07)
That is hard. I would say some family sitcoms come to mind. Right. Family Matters. Boy Meets World. Love that show. Although it’s problematic, but whatever. Yeah. Sitcoms 90 sitcoms definitely shaped how I saw husband wife interactions and how I thought and interpret that as a kid, like how that should go. I don’t know. It’s weird
Kirstin Michelle Cills (01:30)
For me. I was super into teens sitcoms but as a kid and I was super into, like you said, family Matters, Fresh Prince, step by step. Full House that was a little later. Right? That was what I thought every single relationship was like in Full House, like, Uncle Jesse, like John Stamos and Laurie Lachlan were like I was like, oh, my God, this is love.
The Bul Bey (01:53)
Kirstin Michelle Cills (01:54)
And I remember thinking because so many old sitcoms really love to do the whole bit, that’s like, wife bad. And then Fresh Prince was like the first married couple like uncle Phil and aunt Viv that I was like, damn, they’re so happy and they’re married.
The Bul Bey (02:12)
Yeah. Like deeply in love. As I remember it. Not many issues or not many tension points in uncle Phil and Aunt Viv’s relationship. They seem to kind of like coast.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (02:24)
Yeah. I really love that. I feel like most of the content that I took in as a young kid is like the most informative. The things that I remember most, more than I remember something I watched two days ago is like, watching all of these seasons of these old sitcoms.
The Bul Bey (02:40)
Yeah, right? Corey and Topanga is definitely up there.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (02:45)
Shawn and Angela, too. At the time, though, we thought, yeah, not everything ages well, right? But yeah, like what we see in the media really shapes people’s attitude and their expectations about what relationships are supposed to be, whether that’s healthy or not. Like Sean and Angela. Even just the pressures to be in a relationship in the first place. Right. Everything you watch, you just want to watch the lead fall in love and get married and all of that.
The Bul Bey (03:15)
Yeah. We’re not saying I want this lead character to be alone forever,
Kirstin Michelle Cills (03:19)
happy, fulfilled in their career. It’s like, not when are they going to fall in love? Right. That’s not always how life works.
The Bul Bey (03:25)
Okay, Kirsten, I’m curious to know what your answer is to this. Okay, finish this sentence. First word that comes to mind. Being single is.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (03:36)
Fun, but also being single, most of it is just ordering food most of the time because you can’t really cook for one person without just having a ton of leftovers. So that’s where my mind goes immediately.
The Bul Bey (03:50)
Kirstin Michelle Cills (03:51)
The Bul Bey (03:52)
Being single, that kind of tracks.
The Bul Bey (03:57)
Kirstin Michelle Cills (03:58)
Okay Bey- being single is:
The Bul Bey (04:01)
Well this is a great time to introduce our guest, whose award winning interview style project examines how black women feel about being single.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (04:09)
Today we are joined by Dr. Jessica D. Mormon. Can you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do.
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (04:16)
My name is Dr. Jessica D Mormon. I’m an assistant professor of communication at Wayne State University, and I am a researcher of many things having to do with media communication processes over the life course. But the primary focus of my research program right now is looking at single status, the media’s contribution to our understandings of single status, and the various social factors that contribute to how we learn about being single as adults.
The Bul Bey (04:41)
Could you tell us more about your academic journey? Why did you choose to pursue this specific field?
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (04:46)
After pitching 13 different topics for my dissertation to my advisor and having them all sort of side eyed or batted down, she was like, pick something, girl, pick a good topic now stop this. And so I got very frustrated and said, fine, we’re going to talk about single status because I’m sick of all of the ways that people are talking to me because I’m a single woman. I’m sick of the ways that the media is contributing to these wild ideas about being single. And she was like, that’s a great idea. Personally, I came to this project wanting to know more about why society was so fixated specifically on single black women’s experiences. We have a long history of discourse policy that describe and seek to try and fix understandings of single black women’s experiences. And I just know that’s not the full story. I know that’s not the full story because I was having those conversations with friends. I was raised by a single black mother, and I myself am single. So there was a lot missing in that popular discourse that warranted further discussion and further investigation. And so academically, that’s why I’ve stuck with this topic. And that’s, I think, really why it’s being so well received.
The Bul Bey (05:49)
Were you aware of the media’s portrayal of single black women prior to deciding to study this, or did you discover it somewhere in the journey of researching and writing? And also, can you tell us what is the media’s portrayal of single black women?
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (06:02)
Oh bey- I was 25 in 2009. The year that Steve Harvey’s, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man came out- so I’m very aware of yeah, I’m very familiar with the media representation of single black women and just sort of thinking about specifically how advice discourses seek to define, to fix, to inform kind of broader audiences about who single black women are, who, in Scare quotes Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Thing Like a man really changed the game for a lot of people. But specifically, what was happening in that book and why it kind of warranted further investigation and why it was so important is first and foremost, is that it spawned a media empire. It has a sequel. It has two movies. It spawned a talk show and is based on a radio program. So it has a long trajectory.
The Bul Bey (06:49)
And you’re talking about this self help book that came out somewhere in, like, the mid 2000s.
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (06:53)
Act like a Lady, Think Like a man was actually written as sort of a peek behind the curtain, if you will, for women specifically to have a better understanding of how men approach dating and relationships so effectively, so women could better approach partnership with a clear understanding of what men want. Right, but the problem is that there’s not just one category of men and then there’s not just one category of women. So what men want ends up being this kind of fixed construction that boxes men in in a lot of respects. And who women need to be ends up being this fixed construction that ends up boxing people in in a lot of ways. And so that’s why I turned to it.
The Bul Bey (07:28)
And generally, that has been the media’s portrayal of single black women. There’s something wrong and something needs to be fixed.
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (07:33)
Yeah. So specifically, there are a lot of themes that I’ve identified. First of all, it relies on stereotypes of black women. One of the stereotypes that we think about frequently in terms of discourses around single black women is the welfare queen stereotype. So this idea of a woman who’s hyper reproductive, not married, looking to the federal government for aid and support and basically construct it as this kind of amoral, hyper reproductive drain on society. We know that this stereotype has been used in political discourse. It was introduced to popular thought in the 1970’s at the Republican National Convention, actually by Ronald Reagan- not surprisingly, it was kind of used as a drum beat to basically justify or warrant defunding or reducing support for social programs, particularly aid to needy families in the form of welfare checks. And so you see a lot of that discourse, culminating in 1996, with the Welfare Reform Act that really sought to undermine and gut a lot of the supports that were going to unmarried women and their kids. But we have other stereotypes that are equally insidious although not as politically grounded. So thinking about things like the Jezebel this kind of hyper sexualized person who is viewed as pathologically sexual you see a lot of this discourse coming out in terms of critiques of representation of black women in music videos, representation of black women in music. For the record, the stereotypes I’m drawing on here are Patricia L Collins is Controlling Images of Black Women. These are typically seen as the kind of core foundational stereotypes in academic discourse. But there’s others that we can talk about as well beyond that. The black lady is kind of a professional overachiever who’s competing with black men for jobs rendering her unattractive and sexually undesirable because of her direct competition with men. And that’s just three. But there’s more. Single status constitutes a key element of each of these stereotypes furthering forms of dysfunction that are often attributed to race and gender and class but extends that through the kind of prism of marital status so single status there functions as a way to extend that stereotype, amplify that stereotype, further the pejorative understanding of black women we have popularly right.
The Bul Bey (09:37)
And I’m curious too, just because we oftentimes have a black and white view of our world around us and it’s oftentimes super grey. Would you say that there are single women or single black women who are in relationships but they still remain single? Is there any kind of wiggle room in that title?
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (09:54)
This is my favorite topic because single is a category that is poorly understood. It contains multitudes of experiences. The polysemis word basically it refers to both relationship and marital status. So when I use single in my research I actually try not to use the term single because it’s so unprecise and it has so many cultural meanings. So I usually think about unmarried and unpartnered women. So when we talk about something at the level of, for example, like the structural definition of single we’re talking about people who are unmarried, so divorced, widowed, never married. Trends in that never marriage is increasing for all categories of people. And so that’s part of where the anxiety socially comes in around thinking about single status is because people just aren’t getting married in the same ways that they used to. So when we think about single we’re talking about people who are celibate. We’re talking about people who are in polyamorous cohabiting relationships. We’re talking about people who are dating. We’re talking about people who are out here sneaking and freaking. We’re talking about people who are almost about to be engaged in monogamous partnerships. We’re talking about a diversity of intimacy, a diversity of partnership configurations. We’re talking about a range of ways to express love. The bottom line is that these people just aren’t married, and so they’re not classified within the census in the same way. So they go kind of under the radar, like, for example, living alone, being unmarried that can comprise literally any configuration of partnership other than marriage and cohabitation. And so the reason why I think of single status as such an interesting field of inquiry is because a lot of that has just been disregarded historically. Single people have lower health outcomes, they have higher depressive, but there’s no explanation or kind of diversification of what that category is and a better understanding of why those factors are in place.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (11:39)
It’s a really good point. I never thought about that from the perspective of, yeah, legally, single is just not married, right? Like, you fill out your taxes, you could be engaged, you could be with someone for ten years, multiple people, doesn’t matter. Are you single or are you married? Your “Being Single Is…” Project is your award winning interview and survey study exploring contemporary single life for Black women specifically. Can you tell us a little bit more about this study?
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (12:06)
Sure. So that study was set in the city of Detroit. So that was my dissertation project, and it was 24 interviews and a survey of 456 women basically exploring how various social factors contribute to the ways that they make sense of their own experiences, basically their attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of unmarried life. And so what that project kind of sought to do first and foremost was interrogate that media category I was talking about earlier. So Steve Harvey Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man is kind of one example, but it’s a broader cultural discourse. Those themes are present across all media properties. And so I wanted to explore basically, first and foremost how single women define their experiences for themselves to how those experiences compared to popular media narratives of Black women’s single status. And three, beyond the media, what are other sources of information that Black women are looking to to guide their own definitions and their own approaches to unmarried life. So that was primarily what happened in the interview project. It was an exploratory study to unearth some of these ideas and themes. So then the survey project explored basically media contribution to attitudes and beliefs about relationships and single status. So under investigation there was the process of sexual and single socialization, basically the process by which we acquire our attitudes and beliefs and approaches to sex, dating and relationships. This is a well researched area in media psychology, in social psychology, in communication. And so really, a lot of that literature focuses on beliefs about relationships, love at first. I have a soulmate, one for me and none for you. Like those kind of like, very repeated scripts about relationships and dating. Right. But that literature does not tend at all to the question of what does the belief that one has a soulmate say to someone who is not partnered you can’t find your soul mate? Is that what that means? You’re not good enough to have a soulmate anyway. There’s a lot of messages that are also being communicated by these really kind of scripted affirmations around relationships, despite the fact that they kind of seem more positive on their face. And so what I wanted to do is look at basically how consumption of those narratives influenced beliefs about single status. So what did it mean? More media? Basically, the greater media consumption, greater beliefs that people were stigmatized. So I feel stigmatized for my single status. The more media people consumed, the more that they were reporting that they perceived to be pressured by outside forces like friends, family, and the media to be partnered. It was more belief and antagonistic kind of dynamics and relationships. And so I’m currently writing up those findings now and they’re currently under review at a journal. But basically kind of different experiences of single status moderated those outcomes. But the overarching finding is that more media consumption contributes to more stigmatized beliefs, more antagonistic beliefs about relationships, more pressure to be partnered.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (14:54)
On your website, you speak about having a singlehood plan of action, essentially. Why do you think a plan of action is important? And how would you suggest someone goes about creating this plan?
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (15:05)
Can I ask you guys, how old are you all? You said 27 for you.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (15:08)
The Bul Bey (15:09)
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (15:10)
Here’s another question for you. What were your parents doing at your age? Were they married?
The Bul Bey (15:13)
Were they my mom had all of her children, including me. By 34, she was just a single working mom.
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (15:19)
Kirstin Michelle Cills (15:19)
My mom was on her second marriage at 27 and had my brother and I.
Dr. Jessica D Moorman (15:24)
Right, so nothing you all are doing? Definitely. So you can’t really go to mom and say at 34, what should I be doing as a single, childless adult? And so these are strategies you have to put in place. We’re in an era where we have the highest rates of never marriage that we’ve ever had as a country. And we have policies, laws and social practices that are geared towards married people. For example, I own a house and I’m in the process of currently refinancing it. And I was looking up the status of my property in the county system yesterday, and it said Moormon comma Jessica single was how my property is listed. It was listed by my last name, my first name, and my marital status. That is how my property is listed in the state’s registry. Right? So this is not something that’s innocuous, this is something that tags you systemically and that creates a trail for you systemically. And so I will forever be known, regardless of whether I get married or not, that I bought this house as a single woman, regardless of what I do with it. Because these systems are fundamentally built around married people. Unmarried people have to be very strategic about navigating them. So if you all at 34 and 27 wanted to buy a house by 40, right, maybe you’d be married, maybe you won’t be married, but that doesn’t mean that you’re any less interested in property ownership, right? So you might have to buy a Duplex with friends. You might have to buy a quadplex with family members. But these aren’t traditional systems of family formation and home building. It’s that kind of nuclear family approach that we privilege in policy. And so the goal of the Singlehood Action Plan is first and foremost, to give people a place for them to articulate some goals. If you want to have a baby single, you can do that. If you want to own a house single, you can do that. If you want to travel the world single, you can do that. It’s just going to look different for you because you don’t have a second income in the home in the same way or social policies that enfranchise you. Second of all, I want everyone to know that it is possible to do these things, but you do have to plan for them, knowing what you want, having a clear plan about how you’re going to get it. And third, understanding the systems that circumscribe your experience. What are the things that could potentially be roadblocks to you simply because you are unmarried? These are things you’re going to have to innovate around. And the reason why this is important, particularly for folks who are millennial, or gen Z, is because we’re really writing the script. We’re really rewriting it. Like I said, we’re almost to the tipping point. It’s like 49.1% of all women are unmarried currently. By the next census, we’ll probably be north of 50. We’ve never seen that in society before. And so in a society that’s, for example, literally built on wives as property, I mean, I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that where it was founded with wives as property, right? And obviously we’ve moved away from that to a certain extent, but that mindset still pervades and some of those laws and policies are still on the books in that kind of society. We just have to think differently until laws and policies catch up. And so the Singlehood Action Plan is really individualized response to trying to strategize around some of these inequities so that the individual can accomplish goals. I believe in policy change, I believe in activism, I believe in organizing. But the bottom line is I also believe in having fun and doing what I want. So how am I going to do that regardless of where the system is in terms of how it understands me and my marital status?
The Bul Bey (18:39)
Wow. Dr. Jessica D Moormon, thank you so much for coming on the So Curious podcast.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (18:44)
Dr. Valerie Kretz (18:45)
Kirstin Michelle Cills (18:45)
So, Bay, what is being single like for you versus obviously the opposite, right?
The Bul Bey (18:53)
So I’m reflecting on my time as a single person and it was demanding in terms of I had to figure out and find out what I like, what I didn’t, what are my habits, what are my routines and preferences, but it certainly was enjoyable. I didn’t mind being single. I am someone who enjoys peace and quiet and solitude and just kind of being isolated, but that can be unhealthy after a while, right? Like, I am a human being and I need to speak with someone. But being single was okay. What was being single like for you?
Kirstin Michelle Cills (19:27)
Being single is obviously super freeing and you can do whatever you want, but I feel like there’s a difference between being single and that’s what you are. And being single and you’re looking and you’re dating and you’re shopping, because then you’re always kind of in your best and you’re always constantly going out on first dates with people does get a little exhausting. And I think when you go from a long relationship where you know everything about each other to then go back to like, do you have any siblings?
Kirstin Michelle Cills (20:00)
Oh, my gosh, what a big difference. I think that can be exhausting. But yeah, there’s definitely a certain level of comfort that you get from either being in a stable relationship or just being in a relationship with yourself and being single. I think the middle ground when you’re trying to transition is just stressful.
The Bul Bey (20:17)
Yeah, being single is definitely socially nerve wracking. Again, I enjoy my time to myself, but I am a person, and I like to hang out with friends or be in groups, but it’s hard to know what social settings you fit in or even try to explore that as a single person. Sometimes there are certain trips or activities that you want to do, but as a single person is a little awkward because you’re just by yourself and you can’t bounce ideas off of someone else and explore spaces. Being single is definitely an adventure.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (20:54)
All right, so then, Bey, answer me this when you were single, what is a character in media, movies, TV that you were obsessed over, that you were like, this is going to be my future wife, or in theory.
The Bul Bey (21:11)
yeah, I honestly didn’t obsess over a character in that way. I obsessed over characters who I perceived to be suitors, like well, suitors and attracted a bunch of people. So I was like, I need to dress like this person. I need to dress like that person. And oftentimes they were like main character heart throbs on shows or something like that. No one’s coming to mind at the moment, but it was definitely like an archetype, young, well dressed, goes to the gym, reads, journals. It was definitely those characters and shows that I kind of I don’t want to say model myself after, but I took, like, social cues from because I perceived them to be someone who just attracted suitors left and right.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (21:56)
Yeah, I feel like a character for me, I was really in love. I think it was just the comedy aspect. I was in love with the character Will on Fresh Prince. I was obsessed. And then, obviously, Uncle Jesse in Full House was beautiful. And I also found out recently when talking with a bunch of my girlfriends, that we all had a crush on teenage Simba from The Lion, specifically teenage Simba. I don’t know what it is. We all were like, that might have been my sexual awakening. We were all like, what? How is this universal? But yeah, as far as characters that you get to know a lot, like a sitcom or a series, I would say I was convinced I was going to marry Will.
The Bul Bey (22:44)
Yeah, it’s so interesting, too, because these characters, I guess in the world of media that we live in today, I guess we’re signaled to become obsessed with the actor. Right. Because I can’t even name a character’s name. For instance, in this moment when you’re talking about Will, I was thinking about Yara Shahidi from Grownish.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (23:02)
Oh, yes, right.
The Bul Bey (23:04)
But I was like, I have no clue what that character’s name is.
The Bul Bey (23:07)
The Bul Bey (23:08)
I’m like Yara Shahidi.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (23:11)
You love the actor, right?
The Bul Bey (23:13)
Yeah, I think I’m like queued to know the actor, what they do and all that stuff. And so? I don’t know. That just is something that popped into my mind
Kirstin Michelle Cills (23:21)
I’m glad I’m not alone in obsessing over characters who are 1000% not real. But speaking of someone who is real, our next guest has done quite a bit of research in this area of attachment to fictional characters. We are here with Dr. Valerie Kretz. Valerie, do you mind introducing yourself and telling us about what you do?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (23:45)
Absolutely. My name is Valerie Kretz, and I’m an associate professor of communication and media studies at St. Norbert College in De Pierre, Wisconsin. And my primary focus is media studies, so I’m teaching all media focused classes and my research is on entertainment, media and relationships.
The Bul Bey (24:06)
So you watch rom-coms?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (24:09)
Well, I do watch my fair share of rom-coms and television shows focused on romantic relationships and things of that nature, too. So Grey’s Anatomy is my number one and it inspires a lot of my research. So I would say Married at First Sight tops my list. It’s really juicy and interesting and dramatic, but also it has these great elements of, like, sitting down with a professional and talking about communication and relationship issues that I think is a great model for people. And then if I had to go with a rom-com, I’m going to go- Ten Things I hate About You.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (24:45)
Oh, yes, that is such a good answer. I’m curious, how has that inspired your research? Or how have you seen the things that you studied portrayed well? Or maybe the opposite. Maybe things that are not super portrayed well in something like Grey’s Anatomy.
Dr. Valerie Kretz (25:01)
Grey’s is interesting because it’s been on the air for so long and so there’s been this great evolution of characters and storylines and so much over the years, so there’s so much we could unpack there. But one of the things that’s the most interesting to me about Grey’s in particular is just how strongly people feel about these characters and about these relationships. Right. I was just watching the last episode, and there was the promo for the next one, which is the 400th episode. Right. So I’ve spent 400 hours at least with these characters and getting to know them and watching their relationships unfold to me, I think it’s interesting because it’s so impactful in that regard, that development, that evolution, that we’ve been able to all kind of be a part of their lives and form those connections with those characters and with those relationships. That’s really, I think, what inspires me the most. And so some of my research has looked at that, the relationships with those kinds of characters. Other pieces have just been, like, bits and pieces of the storyline. So, for example, a study that I’m still kind of working on looked at COVID storylines. And so Grey’s was one that included COVID right in the story. And so I thought it would be interesting to look at shows that did shows that didn’t, how people responded to that. So it’s a little off of my usual, but inspired by this drama that’s been around for so long and so many people are attached to.
The Bul Bey (26:30)
And what is your usual? What’s, like, the normal day to day research and studying that you get involved in?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (26:36)
I look at relationships in two forms. The first one would be romantic relationships. What is Media teaching us about relationships? And then how that influences people in their everyday life and how they think about romance. It could even be something as simple as, like, well, I watch with my partner, and it’s something that we do together. So that’s just kind of one avenue, and then the other avenue is what we call Parasocial Relationships.
The Bul Bey (27:00)
Dr. Valerie Kretz (27:00)
And these are kind of what I was mentioning, that bond that we have with the characters. So it could be real people, celebrities, it could be fictional, someone you read in a book or someone you see on the TV show. Right. But we form these bonds, and so it’s really about media relationships and those two kinds of avenues, like romantic relationships and then also parasocial relationships. So those are my primary areas.
The Bul Bey (27:24)
You brought a parasocial relationship. I got to throw it at you, PSR. What is the draw or the allure of fictional characters to people in media?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (27:31)
I think, honestly, it’s just a natural inclination to connect. So connection is just a human need. If we think about Maslow’s Hierarchy, that we have these fundamental human needs, and one of those is to connect with people, to have that belonging, to feel like we’re a part of something. So I think PSR is just an extension of that.
The Bul Bey (27:53)
How do you define romance in scientific terms?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (27:56)
The defining feature has been, from a scholarly standpoint, the potential for sexual activity. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is sexual activity in the relationship, but it means that there’s that potential there. Right. So that is what is a defining characteristic as opposed to a friendship. Right. But the caveat would be as we’re sort of evolving our understanding of relationships, there might be someone who is asexual and is not interested in that type of relationship. Right. And so then what does that mean for our definition of romantic life? Right, so it’s definitely something that I think is shifting and changing all the time, but that would be kind of the defining characteristic.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (28:38)
On the flip side of that, what is the science behind why we as people get so sad when our favorite characters die on screen? I mean, Gray’s Anatomy is a perfect example in that all of the major first couple season characters are no longer around.
Dr. Valerie Kretz (28:56)
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I did a research study specifically on one of the major characters, spoiler alert, Derek Shepherd dies. So I did a whole study just on that and people were so sad. They were also so angry. And so to answer your question of why I think we grieve anytime a relationship ends, even if you initiated a break up, you’re still sad. It’s just the ending of a relationship is just inherently sad. I think it just mirrors that experience. And it doesn’t matter that we know that they’re fake. It doesn’t matter that if it’s a celebrity who passed, that we know they didn’t actually know us. Right. It just matters that we felt connected to them. And so I think it mirrors that same grieving process. But I think it’s just, again, like that sort of mimicking of relationships in our real life.
The Bul Bey (29:46)
Do you think PSR said something about us? Like, when we have these strong bonds with people we don’t know, maybe even fictional characters, and we have these strong explosive emotions, does that say something about us? Are we compensating for a lack of fulfillment relationships in our own lives?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (30:00)
That’s a great question, and it’s something researchers have really worked hard to unpack. And there’s, in fact, a bit of disagreement amongst experts regarding what we would call the compensation hypothesis. So the question is, do we use these Parasocial relationships to compensate for something lacking in our everyday lives? And so people have taken a bunch of different tax on this. They’ve looked at like, well, if someone’s more lonely in their everyday life, maybe then they use parasocial relationships as compensation, or people who have social anxiety and so they’re uncomfortable in real world interactions. Do they use it right? And for the most part, research says no. It’s not really about compensation. It’s actually just, again, like, we have this natural inclination and it just compliments our real world connections rather than compensates for any lack. So again, there’s a little bit of disagreement amongst experts. We think probably it’s more complimentary than compensatory, but I think it’s still worthy of some further investigation.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (31:01)
What do you think about the way that media portrays soulmates and what do you think is the impact of the way it’s portrayed?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (31:09)
This idea of soulmates? Yes, it does come up a lot in media. It’s something that intuitively people seem to say, well, that’s so unrealistic and then in that way thinking that it’s a bad thing and it may actually be true that it’s unrealistic because relationships take work. But the thing that’s really interesting is that research shows that the belief in soulmates is not actually necessarily a bad thing and especially if it’s paired with the understanding that once you find your soulmate, you still are going to have to put some work in. Right. The thing though is that belief in soulmates tends to kind of motivate that putting the work in versus at the first line of trouble kind of bailing like, okay, this is not as easy as I thought it was going to be. So in reality, the question is, is this a good message or bad message? It’s actually a pretty positive message, this idea of soul mates, even if it is unrealistic, because it tends to motivate people to grow and to work through things. It’s that self fulfilling prophecy of like, I expect this to work out and therefore it does work out. It’s the thinking it’s going to happen and then doing the work along the way to make that happen because you expect it to.
The Bul Bey (32:21)
In one of your studies you talk about the idea of repeated exposure can form a reinforced knowledge structure. Is this something we should be wary of when selecting which media we consume?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (32:33)
I never tell people this is something you should or should not watch or use when it comes to media, especially when it comes to romantic media. And here’s why. I want you to think for a second about people talking about their guilty pleasures. It’s almost always something romantic. So it’s The Bachelor. It’s Hallmark movies in the Christmas season, right? The idea of associating romantic media with this idea of being something we shouldn’t partake in, that is lesser quality, that’s inferior. It really makes it seem like especially women have poor taste. Romcoms are also known as chickflix and.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (33:12)
Dating shows are considered trash TV.
Dr. Valerie Kretz (33:15)
The sum total of all that is making it seem like, well, women just have poor taste in media. Like we make bad media choices. Let’s not feed that by saying, oh well, yeah, you should definitely be careful and not watch romantic media. No, I don’t buy that. For me, it’s about and here’s where the nuance comes, being a critical consumer. So not just passively taking in every single message that you hear in the media, but actually saying, okay, what is the message here. What’s the takeaway and how is it influencing me now? That’s going to be hard.
The Bul Bey (33:58)
Should we be watching romance stories that look different from us? Should we be taken in different styles of romance in different medias?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (34:06)
An extension of parasocial relationships? Sort of like building on that premise, is this theory called parasocial contact? The deal with parasocial contact is anytime that we come into media contact with people who are different from us, it can give us a greater empathy for those folks. And so absolutely across all fronts, we should be seeking out the opportunity to watch other people’s lives play out on screen in ways that are different from our own. Because it has some real world implications for our beliefs, for our attitudes, and for our behaviors too.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (34:42)
Do you have any romantic couple in media that you find insufferable that you’re like, I can’t believe this is what young people are seeing as love?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (34:52)
I will say this twilight, I love Twilight. If Twilight is on TV, I will watch it. And in fact, this line of interest for me started with Twilight. So when I was way back in grad school, there was like this headline in the news that was like, teenagers are biting each other because of Twilight and I was like, what? Someone should definitely research that. That’s what brought me to this idea of relationship with media in the first place. But there are some seriously unhealthy messages in that series. Don’t watch someone sleep and they don’t know you’re in their room thats stalking thats not healthy behavior. So again. I love it. I watch it, but with the at the same time,
Kirstin Michelle Cills (35:40)
if you could look back on your career now, 30 years from now you could look back on your current career, what research directions do you hope to have explored?
Dr. Valerie Kretz (35:52)
So one of the things that I’m super interested in, and I’ve started down this path, but I have not gotten as far as I want to get, is the idea of what happens when we compare our romantic lives to the romance that we see in media and whether that’s like a romcom or a TV show in a romantic relationship or even like social media, right? And so my question is, when people see that kind of stuff and they compare their own romantic relationships to it, do they feel better or do they feel bad? And so that’s one that I would really like to make further headway on. We call it social comparison. What happens when we compare ourselves and our own romantic lives to the relationships that we see. So that’s one thing. Another thing that I’d really like to see is us coming up with better ways to capture someone’s sort of like full media diet. These days- people are on their phone, in the bathroom, the screens are with us everywhere. There are so many of them. And so if I ask you like, hey, I’d really love to know, tell me, how much time do you spend with television content. You’re probably going to have to be like, oh, let me see. Okay, so there was that Netflix on my phone and there was this. It’s very hard. And so what I’m hoping is that we can come up with some better ways to sort of track that and capture that so that then we can come up with some research studies that more precisely sort of document what the effects are and especially in the long term.
The Bul Bey (37:18)
Dr. Valerie Kretz, thank you so much for coming on the So Curious podcast. We really want to say thank you for offering all your insights and research.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (37:25)
Thank you so much for talking to us, Valerie.
Dr. Valerie Kretz (37:27)
Thanks for having me.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (37:29)
That was fascinating and kind of mind blowing because it made me realize how much I do watch things because they remind me of my own life. Like that weird projection that we do.
The Bul Bey (37:40)
Yeah, 100% super insightful.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (37:42)
Yes. I’m definitely going to be a lot more conscious when I watch shows about like, why am I into this? I’m not going to stop but I just want to know, right? So thank you so much to Doctor Jessica Moormon and Dr. Valerie Kretz for being on the show.
The Bul Bey (37:56)
Yeah, I’m definitely going to watch Living Single a lot differently now. Next week we are going back to school. We are going to hear from a sexuality educator about sex ed in schools today.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (38:06)
We’re going to get this and more on next week’s episode. So you know the drill. Please subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen. I am Kirsten Michelle Cills.
The Bul Bey (38:17)
And I am the Bull Bay.
Kirstin Michelle Cills (38:18)
And we will see you next week.
The Bul Bey (38:20)
So Curious is presented by the Franklin Institute. Special thanks to Franklin Institute producers Joy Montefusco and Dr. Jayatri Das this podcast is produced by Radio Kismet. Radio Kismet is Philadelphia’s premier podcast production studio. Head of operations is Christopher Plant. The managing producer is Emily Charash. The producer is Liliana Greene. The lead audio engineer and editor is Christian Cederlund. The editors are Lauren DeLuca and Justin Berger. The science writer is Kira Vayette and the graphic designer is Emma Seagar.