Episode 13Heart Holes & Closeness-Communication Bias
00:00 / 22:58

Details and Transcript

References

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Transcript

To my phenomenal family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the thirteenth episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

For those starting at this episode, thanks for tuning in! A few new things to note this season. One thing is the Metaphorgins merch, if you would like your own shirt and/or mug as shown on the Metaphorigins instagram page, just shoot me a message on my website or instagram account. Any profits I make each month will go towards a local charity (ex. SPCA, Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and other suggestions). Another “feature” I will have this season is requests. In the second half of this season, I will have episodes dedicated to any expressions listeners of this podcast would like me to cover. For a request, please shoot me a message on again, my website or instagram.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. I will hold another draw on the 15th episode for a sweet Metaphorigins shirt, so look forward to that!

 

Okay. Today’s episode we travel to the land of romance and discuss an expression so ubiquitous, that most don’t even realize that it’s an expression.

 

Let’s set up the story. This is it. All your practice and training has led you to this moment. You look around. The crowd… Hundreds of people cheering and chanting your name. On the right side closest to the umpire, are your parents, waving at you and blowing you kisses… Kisses to wish you the very best. You wave back your racket at them.

 

You see, today is the first time in history that an openly gay tennis player, for both men and women, has made it to the Wimbledon Grand Finals. Your opponent, the winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 14 doubles titles, 2 mixed doubles and is the most recent female player to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously… That is the remarkable Serena Williams. Across the court, she awaits your serve, the first serve of the game. 

 

You take a breath to gaze at your opponent. You’ve never been so close to your idol before. What a truly stunning woman. She looks almost like a Greek goddess chiseled from stone. Light-brown hair, sleek muscles, determined face, just pure focus.

 

Serena shouts from across the grass covered court, “Are we gonna play at some point?”.

 

You shake out of your daze and look at the umpire, giving you an equally confused look. Your coach screams from the stands, “You’re ready, you can do this!”

 

You vault the ball up and swing your racket in full force. The ball goes at a speed of 200 km/h, right into the net, you fault. One of the ball people run out to retrieve it and take a knee on the opposite side, waiting for the next one. They’re so damn fast.

 

You wind one up again, this time the ball goes 203 km/h and barely makes it over the net. Your serve is forehanded back at equal speed by your opponent towards the opposite end of your side. You run and dive, surprised to have to take a plunge into the grass so soon. Your return hits the net.

 

“Love - 15,” the announcer says. The crowd erupts in cheers.

 

You get up and reposition yourself. Again, you look at Serena. The sun illuminates only her side of the court. She’s wearing all white, radiating sunlight around the stadium. You’ve never seen such a dazzling sight. She’s so beautiful. 

 

You wind up a serve, hammering the ball at 206 km/h over the net. Serena forehands the serve back, this time directly at you. You angle your racket in a way that adds top-spin to your return, and smash it back to her side. Surprised, Serena unwillingly lobs the ball up the air. You run to the middle of the court for an easy spike, but get caught looking at Serena again. Her eyes, so fixed at the ball in the air, like a falcon. Truly one of the legends during this era of sports, right in the flesh. You look back at the ball and realize how much closer it was to the ground than you thought. You still spike the ball, but you send it out of bounds.

 

“Love - 30,” the announcer says. The crowd roars.

 

You shake it off and walk back to your initial serving side. What’s happening? As you’re walking, you recall a memory a few years ago when, back in 2016, you and her would constantly hang out. She was your best friend. You two would go out to clubs and dance the night away. Even despite both of your fame, there would be nights where the two of you would just stay in, grab a pizza, and watch the newest episode of Game of Thrones. A feeling of fondness and affection stirs you as you snap back into reality.

 

“What’s going on?!” your coach shouts from the stands.

 

“I’m falling behind,” you say, barely audible.

 

You wind up for another serve. With a slow breath, you smash the ball at 210 km/h, tying the women’s world record set by Sabine Lisicki in 2007. With no noticeable effort, Serena backhands the serve right back in your direction. You admire this feat. Her skill, her motivation to win… It reminds you of those times when you would rally together during friendlies, and how Serena would always play to win. This fuelled your own competitive spirit. However, this daydream blurred your vision just enough to have the ball sail right under your two-handed forehand.

 

“Love - 40, game point,” the announcer says. The crowd is fired up.

 

“What’s happening to me,” you say to yourself. 

 

Your coach screams from the stands, “You’re falling in Love!”

 

You turn to him and yell back, “What did you say?”

 

“The only way you’re going to win this game is to get out of Love! You need to catch up and score some points or she will take this game and likely the set!”

 

You realize now what’s happening. You still have a lot of feelings for your friend. “I need to put some points on the board,” you say to yourself, “or else I will be stuck in Love probably for the entire match.”

 

Despite your affection for Serena, you go on to ace her six consecutive times, taking the game. This new found determination wins you the first set, fourth set, and ultimately the match. You raise your Grand Slam trophy at the top of the podium, and take in the roar of the crowd. This was your moment, you’ve become the world’s new number one.

 

This one was a bit of stretch as I found it quite difficult to have the metaphorical meaning of the expression line up with a literal meaning. Plus, this might only work if you know some tennis terminology. Anyway, this expression is so commonly used that I just had to cover it at some point, and its language even relates with other common phrases about falling that most people don’t even think twice about. So why does love sometimes feel like you’ve jumped out of a plane without a parachute?

 

What is the origin to the expression, “falling in love”?

 

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Most of this information was obtained from a variety of articles discussing the origins to this and other expressions. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

“Take my hand, take my whole life too, for I can’t help falling in love with you!”

 

Okay, I can’t do it like Elvis, but I still think I can gig at weddings. This is one of millions of songs about the act of “falling in love”, a concept so trope-y that it’s often used as cringe material. However, if done correctly, if done spontaneously, if done in a unique fashion, “falling in love” could be expressed fantastically, and perhaps could even “sweep you off your feet”.

 

How many songs have you listened to regarding love and the act of falling in it? In a piece by UDiscoveryMusic.com analyzing the history of love songs, they state that “it has been estimated that more than 100 million love songs have been recorded… songs about new love, time-tested devotion, break-ups, [faithfulness] and forgiveness” In addition, there are songs about sex and seduction, heartbreak and longing. How many great stories and movies have “falling in love” be the premise to their narratives? The Old Testament, Greek Mythology, Shakespeare, Disney, Austen, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, hell, love even supplanted itself as the guiding emotion behind Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, a movie about the reality of traversing the universe.

 

Falling in love is such a known concept that despite its ubiquitous presence, we don’t even realize how much it is there. In content media, yes, I have already explained this. What about advertisements? Variety of love rituals within different cultures? What about ourselves coming of age? Is it weird that we often search for love but never quite see it until we have “fallen into it”? Now I’m going way abstract.

 

There’s even a study conducted that claims that, “Falling in love is associated with Immune System Gene Regulation” published by Murray and others in 2019 within the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, now that’s a word. Although I have some questions about how one can determine whether participants are currently engaged in the act of falling or not, and controls for such a study, its interesting that even in the scientific community there is interest in not only this expression, but the biology behind it.

 

Expressions about love are also plentiful in their own right, with some being more bizarre than others. In addition to “falling in love”, there’s “to fall head over heels”, which is in fact an incorrect interpretation of our metaphor today (as our heads are already over our heels, the original expression was to fall heels over head, but just doesn’t sound as good). There’s “love is blind” describing the illogical presence of love despite circumstances that should make love disappear. There’s “having a crush on someone”, derived from “crushing on someone”, where crush in this case meant dancing or socializing romantically with someone at a gathering. Oh, but let’s not forget our favourite beating organ, with “from the bottom of my heart” or “wear my heart on my sleeve”. These expressions would certainly make aliens scratch their heads in confusion. I may explore these ones in future episodes.

 

The interesting aspect of “falling in love” is that it is not unique in its vocabulary. As Wikipedia describes it, “falling in love is the development of strong feelings of attachment and love”, further describing love as “encompassing a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states” and therefore having a variety of forms that goes beyond the scope of this episode. The act of falling is used to describe the sudden, uncontrollable state of awareness, and certainly leaves one vulnerable to both positive and negative consequences (hopefully consequences that do not borderline Romeo & Juliet). The word fall was often used in similar inventive ways. Paraphrasing writers of Grammarphobia, other sayings with fall included “fall to pieces” meaning to “break into fragments, “fallen empires or governments” meaning “overthrown”, “falling on an enemy” meaning “to attack”, “falling rain”, “words fall from my tongue”, “fall asleep”, “fall sick”, “fall apart”… The list goes on and on. These phrases are also so commonly used that people often forget that they are, indeed, expressions.

 

So perhaps “falling in love” doesn’t really capture the big picture. I mean, you would probably agree that love and relationships are not easy. In fact, it’s so easy to fall in love, and just as easy to fall out of love. Like a whirlpool that you didn’t realize you were in, that you actually enjoyed, and then suddenly you are treading calm waters again. Perhaps all this context about love in storytelling and social media has shrouded our outlook about the reality of love, a mix of emotions and their counterparts. Perhaps that’s what makes Chandresh Bhardwaj from RebelleSociety feel compelled to have people “rise to love” instead, and meet its challenges head-on, together with a partner of equal motivation.

 

But okay, let’s reel ourselves back in and get to the task at hand. The origin of falling in love. Where did it come from? Well, I’ve actually already described why it came about, because of the meaning behind the word fall. According to Grammarphobia and the Etymology Dictionary, this usage originated sometime during the 1500s. For this one I had to do some digging. Mentioned in a StackExhange forum, there is a piece by Edmund Spenser, an English poet known for the epic The Faerie Queene, an allegory celebrating the Tudor Dynasty and Elizabeth the First, in which he writes: 

 

“Both Scudamor and Arthegal

Doe fight with Britomart

He sees her face; doth fall in love,

and soone for her depart”

 

This is stated to be the earliest piece of writing that contains the expression and falls within the mentioned time period. It is possible that this phrase was used earlier, as again, the usage of the word “fall” for various metaphors is likely. However, if we continue down that road, we would need a whole episode dedicated to the idea of falling, since, if you do as much background searching about words as I do, you’ll notice that it has a history of changing its meaning during the course of human history.

 

So that seems to be the most credible origin story to the expression “falling in love”. Derived from the uncontrollable meaning behind fall, used in many other english metaphors, and first appeared in english poetry, I must say, did we really expect any different of an outcome?

 

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For the science segment of this episode, I would like to talk about an article published in the New York Times titled “You’re not listening. Here’s why.” The link to the article will be in the description.

 

Let me start by saying that I prefaced this podcast with my interest in science communication. I am sure there are some listeners who argue that some of the topics I will talk about are merely topics of communication, backed by science, rather than the science behind communicating science. These are distinctly different things. However, I also mentioned how this podcast will grow to include all topics of communication, professional, romantic, platonic, body language, facial expressions, social media and the like. What’s important is that these topics are in fact backed by scientific research, which will certainly be linked in the description for you at your leisure. Communication is relative to situations, which will include at times the do’s and dont’s of communicating science in specific circumstances. This will be relatable as I discuss the article in question.

 

The article was written by Kate Murphy, a New York Times Journalist and author of You’re Not Listening: What you’re missing and why it matters. In the book, she reminisces about past conversations she’s had with various professionals, during social endeavours and with family members. A premise of the book is stated in the description, “Listening has the potential to transform our relationships and our working lives, improve our self-knowledge, and increase our creativity and happiness.” Is listening a form of communication? Well, it certainly is linked to verbal communication.

 

Now back to the article. It begins by introducing the known closeness-communication bias, a term that has been used as far back as 2011. This bias can be explained as stated by Murphy, “The closer we feel toward someone, the less likely we are to listen carefully to them”. From someone like myself, who has had three long term relationships in which communication was the major negative factor contributing to their demises, I can certainly relate to this.

 

Let’s backtrack a little bit, where was this phenomenon coined? From a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011, authors proposed the term closeness-communication bias to explain how, “people engage in active monitoring of strangers’ divergent perspectives because they know they must, but that they ‘let down their guard’ and rely more on their own perspective when they communicate with a friend.” Active listening for a stranger, passive listening for a friend.

 

As sad as that is, it is certainly all too common. How many times have you thought about interrupting your friend or family member to finish their sentence for them? How many times have we chosen to reply with, “That’s not what I said” when in fact it is, but your friendly interlocutor was just interpreting it in a different way?

 

The last point will hit home to many people around the world. As described by Dr. Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, “Accurately understanding another person often requires a second thought, to think, ‘Wait a minute, is this really what this person meant?’” Simply stepping back before an impulse desire to reject any statements made by a friend, partner, or relative might be all we need to communicate effectively.

 

In a larger study of 38 graduate students by Harvard Sociologist Dr. Mario Luis Small, he found that, “people confided their most pressing and worrisome concerns to people with whom they had weaker ties, even people they encountered by chance, rather than to those they had previously said were closest to them… In some cases, the subjects actively avoided telling the people in their innermost circle because they feared judgement, insensitivity or drama.” This study was confirmed by a larger sampling of 2000 people representing the American population.

 

How would you battle against this? Certainly there’s more to active listening than just hearing and interpreting the words your conversation partner says. Perhaps you can set up or initiate conversation such that you can be ready for active listening to be a valuable trait. Dialogue at the dinner table with family and friends, conversations in the car… These are times when you can check in on someone you really care about and gauge whether they have something on their mind. Of course, it takes two to have meaningful conversation, and poking or prodding someone to say something meaningful might not be the best tactic at maintaining close relationships, but you can always slowly build upon more and more active listening, active observation of body language and acknowledgement of the different situations your close bubble of people find theirselves in.

 

And technology. Hypocritical of me to say, of course, as someone who promotes their work online, engages readily in messaging friends and family online, checks newsfeeds of various apps online, but it needs to be discussed. As Dr. Epley stated in the article, “Technology magnifies the closeness-communication bias because you have less information to work with.” No other communicative cues, just straight text on a screen. Perhaps its time to have less emphasis on anything but the literal meaning of screen text and more on facilitating and being open to face-to-face conversation.

 

Again, its unfortunate that this occurs much more frequently than you expect. I’ve thought about it a lot, as to whether its a cultural thing, personality thing, what have you. In honesty, it’s probably a mix of various factors that we sometimes have no control over. But there are times when we do, when we have the option to not bring phones into a situation for conversation, to ask meaningful questions with follow-up responses based on replies and other communicative cues… I mean, when I say it like this, it sounds so artificial. But I think it’s because it is so uncommon, that it’s viewed as blatantly bizarre.

 

Thanks for listening to this episode of… Metaphorigins. Remember to rate and subscribe for more episodes and to follow the podcast on Instagram for updates on the next draw. But until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

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