Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

The year we stopped being hooked on love

Our history books tell us now that 1990 was the year our forebears celebrated the last Valentine's Day. By then, the very idea of a national holiday for the celebration of love had become an anachronism, a holdout from the days of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Certain members of Congress had never approved of V-Day and there was talk through the late '80s of withholding funds from any museum that harbored images of naked children under the pseudonym Cupid.

But the final blow was the commission report completed that year on love. Not surprisingly the commission concluded that love caused what the experts labeled "an altered state of consciousness." That phrase had a clear and ominous meaning for the stay-straight '90s. Love was a substance and Americans were abusers.

The symptoms were common, nationwide and alarming. People who fell in love, the commission determined, had trouble concentrating. They were often distracted, found daydreaming, or staring in space, exhibiting a condition known as "blind love." Many experienced loss of appetite, elevated heart rates, a certain high color to the face, an effect that was easily identifiable to the naked eye.

The health implications of what the commission dubbed love abuse were worrisome, but so were the financial ones. Lovers, it estimated, cost the GNP millions of dollars a year in lost productivity since this unchecked emotion took precedence over, say, strategizing hostile takeovers. In contrast, the commission pointed to the Japanese, who did not officially celebrate love with a national holiday. Need the commission say more?

Before the '90s, as students of history know, love had been a noun, or a verb. But by this time, love was increasingly used as an adjective, as in "love addict" and "love junkie." People in love described themselves as hooked on each other. Indeed, love created dependency or, worse yet, codependency. This was the subject of many best-sellers during the pivotal winter of 1989-90.

By the 21st century, it would become routine for Americans to introduce themselves by their name, their gender and their 12-step support program: "Hi, My Name is Alice and I'm in Love." But even in 1990, millions had already formed associations based on their addictions the way their ancestors had come together by ethnic origin.

All of this laid the groundwork for acceptance of the commission's recommendations in 1990. The heavy scientific evidence of a love epidemic required action.

The Supreme Court approved random love testing for the workplace.

Funding was set up for programs for people who wanted to free themselves of others. Educators were instructed to teach the young the risks of love. Romeo and Juliet was banned. And in that atmosphere, Valentine's Day could no longer be tolerated.

Today Americans now date their long climb back from falling into love to that last Valentine's Day. The final and most debilitating excess, the most widespread high, was brought down to earth.

Occasionally, to this day, there is a report of some couple found together, faces flushed, but it is almost always after aerobics.

Indeed, although recovery is never complete, it can be said that at last in the post-Valentine era we have nearly accomplished that wonderful goal of moderation in all things except misery. Thanks to our ancestors of 1990, we live in a Love Free America.