Cultural sociologist Friedland (Religious Studies and Sociology/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 2006, etc.) examines the life-changing “love lessons” he learned from the city of Rome.
For the author, the Italian city became a personal touchstone for love and romance after he and his wife honeymooned there as a young couple. He would return to the city several times afterward, growing more fascinated each time with the way Romans combined sex and love without guilt, shame or fear. In the early 2000s, just as his two girls were entering adolescence, he was offered a chance to teach students at the University of Rome, students who had very different ideas about sex and love than their American counterparts. As Friedland watched his daughters begin to negotiate puberty away from the “West Coast world of blowjobs and Botox,” he came to know students for whom affection and loyalty were crucial parts of the erotic—and eventually, marriage—equation. The author suggests that this attitude stems from the way male and female bodies are openly celebrated and enjoyed in Italian culture and from the fact that in Italy, personal and familial connections serve as a bulwark against unreliable institutions. In the U.S., where an element of shame has always traditionally surrounded sexuality, it is more difficult for young people to reconcile romance with the erotic. The sexual revolution, which was supposed to liberate people from inhibition, actually had the unintended consequence of separating emotion from sex and exalting “pleasure at the expense of tenderness.” The result has been the creation of a loveless society, where, notes the author sagely, “marriage is imagined as a contract for self-realization and sex a consumption good.”
Intelligent, thoughtful and well-researched, Friedland’s book is not only a love letter to Rome, but also to his daughters and the members of their generation, for whose personal happiness he fears.