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The U.S. is in a crisis of love

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14.02.2019

In 1774, Europe was infected with what was known as Werther Fever. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had published his novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” about a young man hopelessly in love with a woman engaged to another man. So intense is his suffering at being apart from her that he kills himself.

The book was an overnight sensation among young people gripped by the hyper-romantic “Sturm und Drang” period in German culture. “The Sorrows of Young Werther” became an international bestseller, and bootleg copies began to circulate. Young men began to dress like Werther. Most alarming, the novel was said to have stimulated copycat suicides among brokenhearted lovers. The authorities in several cities and countries responded by banning the book. In Leipzig, it was even illegal to wear Werther’s costume of a blue tailcoat, yellow waistcoat, trousers and tall boots.

What is the opposite of Werther Fever? Whatever it is, we’re suffering from it in the United States today. Particularly among young people, there is an increasing absence of romantic love.

Consider the evidence. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has found a precipitous decline in romantic interest among young people in what she calls “iGen,” the post-millennial generation growing up since just before the turn of the century. She notes in her research that while 85 percent of Generation X and baby boomers went on dates as high school seniors, the percentage of high school seniors who went on dates in 2015 had fallen to 56 percent. I asked my son, a junior in college, if........

© Washington Post