Eva Illouz

Why Love Hurts - A Sociological Explanation

English edition published by Polity in 2012
(German title: Warum Liebe weh tut)
ca. 467 pages
Eva Illouz
Foto: Eva Illouz
© Susanne Schleyer

Eva Illouz, born in 1961 in Morocco, is Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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6 subsequent weeks on the Spiegel Bestseller List


After the great success of Consuming the Romantic Utopia, Cold Intimacies and Saving the Modern Soul, Eva Illouz’ Why Love Hurts is yet another great contribution to her sociology of modern humans and her critical inventory of the times in which we live.

Why does love hurt, at least sometimes? What is so fascinating about characters such as Emma Bovary or Heathcliff and Catherine, the unhappy lovers in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights? Why do we suffer with these figures until the present day? And above all, what sets us apart from them? Is there a difference between being lovesick in the time of Jane Austen and the way we experience this particular type of pain and deal with it today?

In Eva Illouz’ view, there certainly is. A true master in analyzing modern people’s emotions from a sociological perspective, she devotes her new book to the darker sides of love. She illustrates the extent to which lovesickness is shaped by the socio-historical conditions and shows that it is precisely not a purely individual or psychological problem, as relationship guidebooks would have us believe. Sufferings from love are presented as a sociological phenomenon, which Illouz investigates just as Marx once investigated capitalism: in terms of an exchange between non-equal members of the market sector. In six chapters and by means of numerous examples from the experience of love in everyday life, she expounds on the causes of contemporary suffering in love, and the specific ways today’s relationship crises are handled. The digital marriage market plays an equally important role in her book as the new mechanisms of choosing a partner, the rationalization of passion and strategic ways of dealing with romantic imagination.


»Illouz’s book is a prime example of what interpretative sociology is capable of: turning the clothes we wear through inside out; seeing the internal from an external and the private from a social perspective. So that we might experience the brittle mercy of seeing our fate as a social and historical fact as well.« Spiegel

»Why Love Hurts has all the thrills of a murder mystery, with the difference that page after page the reader is made aware of why she herself is a real life perpetrator or victim or both at once.« SZ

»With the precision of a surgeon the famous sociologist dissects our heartbreak and shows how greatly it is dependent on the particular historical moment. Definitely not a feel-good book, but certainly a successful depiction of our emotional state, coupled with a sociological analysis.« FOCUS

»The standard ›Venus/Mars theory‹, on the other hand, grossly exaggerates the differences between the sexes and baselessly proclaims them to be ›natural‹. Illouz is more interested in alleviating the suffering love causes both sexes by elucidating the underlying societal factors. She sees no reason why it should be taboo to discuss the neoliberal cult of freedom that governs not only the economy but also the ›personal, emotional and sexual sphere‹.« Der Tagesspiegel

»Why Love Hurts takes a machete to the impenetrable undergrowth of modern love and provides convincing explanations for the insecurity and disorientation felt by the highly self-aware and autonomous individuals of late modernity.« Jungle World

»Why Love Hurts is an outstanding book about the limits of autonomy and the desire for love.« NZZ

»A bold, thought-provoking book.« Times Higher Education

»An important book […] full of arresting ideas about love in our time« Los Angeles Review of Books

»A significant achievement, a major analysis of love and an important contribution to sociology. It deserves to have a wide readership wherever love is.« The Australian

»Why Love Hurts is a tour de force, a thrilling read. Unseating the primacy of individual psychology as the reigning explanation for the travails of modern love, and demonstrating the profoundly social nature of our most intimate feelings, Eva Illouz etches a whole new emotional atlas.« Laura Kipnis, Northwestern University, and author of Against Love: A Polemic

»Eva Illouz’ Why Love Hurts is brilliant - the indispensable book on the social power and meaning of sex and love. And with a bonus: it cuts to the core of the modern emotional condition, all told.« Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

»Eva Illouz’ enormous talent to interpret vast empirical material from interviews, statistics, magazines, and novels with sociological imagination and philosophical understanding leads to striking and well-grounded results, such as the increasingly important role of sexiness and physical attraction in choosing mates. A milestone in the investigation of changing patterns of love and marriage.« Axel Honneth, University of Frankfurt and Columbia University

»In this bold and ground-breaking book Eva Illouz argues that there is something qualitatively new in the modern experience of romantic suffering. Readers may not agree with all of Illouz’ hypotheses, but none will fail to be provoked by them – and in so doing be forced to challenge their own assumptions about love and modern life itself.« Susan Neiman, Director of the Einstein Forum and author of Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grownup Idealists

»Recently named one of the most important thinkers of the future by German newspaper DIE ZEIT, Illouz could very well be the twenty-first century’s next great public intellectual.« Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics

»Illouz interrogates the travails of modern love and charts a course through the emotional geography of contemporary feeling […] [This book] will surely prove to make a valuable contribution as an addition to student reading lists, both for the ideas that it puts forward and for the lively debate and heart-felt discussion that it will generate among both women and men.« LSE Review of Books

»A valuable and much needed contribution to the Western discussion of how emotions and capitalism influence each other.« KULT_Online

»An insightful attempt at tackling the timely and difficult question of the relationship between romantic suffering and (post)modernity.« FWSA Blog

»Like any sociologist worth her salt, Illouz pushes readers to consider how our experience of love might largely be created by the kind of society we live in. Tracing a sort of history of emotions through archives and literature since the Regency era, she argues that in earlier times people’s feelings about love and sentiment were quite different from those we take as self-evident [...] It is not our own fault love hurts, Illouz tells us; it is inherent to our modern condition.« Inside Story

»No one will be able to discuss love without referring to this book.« DIE ZEIT


Eva Illouz introduces Why Love Hurts

Other publications

Warum Liebe endet/The End of Love (2018)

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Die große Regression/The Great Regression (2017)

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English world rights (Polity), Spanish world rights (Seix Barral), Catalan rights (Grup 62), Chinese simplex rights (Horizon), Brazilian Portuguese rights (Estação Liberdade), Korea (Sallim), Portugal (PRH – Objectiva), France (Premier Parallèle; Paperback Sublicense: Gallimard Folio), Italy (Feltrinelli), Netherlands (Atlas|Contact), Czech Republic (Rybka), Bulgaria (KX Critique & Humanism), Romania (ART), Turkey (Metis)

Die neue Liebesordnung/Hard-Core Romance (2013)

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English world rights (Chicago UP), Spanish world rights (Katz), France (Seuil), Italy (Mimesis), Netherlands (De Bezige Bij), Poland (PWN); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Korea (Dolbegae)

Gefühle in Zeiten des Kapitalismus/Cold Intimacies (2006)

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