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Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, October 13, 2000


The writers: The psychology of love is where it all began; the result is novel 'Rosie'
By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
UH professor Elaine Hatfield's debut novel "Rosie"
is somewhat autobiographical. Hatfield, who researches
romantic love, co-authored the book with her husband
Richard Rapson, a history professor.

Bullet Rosie: By Elaine Hatfield and Richard Rapson (University of Hawai'i Press); softcover; 190 pages; $11.95

By Nadine Kam

A young academic starts her career by researching a subject dear to her heart, but what does it get her? A round of criticism and public humiliation at the hands of a powerful senator aiming to advance his own career.

That is the subject of Elaine Hatfield's debut novel. The University of Hawai'i at Manoa psychology professor found inspiration from her own travails as a researcher into the ways of love and romance.

In the book, names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so. Hatfield never had any intention of getting even.

"It was just for fun," she said. "Even the villains are people I like."

She wasn't quite as accepting 35 years ago, when Hatfield -- teaching at the University of Wisconsin -- found herself within sights of Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. She became the first recipient of his infamous Golden Fleece awards for her $84,000 National Science Foundation investigation into the way passionate love is experienced by people around the world. Proxmire continued to bestow his monthly "award" for the "most outrageous examples of federal waste" on members of the scientific community until he retired in 1988.

"Things have changed so much," Hatfield said. "At that time, no one was studying love and sex. Of course, now it's the prestigious thing to do. Family and marital relations are now considered so important that if we can find anything that will keep a family together, it's worth studying.

"But I understood what politics were about. It doesn't mean I liked it. I'm very shy, so it was very embarrassing for me to be on TV all the time. They'd ask the public to vote on who's right, and 99 times to one he'd win."

The controversy surrounding Hawaii's same-sex marriage debate reminded her of the hysteria, and the author of research books including "Love and Sex: Cross-cultural Perspectives" and "Love, Sex and Intimacy," decided to try her hand at getting one of her works of fiction published. She was assisted in writing and editing by her husband Richard Rapson, a professor of history at the UH.

"Rosie" follows the travails of a young red-headed academic, Rose St. Giles, who finds her work at the UH under scrutiny when the ambitious, opportunistic Sun-Shine Nakasone, secretary of Republican presidential hopeful Milt Kuszek goes searching for a cause that will gain votes.

Triggering the witchhunt is Rosie's testimony during Hawaii's same-sex marriage debate. A stand against Rosie is guaranteed to win conservatives to the senator's camp, though he admits to being more of a liberal.

Hatfield and Rapson write: "In today's political climate, to admit you were a populist or even an old-time liberal was to sign your own death warrant. You could do that -- or you could position yourself in the American mainstream. You could pretend to be as sexist, racist, and just plain dumb as everyone else in America. Once you'd gained power, you could work for change. Stand in the muck and reach for the stars. Senator Kuszek and Sun-Shine had chosen the latter strategy."

The immoral, manipulative Sun-Shine has her share of fans.

"I assumed everyone would like Rosie, but Sun-Shine is such a cutie," Hatfield said. "One of my colleagues even asked me if I could introduce him to Sun-Shine. I had to tell him there is no Sun-Shine, although I've known people like her, who are unstoppable."

As to why a shy person would deign to make a career of amour, Hatfield basically was thrown into it, having been assigned to teach a class on human sexuality when she was a newbie at the University of Wisconsin.

"I didn't know anything about sex so I went to the Kinsey Institute," she said, knowing they were pioneers in the human sexuality research.

"What I found was that it was a great way to teach research methods because students find statistics boring. It isn't boring when you're studying something you're interested in, and sex was a natural subject for young people."

It wasn't long before, just like Rosie, Hatfield learned about her "award" by reading about it in a newspaper. She soon received six sacks of mail, some positive, most "so grizzly and horrible I was afraid to respond."

Some people wrote of wanting to have their body parts cut off with a knife. "It was quite clear they needed big-time psychiatric help."

She was suddenly the focus of a People magazine story and her work was defended by Sen. Barry Goldwater and Nobel Prize winners. "Still, it wasn't a great experience," she said. As a result of Proxmire's attack, Hatfield never received a federal grant again. She continues to fund her research out of her own pocket.

Thanks to pioneers like Hatfield, whose research has been the subject of an A&E "Love Chronicles" special entitled "By Love Possessed," young people today can be a little bit smarter about relationships.

"They're not so starry eyed anymore," Hatfield said. "I think people in the past had a very limited view, a romantic view about relationships, and they made terrible decisions."

Hatfield admits to having been lucky in love. She and Rapson have been married for 19 years.

"No matter how smart you are, you can never be sure you'll get someone as wonderful as he is. He's a very kind person, very smart and very funny."

She said relationship troubles are most often rooted in a partner's desire for the other to change.

"That's not possible," she said. Years of research have convinced her that "maybe they'll change 2 percent in 50 years."

It's harder today for people to establish strong bonds because, Hatfield said, "People demand so much more. I don't think that's bad; it's just a different problem. In the old days, there was not the notion that you were entitled to personal happiness. Now, people want it all: good looks, money, intelligence, status.

"I think that's why women end up with pets and guys end up with computers."

In spite of all we know about relationships, people still fail to recognize that other humans "come in amazing, complex packages. A person often isn't much like what you expect on first sight. They've got to be flexible and adaptable, yet they'd be better off if they pick someone more like them.

"If you're a couch potato, you'd be better off with a recluse, not someone who wants to go out and party all the time."

Trust her, she's done the research.

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