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Love actually…is all around the aid world

By Erin Nash and Brendan Rigby

Love in the humanitarian field is a tough game – at least according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) news service in a recent post entitled, ‘Fifty Shades of Aid’. Having worked/currently working in the sector ourselves, we tend to agree with their observations; that finding that ‘special someone’ can be a bit trickier for aid workers. We know that there are at least 52 reasons to date an aid worker, but where are they and how can you find them? Is it hard or just bruised egos? Perhaps you might find them through WhyDev’s Peer Coaching Pilot Program or online dating over at AidSource?

Anecdotally, we hear objections about the lack of prospective partners in the field mostly from women; straight men in international development seem to have it made, with high rates of quality and low rates of competition. The offspring of these couples, a post-2015 generation, will be better placed genetically to end global poverty. Multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-intelligent – they will blow all other Generations before them away. It is never too early to dub them ‘Generation xXx’ (like the Vin Diesel movie, pronounced ‘triple x’). In fact, we are sure many aid workers could relate, or have delusions of grandeur similar, to the storyline of Vin’s xXx:

“Xander Cage is your standard adrenaline junkie with no fear and a lousy attitude. When the US Government ‘recruits’ him to go on a mission, he’s not exactly thrilled. His mission: to gather information on an organization that may just be planning the destruction of the world, led by the nihilistic Yorgi” (IMDB).

Substitute the ‘nihilistic Yorgi’ for ‘Global Poverty’, and Xander Cage could be an aid worker.

If this is the story on the heterosexual-front, what’s happening on the LGBTIQ scene? And where are the best locations to be based, if you do happen to be in the market?

We’d like to get to the bottom of these questions at WhyDev, and to enable us to do that, we need as many people as possible globally to fill in a quick survey below. We’ll share the results with you in a post next week. But, before we launch into that, we’re also asking, as might you be wondering at this stage, ‘What’s love got to do with it’?

Love. That incredibly powerful word that means so many different things, to different people. The diversity of these conceptions, combined with the complexity of the emotions involved, means that there is no universal definition of love (although Hollywood and Carrie Bradshaw try). But despite this, it certainly seems to be something that all humans intuitively understand the essence of, and could perhaps be, humanity’s uniting force.

But, when compelled by one type of love to take a field-based position to assist in the fight for various egalitarian ideals, are we exposing ourselves to an inequality and disadvantage in life? Of finding that most prized and sought after type of love which makes the world go round – romance?

What is romance? What is romance between humanitarian workers? What is romance in the field? Carrie Bradshaw might actually be instructive here (and we’re sorry if her voice is suddenly narrating this post like a Sex and The City episode):

“When men attempt bold gestures, generally it’s considered romantic. When women do it, it’s often considered desperate or psycho”.

Romantic love lights up areas of the brain linked to the reward system, and releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine that lead to pleasure ‘highs’. It’s no wonder that there are reports of aid workers leaving the field in search of a partner when you learn that it is the release of these same hormones and stimulation of the same regions of the brain that produces the euphoria people feel when people take drugs like cocaine.

However, intoxication and addiction aren’t enough for a sustainable love. Although vital in the process, this intense period is programmed not to last. So, not only do you have to find someone that passionately rocks the caudate nuclei and ventral tegmental areas of your brain, but you also have to find someone who will provoke the release of the ‘cuddle’ hormone, oxytocin, and vasopressin, which promotes bonding and leads to attachment, and a mellower, but longer-lasting love.

You’re looking for a chemical cocktail, which like all good cocktails, has precisely the right proportions of each ingredient. This is a difficult task, one that can be challenging enough in your ‘default world’ of speed dating, The Bachelorette and waiting more than three days for him to call you. Therefore, the odds are looking tougher for the aid worker who’s looking for their life partner while fighting power cuts, poor Internet connections and waiting more than three days for the water to be turned back on.

The importance of picking the ‘right’ life partner for yourself can not be underestimated either. There is perhaps no other decision that has a larger influence on shaping your life, than your choice of partner.

But when you are in the ‘right’ relationship, this love is expansive, and society also reaps the flow on effects of your blissful flourishing. It trickles down. When in love, you’re reported to have higher productivity, attention, and goal-oriented behavior. And, through the release of endorphins, a greater sense of well-being and security.

Surging dopamine can also leave those love-struck taking exquisite delight in the smallest things, and people with higher levels of oxytocin, the ‘moral molecule’, have been found to be more trusting and empathetic, and behave more generously. Imagine what a greater proportion of enamored aid workers could do for the sector (and are hopefully practicing what they preach in terms of safe sex behaviours).

So, if the lack of partner availability turns out to be a real, not perceived, issue, it could have important implications for international development. We may need to recommend to donors that to achieve better outcomes in the field, they may have to direct funding towards recruitment campaigns to bolster the quantity of potential partners for aid workers in the field; particularly of men. It could be considered a gender mainstreaming activity. At the very least, we could hold UN Speed Dating Coordination Nights (UNSDCN) and host a dating reality TV show called ‘Beneficiary of Love‘.

Until then, fill in our survey, and we’ll get back to you on which locations you could strategically place yourself  in to give yourself the best chance if you’re an aid worker looking for love.

Love in the Field Survey

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Erin Nash

Erin is a Research Assistant to Professor Ian Gough at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and a consultant researcher for the International Institute for Environment and Development. She has a ten years of experience in sustainable development and holds a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons) and a Masters in Philosophy and Public Policy from the LSE. She is particularly interested the ethical dimensions of climate change and sustainable development. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinJNash

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8 thoughts on “Love actually…is all around the aid world”

  1. Hi there, wanted to contribute my two cents, ta for listening :) Consensual forms of non-monogamy are legitimate choices too, including as a life-situation rather than just for ‘while you’re hunting for the Cinderella experience’. The authors seem a little (shy/prudish/unsure) about including this perspective in your article, to wit “THE life-partner” and the regrettable phrasing of “married BUT dating” survey response. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s one starting point: http://www.polyamoryonline.org/

    1. Hi Amanda

      Thanks for your response. As you can imagine, writing an article on love and relationships is quite tricky and we did try our best to cater for everyone out there. I apologise for the wording… if written again, I would change to ‘married and dating’. As you’ll notice, we also included ‘dating several people’ in the survey questions too in the hope to cater for non-monogamous relationships, as well as putting in ‘other’ boxes for people to use where we hadn’t quite captured their experiences.

      Thanks for posting the link for readers who wish to know more.

  2. Over 50 years, Palms Australia has heaps of stories of individuals finding love in the field. These anecdotes include with other Palms volunteers, expats working with other agencies or in other fields, and relationships which blossom with locals often leading to a life spent “in country”. We have often joked that we would have more recruitment if we marketed ourselves as a dating agency (and probably have higher success rates than they do) but we don’t because we also know that self-interested motivations (career, love, escape from home issues) usually result in poor placements for host communities and volunteers.

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