Q&A: Michael Oghia - Blogging Lebanese Love
Photo by Carolina Farion.
Relationships are tough. Very, very tough. I’ve had my share and am involved in a long-distance one right now.
The life of being on the road.
Now imagine trying to hold one down in a region in which unmarried youth face societal pressure to look great, have a fabulous social life and be in good moral standing all at the same time.
Now, that’s TOUGH capitalized.
I’ve visited Lebanon twice in the past year and found it to be one of the most diverse countries I’ve ever travelled to. Upon exiting at the airport you’re automatically greeted in Arabic (apparently I look Syrian), then French and finally English.
Most Lebanese (specifically in Beirut) has at least some fluency in these three languages.
While at a media conference at the American University of Beirut I happened upon Michael Oghia, a researcher there.
He greeted me in Arabic, then French.
After explaining I’m Scottish and working in Saudi Arabia, we started talking about a variety of things from politics (Scottish Independence movement - Occupy Glasgow anyone?) to philosophy and then, after a few beers, about love, life and relationships.
Ogie (like Yogie Bear), as he prefers to be called, started discussing the subject at great lengths with our guests, so I said to him - “Dude you should write about this. You’ve got some great insights.”
To which he replied, “As a matter of fact I do.”
LOVEanon: Dating with a Lebanese twist
What is LOVEanon? Are you like an agony aunt?
It’s not an advice blog - I’m not Dear Abby.
On the contrary, it only serves to help connect individuals to relationship research and resources. I set it up with the purpose of helping individuals understand who we love, why we love them, what we look for in a partner, and how we can create better, stronger, and more meaningful relationships.
What inspired this…it’s a combination of things. First you have to understand my thesis research. My MA (sociology) thesis pertains to how a sample of unmarried Arab youth form and maintain romantic relationships specifically exploring how they define, experience, identify, and value romantic love. Where did this topic come from?
Many places. When you look around Lebanon, you see couples holding hands in Jbeil, heart-shaped graffiti in Beirut, and overbooked restaurants on Valentines Day. Love is “in your face” both at AUB and throughout Beirut.
Two factors in particular were critical to beginning this research as well. The first is that there has been little-to-no research done on this topic, and none of them are extensive studies. The second is that my mother actually was in love with a guy in the 70s, but they couldn’t be together because her parents didn’t approve.
Basically, I reflected on this and combined with seeing how much “love” is around, I began to wonder if things had changed since 1970s Lebanon regarding romantic love and romantic relationships. Although love seems to be everywhere, what is harder to find is information that helps us navigate our romantic relationships. While the jury is still out about this in terms of my thesis (it’s almost done!), I designed a study all about love and relationships using AUB students as my sample population. As soon as the flyers for my thesis went up, people were talking about my study. It was a hot topic. One male student even came up to me one day when I was surveying and said he needed help with his relationship!
I really saw that there was room for something like a blog about relationships. Not an advice column—I’m not a professional yet as I said— but more like a way to connect people to relationship research and resources.
Something I’m very dedicated to as well is “public sociology,” which long story short amounts to connecting academia to the general public through advocacy, communication, and education. I thought, “Hey! People have been saying I would be a good person to talk more about this. Why not?” And the other thing is that I was getting so many requests to hear what the results of my research were. So, between the potential audience, the fact that no one else was doing it in Lebanon or for a Lebanese audience, and the overwhelming social support, I did it!
List five things you learned about yourself, love and relationships from the blog?
Great question… It’s interesting forming a relationship when you blog and study about love and relationships! Some female friends of mine have said that it could be a bit intimidating for some girls haha. Honestly though, it’s a wonderful professional tool for me. The way I blog isn’t just about news or opinion, I really connect people to research.
My blog actually includes references! I focus a lot on self-development and self-awareness, because these two concepts are paramount to fostering happier relationships. This includes how we communicate, which is a topic I frequently blog about. Most importantly, I review social scientific research relationships, and include it in the posts in an easy-to-understand way. But all this reviewing resources and research actually keeps me on top of the research in various fields related to relationship research as well. And it’s actually helped me in my thesis writing too, at least in terms of being more familiar with the general literature about relationships.
So five things…
- People in Lebanon really like and want to talk about love!
- Blogging is about content, not about the frequency that you post. Blogs are content driven!
- I really love blogging! And it’s really been helpful to people (I call my followers LOVEanese)
- It’s a great way to foster professional development without anyone’s help, but also I can do so in a way that let’s my voice and my personality shine through
- It’s really helped me solidify my interests better and understand why I am doing what I am. People have come to know me as “the love guy!” and I really like that. I am happy that it can help me spread my passion!
What have you found to be the most challenging issues? Was there any moment you thought, why in god’s name did I decide to do this?
I’m sure I have thought of that, but honestly, my readers are the best people in the world. They are so supportive! So far, I haven’t had many challenging issues, aside from people not commenting as much as I would like. But I know a lot of people read, and share. And I’m not worried about content either. I have a Word document that keeps growing in length with suggestions for posts, and I always ask readers to suggest content.
What has been your most controversial subject?
Hmm… I haven’t really had many. I try to keep my blog as objective and value-neutral as I can. Love tends to be something with a more positive connotation, and there is not necessarily as much taboo around it as there is with sex for instance. Also, I include so many references in my blog that there’s not much to add—e.g., it’s not an argument. It’s more of a discussion. Unlike other blogs that give mostly opinion, I try to keep mine out as much as I can. I try to make people think, but I do not like to be provocative or uninformed.
I did get a lot of comments on a post I wrote about the friend zone, but also one about sexuality. Sexuality as a whole is something I try to avoid because although it is often related to love and/or relationships, they aren’t inherently related per se. Love is my field, not sex. In the social sciences, they are completely different topics.
How long has the blog been running?
Since August 27, 2011.
How has it grown to be so popular? Do you have a content strategy for it? Or do you just write for the hell of it?
I really blog about whatever I feel like blogging about that particular week. It’s grown a lot through my social networks (both online and offline). I have a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, and many people have followed the blog through these two mediums, Facebook especially. I also have a Facebook page just for the blog (www.facebook.com/LOVEanon). I’m lucky as I’ve said because many people I know who read it share my content with their friends and on their pages/with their followers. Also, while my content is geared towards Lebanon, it is also applicable to a wider, more general audience.
So yes. I write for the hell of it!
Is it hard to maintain? You’re doing it for free?
Maintenance when it comes to money is simple. It’s on Blogger, which is free. So that kind of maintenance is easy. You are right though, sometimes I think to myself, “I spend so much time doing this, why do I? What’s the point?” You know, sometimes with all the research, writing, editing, etc., it takes me up to 8 or 9 hours to write a post. No kidding! I put a lot of effort, time, energy, and myself into the posts. And I’ve committed to writing one a week, and have been pretty good about sticking to that. But I try not to think of it in terms of what am I getting from it, or how is it helping me.
Call me either romantic or foolish (or both), but I think I do it in part because I’m really committed to this ideal that I’m a sociologist, and it’s my duty in part to serve the community. Taking my knowledge and my skills and communicating them to the wider society. I’m an idealist I guess, but I also have integrity. I will NEVER monetize my blog, and that is something I have very little doubt that I will change my mind on. I would much rather people just read the blog than gain money from it. I don’t want ads on my blog!
At what point did it go from being just a blog, to a full blown hobby?
Wow, good question too…No idea. I mean, I can’t remember the one moment, but it didn’t take long before I became “LOVEanon.” And conveniently enough, I love that :)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Check it out, and spread the love!