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  • Haley McGee

Season 1: Episode 3 - Language and The Cost of Love with Sarah Seraj

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

A broken heart changes the way we speak and write. How? Why? And for how long? Not just that, but 3 months before a break up occurs researches are seeing changes in the way we communicate.

After analysing 1.2M posts by 6803 people in the Breakups subreddit, PhD student Sarah Seraj shares how our language is changed by a failed romance.

Episode Summary

This is the third episode of The Cost of Love with Haley McGee. Welcome!

Haley McGee is a love idiot. She’s also an actor and the author of the forthcoming book, ‘The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale’. On The Cost of Love Podcast she’s talking to a wide range of experts to try to figure out if the cost of love is worth it.

Each episode features a conversation between Haley and someone in the know, and they dig into that strange juicy place where love and money collide.

This intriguing and jam-packed episode is all about the cost of love and language with social psychologist and PhD student Sarah Seraj.

Sarah’s study of the language used before and after breakups was carried out by analysing 1.2 million posts made by 6803 people in the BreakUps Subreddit. This wide reaching and in-depth research has been featured on CBC, CNN, and now onThe Cost of Love (!!)

In part one, ‘Everyone’s a Love Idiot’, Haley grills Sarah with questions on her own romantic history and relationship with money. We learn how much her parents' relationship with money shaped her own, the ratio of fun to misery in her marriage and what music Sarah listens to to get her through trying times (hint: Anime).

In part two, ‘Brains Over Braun’, we apply Sarah’s expertise in research, linguistics and social psychology to the concept of the cost of love, explore some of the raw material she collected online and find out what the value of social media is for experiencing and analysing heartbreak.

Our discussion covers…

  • Why Haley became obsessed with the concept of the cost of love and what drew Sarah to the subject of language and heartbreak

  • What Reddit is and why it was a great place to study this subject

  • Looking at some of the heart-wrenching posts in the r/breakups subreddit

  • The most significant patterns she identified; when we use self-referential language, when we use we-language, what cognitive processing and analytical thinking are, and how they change when we're in an emotionally turbulent time

  • Content words versus function words -- which ones we can control and which ones we can't

  • What the language in Haley’s teenage diary says about the cost of her love

  • The value of Reddit for people going through heartbreak

  • Whether there’s a tipping point for wallowing, and what it takes to get there

  • What the essential value of heartbreak might be

  • The value of social media for mending our broken hearts... or not

In part three, ‘Free Hugs’, Sarah and Haley answer two listener questions about love and money. First discussing how to tackle that age old gender stereotype of who pays for dinner, when and why. And finally they offer some suggestions on where one might meet new people nowadays (!?), especially when you feel like you've struck out a few too many times.

We end a little music from Attack on Titan by Hiroyuki Sawano, the song Sarah listened to on repeat when going through a breakup. Click the link to listen to the whole soundtrack on YouTube.

About Sarah Seraj

Sarah Seraj is a third-year PhD student in the Social and Personality Psychology Area at the University of Texas at Austin. She originally graduated with a Bachelors and Masters in Civil Engineering, but transitioned to the field of psychology. Her research focuses on social upheavals: individual ones such as breakups and divorce, but also collective upheavals, such as the recent Black Lives Matter protests around the country.

She conducted a study delving into how our language changes when we’re going through a break-up, publishing her findings in a paper called Language left behind on social media exposes the emotional and cognitive costs of a romantic breakup.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @SerajSarah

Some of the Other Things Mentioned

Graph from Sarah's Study

Haley's Teenage Diary Results

Support the Podcast

Use the following links for your online shopping and we get a small kick-back from your order.

  • Paperchase - everything you need to scratch that stationary itch & set yourself up to kickstart your next at-home project.

  • Three Spirit Drinks – delicious plant-based non-alcoholic drinks made by a mix of plant scientists, world-class bartenders, hedonists, herbalists & artists. Something a little different for a lockdown Wednesday night!

Or you can donate directly, and buy us a coffee. Use our Ko-Fi link to donate £3 or more to support the work we’re doing on The Cost of Love. ☕❤️☕

Stay in Touch

Follow The Cost of Love on Instagram @thecostof_love, Twitter @thecostof_love and Facebook

Follow Haley on Instagram @yeshaleymcgee, Twitter @yeshaleymcgee and Facebook

Submit a Question about Love & Money

Email and give us some context while you're at it! We'll try to answer it on a future episode.


Written and Hosted by Haley McGee.

Produced and Edited by Maddie Haynes

Music and Audio Production by Robert Moutrey

Production Support from Eliza Cass

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