A Sceptical View of Romantic Love
A more sceptical view of love has been presented by Michael Foley, in his book ‘The Age of Absurdity’. In his chapter on the Absurdity of Love he says.
‘Indeed so numerous and varied are the illusions, difficulties, demands, resentments, burdens and strains that beset contemporary relationships that the wonder is not that so many fail but that any survive at all.
Yet never have so many sought relationships so urgently or entered into them with such high expectations. For, as the actual relationships have become like short- term business transactions, the belief in eternal love as an essential prerequisite has grown stronger.
He also quotes Erich Fromm, at the start of his classic work ‘The Art of Loving’.
‘This attitude – that nothing is easier than love – has continued to be the prevalent idea about love in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary’.
Foley suggests that in the West we believe that all we have to do is fall in love with the right person and that any difficulties, insecurities and loneliness will disappear under the cloak of protective love.
He makes the point that if we put our happiness in the hands of someone else then it is also their fault when the relationship breaks down. In which case we surmise that we have not found the right one after all and so must continue our search with greater urgency.
‘It is astonishing how those with a string of failed relationships rarely accept that they themselves must be at least part of the problem’.
Foley suggests that after the dream wedding, the problems that were suppressed during the illusion of romantic love return, observing that ‘no one is easy to live with’, there are only ‘degrees of difficulty’. He strikes a chord when he says that instead of being encrusted with diamonds we are all a bundle ‘of irritating beliefs, habits, superstitions, neuroses, moods, ailments, indulgences and bad taste not to mention appalling relatives and inexplicable friends.’
Both Foley and the mistress in Advice To A Young Wife From An Old Mistress make comments about sex in modern relationships. Foley says
‘I may well belong to the last generation for whom sex is a mystery, a miracle, an inexhaustible source of wonder. Merely to be in the presence of a woman was to be touched by the sublime. Once everyone was thus ensorcelled, enraptured, enchanted. But now sex is just one more form of idle amusement..….And in losing contact with physical identity and needs, sex becomes increasingly cerebral, driven by concept and image, with concepts supplied by fantasy and the images by pornography’
On a similar theme the Mistress says:
In a controlled and increasingly homogenized social order, sexual expression is narrowed down to one channel, the erotic, so overloading it that it is becoming a burnt out case. The sensual nature of life used to be fulfilled on many levels: sailing, weaving, fire-making, woodworking, cooking; the feel of tools; the handling and gentling of animals; travel that was not trajectory in an air- conditioned capsule; reading; real talk. Now life is so largely a spectator sport that the senses are starved.
What struck me as I was researching romantic love in today’s world is that it is very ego based and shallow. Partners now expect more but are willing to give less. A lot depends on how the other person looks on your arm, what your friends and family think about them and what image they project of you. There is very little discussion of intimacy, connection, listening and real sharing.
If you accept the idea that the relationships you get are a reflection of your own personal development what does the lack of partnership success say about us?
Here are a few suggestions:
- We are looking outside ourselves to find completion and happiness
- We may lack the skills to develop relationships with any depth and meaning
- We have forgotten or never knew what a real relationships looks like possibly through a lack of role models.
- Many of us would rather be in unsuccessful relationships than be alone
- We are hooked on the chemical highs and feelings of being alive that romantic love creates possibly because many of the opportunities for sensuality have disappeared from modern life.
- We do not see a connection between why we fall in love and what is missing or undeveloped in ourselves
- We hope that our partner, will satisfy our need for love and attention that may have been absent in our upbringing.
- We do not understand that in wanting to find the ‘other’ to complete us that we are hoping that they will help us to heal wounds of the past.
- It is not until we may have fallen in and out of love quite a few times that we may realise that something about us needs to change.
If you think that I have presented a very cynical view of romantic love, you would of course be right. But the divorce rate in Western society seems to suggest that it’s not an inappropriate view.
I would not like to suggest that anyone gives up on having this unique, exciting and almost intoxicating experience of romantic love. But what I am saying and hope that you will take away from this chapter is that romantic love does not last. It’s a heady almost addictive state that will pass as the illusions fall away.
If you fall into romantic love once and it leads to lasting happiness and an evolving relationship together that lasts ‘until death do us part’ that is wonderful and to be celebrated.
For most of us that is not the case. We may decide to leave the failing relationship to concentrate on ‘fun’ or to go back in to the world of dating to find the ‘real one’. As I have demonstrated this is a strategy that is bound to fail unless the person takes a look at themselves and the part they played in the unsuccessful relationship.
The alternative is for the disillusioned partners to decide to stay together, to ‘try to make a go of it’. In doing so their relationship will either deteriorate into impoverished love with all that entails, or they will move onto the more structured stage of team work love.
In my next blog I will take a closer look at teamwork love.
With thanks to Jo Grant for permission to use her beautiful photographs
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