Our culture valorises romantic love. Ask any asexual/aromantic person, it’s impossible to escape from. Love as an ideal has changed over time, from dependable economic married love, to escapist adulterous passionate love, to the current version of individualistic romantic love.
Love as a concept is constantly changing. Thanks to the internet, there’s a growing awareness of polyamory (not to be confused with polygamy, a style of marriage usually involving multiple wives.). Once you get other the possessive idea of monogamy, polyamorous people believe you can romantically love more than one person; although you’ll have trouble fitting it into your calendar, and dealing with other people’s assumptions. But even the idea of romantic, long-term monogamous love is very new.
Our language and ideas still haven’t caught up to it yet: being like an “old married couple” is short-hand for being incredibly comfortable with someone, but also teasing and bickering with each other. In other words, being entirely aware of your partners’ faults, but also grudgingly accepting of them. Truthfully, without the goggles of love, human beings are often irritating and imperfect. Long term, we’re not sexy creatures to be with. What we call “love” is actually a chemical soup, designed to exhilarate us and bind us together. As social animals, it primes us to connect. For traumatised people, wired to feel more intense emotions, this means they’re more likely to fall head-over-heels in “crazy stupid love”. But this kind of love isn’t designed to last…
In marketing and media, sex is easy to use as a substitute for love. Falling for someone is the fun easy part, rather than the more mysterious difficult work of organising your life together with another person. The kind of intimate long-term knowledge of a person that makes relationships work isn’t often portrayed on screen.
It’s more fun to glorify breath-taking attraction. Because of this bias to the dramatic, romance in films is far better than real life. It’s simple, pure, poignant and beautiful. By design we will generally only see meaningful romantic arcs in film, whether they end up together or tragically fall apart.
In reality, our instinct for love isn’t always a headline act. It is one of many other demands on our time and energy. We’re never going to find “The One” because we don’t have soundtracks and a screenwriter and endless hours of free time.
When we forget movie love is only a fantasy, it can be devastating for happiness. If someone is dashing and romantic and impulsive in reality , it’s more likely “Love Bombing” than real love. This is where a controlling or insecure person initially wins you over with grand displays of affection, and then becomes more controlling and difficult as the relationship moves forward. It’s built on the idea of devoted love we see in media, but it isn’t healthy for us. Real people are more complicated than characters. Without a director to fill our lives with serendipity and happy endings, we need other interests to stay healthy.
You can’t think about societies conception of love without talking about feminism, and the gendered way we view love. For a modern valentines day, we re-animate old prejudices about women and chocolate, or men and laziness. There’s enormous profit to be made from endorsing old-fashioned sexism, and wielding social pressure on a society still wired on tribal instincts. We still have brains who want to protect us from being cast out and alone, and who want strong bonds with the people around us. Buying a £5 card and box of chocolates won’t actually guarantee you love and protection, but there’s money to be made in exploiting that old instinct.
Every year I’m amazed that’s still profitable to package love as a “gift” for women, and by extension, women themselves as a gift for men. As a whole, society loves the stability and tradition we associate with gendered “romance”, even though it’s historically an economic survival tactic. For men granted the social rights of ownership, their wife’s monogamy was important to ensure their children could inherit their name, belongings, or land.
Men’s own monogamy was less important, and entire books and blogs have been written about the way this has affected our views on female vs. male sexuality; why this means male promiscuity is encouraged and natural whilst female purity has been valourised above all else. When right-wingers fear female promiscuity because of “cucking”, they are accurately reflecting the roots of modern social norms. Whether inheritance rights are still worth defining modern women’s behaviour by is a different question.
As a society, we’re still in love with the idea of love. We know it isn’t like the movies, but our media still glorifies that short-term hit. We trap each other in cyclical abusive relationships by calling them “passionate”; we fail to realise when we don’t have space for romantic partners; or when we’d be better off alone.
Women bear the brunt of old-fashioned expectations about loyalty and forgiveness, leading to dangerously one-sided controlling relationships, as well as outrageousmurder statistics from ex or current partners. Alternatively, LGBT+ people who don’t fit into hetero-normative expectations get sidelined; treated as a mystery because they don’t fit into out-dated gender roles of romance. And I’m not even qualified to talk about how dating and romantic expectations extend to race; because it is complicated.
Maybe it’s time we break up with what we call “love”, until we can get to know it a little better. Maybe push back on the ideology of valentines day cards, not buying into the expectations of romance above all else, maybe question how it is harmful to women, how it can stunt our emotional and personal growth. Because maybe, it’s time to work on ourselves for a change.
More like this:
- Kindness is now a Luxury Good
- Born Sexy Yesterday: Gender Flip Reaction
- What Beauty Really Is: A Theory
Thanks for reading! Apparently I can’t write snappy for love nor money at the moment. Everything is a huge long rant. I’ve completely lost the ability to be brief. Hopefully I get back in the groove soon, or this blog is going to totally swamp me. See you next week for hopefully something a little bit lighter and shorter!