The illusion of romantic love: is romantic love enough for us to maintain intimate relationships?
Since we were young, we’ve read stories and watched movies that spoke of true love in a certain way – there has to be a journey, a bit of drama, that one person who can turn our entire existence upside down, and voila! what we have is ideal love.
Just that we as humans are faced with a different reality as the world evolves with greater individualism and a redefinition of communities – that love may come from the meanings we create in our lives and that meanings to a number of can be created in different ways.
This is an antithesis to the fluff and flowers that we have associated with love, the highest romance, the only thing that can save us. We grew up with an illusion of romantic love.
A look at the longing for a significant other that many of us harbor remind us of Plato’s symposium, where the philosopher mentions that man was originally an eight-part being, both sexes fused into a whole. Zeus, god of heaven and thunder. However, he felt threatened by this truth, because a whole being meant that anyone could be stronger than the gods. And so he decided that man had to be divided in half so that the gods would remain mighty forever.
Whether you are someone who believes in mythology or not, you will see how a mythological halving can indeed be a metaphorical representation of most of the people in search of a “significant other”.
In other words, many people feel inadequate when they don’t have a partner in their life. The question is, is that the only way to find fulfillment and peace in life?
Why do we define love the way we do?
If you browse the dictionary at home, you will most likely discover the definition of love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” While this is often true, when we put everything in the box of “romantic love” without considering the emotional nuances and other attachments that are not romantic, we lock ourselves in and limit the way we do we actually feel.
For example, you might be jealous that your best friend spends more time with another friend than you do. Now, if you work through that jealousy in retrospect, it could have the same elements as if your loved one were spending time with someone else.
The point is that society as a whole has perpetuated the concepts that relationships mean nothing if they are not long, and that love is only valuable if it ends in a serious bond like marriage. Even if the world today accepts different types of cohabitation, be it between lovers or roommates, the incessant search for romantic love remains as a subtext.
When you look at love, it’s an intense feeling and one that is so difficult to pin down in a single idea. The various people with whom I have spoken specifically about “love”, however, agreed on one point – they do not know exactly what it is, although they know what it is they promise themselves.
Happiness, trust, security, fulfillment and development are some of the terms that have emerged.
Is there a way out of the quagmire of romantic love?
Anyone who has ever been in love will vouch for how good it feels as long as the rush of novelty lasts. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, at no other time has the “emotional well-being of the couple” been so important. According to her, it is a contrast to an earlier time when remaining in a marriage, even if it was dysfunctional, was non-negotiable.
Over time, the idea of working on the romance of a marriage was introduced and, more recently, a marriage even had to take on the burden of self-actualization. The pressures on romantic love may be greater than ever.
Now if you break it all down, whether it’s data gathered by experts like Perel, or examples you see all around you of friends speed dating (and maybe even breaking up just as quickly) , one thing is clear – there has to be another answer to the time and energy we collectively spend chasing after romantic love.
Is there an antidote to believing that romantic love is the only love?
Fortunately, there is. The antidote is not to do away with the need for romantic company, but rather to recognize that there is a whole lot of meaning and value beyond making room for a significant other in life.
1. Maintain friendships and other meaningful connections
In the intoxication of romantic connections, even the most conscious of us forget how valuable and fulfilling healthy friendships can be. In a friendship that you can trust and build on, it is important to be your true self and allow growth.
Meaningful connections, even if they don’t involve conventional romance, often teach us to reconnect with our true and vulnerable selves.
According to Harvard, a study that watched more than 309,000 people concluded that lack of social connections increased the risk of prematurely dying by nearly 50%, regardless of the cause of death. Indeed, this parallels smoking nearly 15 cigarettes a day and has a more negative impact than even physical indolence and obesity. In a University of Michigan study that was done in two parts, friendships were seen as an important indicator of health and wellbeing in adulthood.
In the first part, which examined more than 2,70,000 people, it was found that older adults who placed more emphasis on maintaining friendships had greater overall well-being than those who didn’t. The second part, conducted on more than 7,400 people, found that over a six-year period, exposure to close friendship caused more chronic illness than anything else.
2. Focus on learning new skills and reviewing your dreams
I recently read Julia Cameron’s acclaimed book “The Artist’s Way”, in which the author tells of a number of people who have lost touch with their dreams in the course of their lives in order to give them shape and structure. What stood out to me is how, based on the author’s own admission, all of these people eventually found creative ways to reconnect with what they originally wanted to do, even if they are now in other professions.
The question is, if they can, why can’t you?
After all, a form of love is to go inside and connect with yourself by engaging in something you love. Some people call it self-love and others call it self-care.
In connection with looking back at cherished dreams, you may also have the buried need to make your current life more exciting. This, too, is a form of attention from which the self can derive satisfaction. Focus on your health, learn to design stationery, immerse yourself in learning a sport, find out how to bake … basically, pick something.
It has been proven that learning new things increases an individual’s self-esteem and well-being. Positive psychology expert Vanessa King pointed out, “Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.”
3. Finding happiness in work and creation
Granted, since the late 1990s we’ve all heard more and more about work-life balance. But let’s admit that we all know someone who is very happy with what they’re doing. Your bills are paid on time, they contribute to their work environment and it all brings a sense of achievement. Work, when done boldly and with joy, can create a thrill and grounding that is difficult to question as an idea.
The book The How of Happiness, which cites numerous studies, states that only 10% of happiness is circumstance-based while 40% is activity-based. Which suggests that happiness can indeed be created by doing something that one loves.
Now you may counter this argument and say that everything has its own problems. And I won’t contradict you. Only that when you spend time finding your purpose and realizing which actions feel most authentic to your sense of being, something else comes out.
I like to believe that this is what some people refer to as a “state of flow”. When you’re in the flow, several things happen – your focus sharpens, distractions fall away, your engagement improves, and to make matters worse, time even extends (at least that’s how people perceive it). It’s like falling in love in a way, but also a departure that allows you to focus on manifesting your true self.
4. Build a community and contribute to it
You are right in saying that this includes aspects of both of the above. Take the example of Bhutan. The country surveys its citizens on nine key indicators to observe satisfaction and fulfillment, with social vitality and connectedness being one of them.
The government of Victoria, British Columbia, has also participated in a so-called Happiness Index Partnership and it has been observed that people in the greater Victoria area who do not have the opportunity to mix too socially still feel less stressed. This is attributed to the sense of community that is promoted in the area. 31% said their life was “not very” or “not at all” stressful.
You may even want to revisit the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Why?
Because we as a society are increasingly slipping into individualistic corners and looking for everything that loves and makes us happy in one or two people (typically parents, spouses or children).
This is exhausting both for the one who seeks love and for the one who has to “give” it. Indeed, while the definition and our own conditioning make it hard for us to believe, love can be found in many different ways, even beyond what has been mentioned here.
Stay on a journey of discovery and continue to discover everything that challenges you, gives you comfort, brings you closer to your dreams and makes you more of who you are.