Although we don’t realise it society plays a role in shaping our approach to relationships. In fact it defines the way we love. What we consider normal or abnormal in love is dictated by our culture. Like concepts of happiness, evil and morality, romance has a history.
The era we live in is a distinctive one in the history of love. It emerged around 1750 in the minds of philosophers, artists and poets and is called Romanticism. It has now conquered the world. Shaping movies, poems, songs and lives.
From Beirut to Bangalore, from Manhattan to Madrid we are all under this movements sway. While Romanticism is not exactly the same in each place its broad outlines are similar.
It is optimistic about marriage. A marriage should have all the excitement of a love affair. What we feel at the beginning of a relationship should last for twenty to forty years or more. Before Romanticism marriage was seen as practical, with love playing a small part, if at all.
In marriage and relationships we should also cease to be lonely. Romanticism promises that the right partner understands us as a soul mate. We need little communication. Partners should understand each other with no effort.
It also believed that feelings should guide our choice of partner, rather than practical considerations. Society rejects that we should marry for money.
True love for the Romantic also means we must accept everything about someone and aim to delight them all the time. In Romanticism’s view we will at all times be aligned and at all times know what our partner wants.
It is an aspirational movement and a great creation. At its best Romanticism is both beautiful and enjoyable, but it can also be disastrous for modern relationships. The expectations it sets are unrealistic and in essence take a brief idealised version of the romance found in the early part of a relationship applying it to whole lives spent together.
Moreover, it takes little account of the demands from other parts of modern culture such as family and work.
Romanticism may have been possible for artists and poets to dream about, but for the average person juggling a relationship, work under capitalism, and other demands, is an almost impossible task.
Thus we shouldn’t blame ourselves for the difficulties we face in relationships. Understanding Romanticism helps us ease some of the blame we place on ourselves when things go wrong or when expectations aren’t met.
Our culture raises unrealistic ideals and presents them as easy when they are anything but.
We seldom have an instant attraction to people and not all can be as beautiful as Hollywood stars. None of us are perfect. And it is impossible to sustain consistent satisfying sex over the course of a long-relationship, not least when work and family and living together wear you down. Nor can we always devote ourselves to our partner or stop ourselves feeling attracted to others.
And we cannot understand our partners without communicating. Nor will we have no secrets or stop feeling alone. Work and other commitments may mean couples must spend time apart. And it is hard to be at all times a soul mate, co-chauffeur, accountant, spiritual guide and household manager.
Is it any wonder that relationships fail? A more realistic wish list may do us all a world of good. To avoid the damage that Romanticism can do it is worth considering some countervailing points:
- That love and sex may not always belong together
- That discussing money in a relationship is not a betrayal of love
- That we and our partner are not perfect
- It takes great effort to understand another person
- That complete understanding is impossible
- That loneliness is a part of existence