Is our conception of love skewed?
Lucy Facer takes a look at the modern conception of love to evaluate the blend between our complex society and how it saturates our idea of romance.
I have always been mystified by how romantic love seems to take precedence over all other relationships and connections. The narrative that we are not whole or fulfilled until we find our “other half” pervades almost all media we consume. Simultaneously, there seems to be an epidemic of loneliness in young people, suggesting that many people lack authentic connections in their lives.
It’s no wonder that we find it difficult to foster meaningful, successful relationships when our culture doesn’t create the conditions for this. Instead, capitalism dictates that love is a transaction where we market ourselves to appeal to possible suitors and in return, we expect unconditional love and fantastical romance. We base our definition of love on what we receive both materially and emotionally, rather than on how we can express our love to the people in our lives through actions. Our value as people has become inseparable from whether we are perceived as desirable.
Instead, capitalism dictates that love is a transaction where we market ourselves to appeal to possible suitors and in return, we expect unconditional love and fantastical romance.
There is a prevailing cultural idea that love is something that we “fall into” as a matter of chance or luck. Most of the advice we receive is centred around what we “deserve” from a partner as if a matter of payment. In reality, a healthy relationship is reciprocal and requires compromise and effort, as well as the ability to navigate disputes. Erich Fromm describes love as an art that takes practice and refinement. I think this is a useful outlook because it teaches us not to treat love as a given, but as something that we create through action.
Meanwhile, online dating presents a shortcut to all of our romantic needs. Dating apps have helped many people to find their lifelong partner, though I sense a growing disillusionment with the vapidity of seeking love through a simple swipe. Especially as a student, these apps are a melting pot of various dating aspirations that range from people looking for short-term fun to the love of their lives. Whilst this gives us the illusion of having more choices, the pace at which we cycle through potential partners can cause us to forget that there are real people behind the screen. How can we expect to find genuine connection when we assess people based on a handful of selfies and a vague list of interests? Let us be mindful of whether technology helps or hinders our search for love. Our current culture of “situationships” and ghosting seems antithetical to how we envision love because it encourages us to view others as two-dimensional beings.
Social media seems saturated with well-meaning yet overgeneralised infographics about what constitutes a healthy relationship. We are inclined to label typical human experiences as “toxic”, to overanalyse supposed red flags and to identify our attachment styles. For example, there is a contradictory idea that we cannot love another person until we love ourselves, yet this creates an ideal that we must reach a perfectly healed state before we can enter the dating world. This creates a cycle of unrealistic expectations and dissatisfaction because we are all moulded by our past romantic experiences, upbringing and other factors that may complicate our ability to love ourselves and others. Romantic love involves taking risks in the hope of a reward, even if this means owning our flaws. By reminding ourselves that love should be primarily enjoyable, we can remove much of the pressure to have the ultimate unproblematic relationship and embrace the messiness of loving another person.
By reminding ourselves that love should be primarily enjoyable, we can remove much of the pressure to have the ultimate unproblematic relationship and embrace the messiness of loving another person.
Furthermore, the dominant narratives of love and romance often only resonate with a limited audience, although there are more representations of queer love in media today. Many of the romantic milestones of heterosexual relationships can seem arbitrary or fraught with difficult emotions for LGBTQ+ people. For some people, accepting that they love in a way that is already seen as unconventional may mean sacrificing familial love. On the flip side, they may find a sense of community that outweighs the value of others’ approval or any cheap romantic gesture. This demonstrates how love is personally subjective and evades a singular definition.
I think to have a truly fulfilling life we must decentre romance and strive for a more balanced definition of love. This might mean prioritising love for friends and family, self-compassion, and even learning to love being alone. If we truly seek deep connections we must remember that we don’t necessarily need material gifts, pop culture cliches or the opinions of others to validate how we practice love.