Romantic love is euphoric; that burst of overwhelming emotion that blinds, enthralls and captivates. It’s the source material for songs, poetry, novels, operas, film, and fairy tales. It has challenged mere mortals across the ages to explain its mysteries; to translate an exhilarating emotional experience into words.
“You are nothing short of my everything.” – Unknown
“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you are the world.” – Bill Wilson
“I love you and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Thank you for going on this journey through life with me. There is nobody else who I would want by my side but you my angel.” – Unknown
“To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia – to mistake an ordinary young woman for a goddess.” – H. L. Mencken
What is Romantic Love?
These descriptions equate romantic love to something beyond the earthly realm with words like “goddess” and “angel,” while also connecting it to the pinnacle of our experience with words like “everything.”
Such characterizations of love are embedded in western culture; we don’t think to question them. When confronted with alternative love constructs from other cultures that bend towards practicality, such as arranged marriages, we often react with bewilderment and judgment; while also blind to our own culture’s relative lack of marital and relationship success.
What are our Expectations?
While I’m not advocating for arranged marriages, I do call us to question our cultural assumptions regarding love; that perhaps equating love to the otherworldly elements from myth, legend, and fairy tales isn’t serving our relationships well. Even though the euphoric feelings of romantic love undeniably exist, perhaps we need to reframe our relationship to those feelings; to process them on a different level of expectation.
While we receive faint signals that detail the work and effort required to maintain a more grounded love and relationship, they are often dwarfed by the seismic unrelenting messages of romantic love from every corner of the cultural landscape. Listen to a song. Watch a movie. Read a book. Review the imprinting of your favorite childhood fairy tales of princesses and princes. It’s all there, creating an expectation for a “happily ever after.”
Where Do Our Assumptions Come From?
The narratives, in their various forms, rarely explore or question this notion. From the troubadour songs of 12th century France to the latest film in the romantic comedy genre, the stories are often the same; a struggle through various obstacles before two people join together. Once they are together, the “happily ever after” begins. The drama stems from the struggle to overcome the forces keeping them separate. Once united, they are apparently fine with no more story to tell.
What Happens After “Happily Ever After?”
However, it is the rest of our lives. There must be more to the story and, perhaps, it doesn’t always translate to “happily ever after.” The time spent in “happily ever after” is an empty vessel within our cultural lexicon; a void that myths, songs, and movies don’t often address.
While we are aware of the concept that relationships require hard work, we don’t give much thought to what that actually entails and how it might impact our feelings of love. We think of the work as something that will eventually resuscitate our initial feelings; we will overcome the inevitable obstacles as a team with the rekindling of our romantic love as the reward; rather than a transformation of that love into something else.
Romantic Love Eventually Ends
When in the thralls of romantic love, we fail to fully grasp that those feelings will eventually end. Maybe not today, tomorrow, next week or year; but at some point, they will be gone; transformed into something else. Usually, when the euphoria dissipates quickly, we conclude that the relationship just wasn’t meant to be; that there was something missing; the connection just wasn’t there.
Unfortunately, when these powerful feelings evaporate after years of relationship, we make similar conclusions; we just don’t seem to connect anymore; the feelings just aren’t there; I don’t love him or her anymore; I have changed; our partner isn’t the same person I married, etc. The excitement, that was there in the beginning, has now subsided.
Chasing Romantic Love
Many people begin to crave and long for the excitement again and begin to look outside their relationship for it. Perhaps they find it with someone new, have an affair, and end their previous relationship. Then the same cycle repeats. If we aren’t careful, we can mindlessly spend our whole lives chasing the euphoria; like a drug, we can’t resist; mistakenly believing that we are merely searching for our true love.
It is utterly common to hear of people attempting to rekindle that spark; conceiving of ways to keep the romance alive. While these attempts may re-invigorate those feelings we once had, often the experience is short-lived; a sugar high that perhaps lasts for the evening, but then dissipates; replaced by an increasingly familiar drudgery.
Losing Romantic Love; The Great Opportunity
However, like so many aspects of life, this seemingly unfortunate reality only appears so because of perspective. It all depends on how we view the loss of ecstasy from our relationships; falling out of love can be an incredible opportunity if seen through a different prism. However, instead, we often experience falling out of love as a tremendous loss without any positives. While we suffer the loss of those seductive infatuated emotions, we also gain an opportunity by removing the veil in front of our eyes.
Instead of seeing the goddess, we now see a human being, with all the imperfections innate to our existence. Instead of the perfect companion, we now see a human partner; someone that resembles us; someone we can relate to on a human level with similar struggles and triumphs. An ordinary but real man replaces the knight in shining armor.
Human Love Replacing Romantic Love
From this deluge, a new intimacy can arise; a bond grounded in our partner’s humanity; based in reality, instead of the delusions born of ecstasy. At this moment, we can see our partner as a person; something closer to who they truly are. From this perspective, a new romance can arise; not one of the fairy tales, but one born of grounded realism. It may not feel euphoric, but to be loved for who we truly are, without the veil of romantic love, can be accompanied by feelings just as powerful; born of the acceptance and freedom to be ourselves; rather than the pretense of some ideal and the pressures to retain a goddess/god image.
Letting Go of Romantic Love
On one level, to be worshipped is intoxicating and seductive; it feels good to be the object of such reverence; to be seen as the princess or prince; to be someone’s everything and anything. However, it is also liberating to be loved as a human being; to be loved even after the veil of romantic love dissipates into the past; when we are no longer seen as characters of legend and myth, but actual people. We just need to reframe how we process this moment.
While it’s important to acknowledge the very real loss, perhaps we can recognize the new opportunity before us and begin to understand the shortcomings of our culturally embedded assumptions about how love is supposed to be. While we intellectually understand the idea of work and relationships, we don’t always comprehend and accept the full emotional reality. When in the thralls of romantic love, the idea of working at a relationship doesn’t seem to register completely. It comes across as a nice sentiment that surely wouldn’t threaten the current feelings.
What do you think? Do you disagree? Do you agree with me that romantic love eventually ends? Do you think romantic love should be a part of every relationship for it to be considered a “good” relationship? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.