Can Love Last?
Can Love Last: the Fate of Romance over Time by Stephen A Mitchell came out in 2002. I read it in 2011. This book is all about romance and its degradation. Romance is closer to falling in love than being in love. Why does romance fade?
Romance fades because it is driven by sexuality and sexuality is primitive in its very nature. Romance tends to degrade into dispassionate friendship or purely sexual encounters. Romance fades because it is inspired by idealization and idealization, but its very nature, is illusory. Romance fades because it turns easily into hatred. Romance fades because nothing stays the same.
Mitchell gives us a case study where Brett felt put off by Betty because he was in danger of feeling something deeply in her presence. It wasn’t so much that he hated her, but that he hated her for loving him. Because her loved open up possibilities of his developing feelings for her frightened him. Men sometimes have a difficult time integrating desire and love. They suffer from the Madonna/Whore complex or some variation of it.
We had the sexual revolution of the 1960s and that led to the higher divorce rates of the 1970s. Many assume that marriage is safe and dull, but that is an illusion. Husbands are so dependable and wives are not so devoted. How knowable and predictable can another person truly be to us?
In human relationships safely and predictability are difficult to come by. We endlessly strive to re-establish that illusion of permanence and predictability. Love, by its very nature, is NOT secure. But we keep wanting to make it so. Love, Jacques Lacan noted, is giving something you don’t have to someone you don’t know. Safeness is deadness in relationships.
Love dies or the lovers die commented Harold Bloom in reference to Romeo and Juliet. Human beings crave both security and adventure. We crave both the familiar and the novel. We have conflicting desires so how do we reconcile these two different longings?
Romance is filled with longing and intense desire for what we do NOT have. A precondition of romantic passion is lack. Yet romantic love entices us with the security is seems to promise. If only the loves or lovers could find each other and live happily ever after they would be safe and happy right? But we never stay the same. We change and love changes.
Sex is about imagination. Imaging what the other person looks, feels and tastes like is part of the fun. There is a sense of self and a sense of other where sex is concerned. Sex and death are the most private experiences and yet the self is connected and related to others. And new relationships are often productions or re-productions of the old ones.
Love and those in love seek control, stability and continued certainty. Desire and those who feel desire seek surrender, adventure, novelty and the unknown. In desire we are searching for both missing parts of ourselves. The most we can hope for is that the illusion of infatuation will be transformed into “liking.” Romantic obsession, Freud believed, is the inverse of psychosis. Unrequited love, in which our romantic expenditures are met with no return or response, can return to self-loathing and even suicide.
Desire for someone unknown and unobtainable operates against desire for someone known and obtainable, therefore capable of being lost. Passion arrives in the tension between reality and fantasy. It is safer to fantasize about what does NOT have and therefore can’t lose!
Desire and dependency are interrelated. In the case study with Jake we see he has a bitter hostility toward women because they had power over him. He felt emotionally abandoned and so he orchestrated his revenge. Passionate hatred derives from humiliation and endearment to the self or the ego.
The value of contrivance of arousal in porn is what makes one dependent on it. The woman can’t make you want her or be dependent on her. If tricked into being attached or coerced into a relationship, then it doesn’t count. Both the women of porn and the prostitute serve the “what if” fantasy for men.
The capacity to love over time entails the capacity to tolerate and repair hatred. Guilt and self-pity are a zero-sum game. Control and commitment both play a role in romantic love. Love and then hate may not be initially our choice, but our commitment to continue the relationship is. Just saying “I love you” deepens the relationship.
Romance is not about secrets. It is about cultivating an understanding of your partner and an acceptance and tolerance of their fragileness. It is about appreciating how fantasies can become realities and how we can be happy with what we have.