Saturday, March 21, 2015

What is Romantic Love?

Pélerinage à l'île de Cythère, dit L'Embarquement pour Cythère, 1717
Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Louvre, Paris

The Elegy

The elegy is one of the oldest continuous literary genres. Dating back to the Hellenistic period, possibly earlier, Northrop Fry describes the elegy as such: 

In romance the suspension of natural law and the individualizing of the hero's exploits reduce nature largely to the animal and vegetable world. Much of the hero's life is spent with animals, or at any rate the animals that are incurable romantics, such as horses, dogs, and falcons, and the typical setting of romance is the forest. [In romantic tragedy the] hero's death or isolation thus has the effect of a spirit passing out of nature, and evokes a mood best described as elegiac. The elegiac presents a heroism unspoiled by irony. The inevitability in the death of Beowulf, the treachery in the death of Roland, the malignancy that compasses the death of the martyred saint, are of much greater emotional importance than any ironic complications of hybris and hamartia that may be involved. Hence the elegiac is often accompanied by a diffused, resigned, melancholy sense of the passing of time, of the older changing and yielding to a new one […].

It makes you think, doesn't it? About that which we consider natural, genuine, true, honest, good ... eastern vs western ideals .. religious vs secular views ... even differences among purportedly like-minded beings ... age differences ... socio-economic differences ... hopes ... dreams ... preferences ... pet peeves ... with so many factors combined the odds of being compatible with any human being on the planet is incomprehensible ... even our clones would be different from ourselves.

If romantic love is not compatibility, then what is it? 


What is it that attracts us to others? 

Their eyes... ? 
Their smile ... ? 
Their attributes ... ? 

What is it that inspires us to desire another's presence in our lives? For the myriad of answers, there are a dozen more questions that arise. 

Psyché et l'Amour (Cupid and Psyche), exhibited at the 1798 Salon
François Gérard (1770 - 1837)
The Louvre

One of the most difficult dynamics to consider between individuals is the dance between Eros and Thanatos. Eros is the son of Aphrodite, shining goddess of love and beauty, while Thanatos, born of the goddess Night, thrives on the darkness of our lack of consciousness. 

If we consider first beauty, attraction is that innate love of beauty to which we find ourselves naturally drawn. It is the joy found in the presence of another that compels us to return time and time again for more of that which fills our senses with joy. It is all the alluring images of intimacy that bounce back and forth in our minds as we project our thoughts onto another. 

It is also that which we do not know. Thanatos inclining us toward that which is mysterious or foreign or new, which in turn ignites our curiosity. 

Romantic love is an attraction toward our perception of beauty as expressed in novelty. 

Relationships vs Romantic Love

Transitioning from Romantic love to a relationship is not within the scope of this article. Thus I have reached a stopping point, satisfied, at least for now, with my interpretation on Romantic Love as being something that touches our innate attraction toward that which we do not know combined with that which naturally attracts. If we combine the two together, we could say that we are naturally attracted to the unknown, which might be the underlining cause of attraction as a force. 

Is that which hides in the closet or under the bed frightening or exciting? Perhaps it is a little of both. Is it possible to have Eros without Thanatos? Do we wish for our partners to share our consciousness, to be compatible on all our neurotic levels, or do we merely wish to discover, learning about their and our own needs in the process? 

Those who are more idealistic about Romantic Love sometimes find the greatest pain. Wide-eyed they fall, giving their utmost to the beloved. Great is their dismay, when, giving all they can and value, they perceive their lover as casually mistreating that which they regard as sacred. Again, this is the realm of relationships rather than Romantic Love as a consequence of attraction. 

It is not that idealism is a less than ideal aspect of interacting with others, but that when idealism transcends Romantic Love into Relationshipal Love we encounter difficulty. In relationships, Thanatos is always lurking in the shadows. 

Sometimes we build an altar to our troublesome thoughts in the image of another. To build an altar is to remind ourselves of an existence that we would otherwise ignore, perhaps at our own peril. We avoid the painful side of Thanatos by holding ourselves and others accountable to an ideal few can maintain.

Romantic Love is not about idealism, not about denial, not about our need for compatibility and companionship, it is that innate attraction to that which is separate in order to balance that which is not present within.

How Romantic is that? 

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