How Romanticism has deprived us of true love
As a society, we are all unquestionably sick. Concerned with vanity, the superficial, the pursuit of wealth and most ardently the quest for a transcendental, sublime, yet completely unattainable notion of love.
Many of us have experienced the tormented fleeting shadows of love. They consume us wholly. We behold the euphoric intensity of infatuation, but then crash - experiencing a Kafkaesque anguish - when we realise they are often a model of complete perfection that we ourselves have created; that we have projected onto them all what we lack, and allowed ourselves to be fooled by ideal contentment.
Recovery takes many forms. In my case it involves excessive drinking, my friends screaming ‘men are trash’, over-sexualising myself, and wasting my days watching Rom-Coms and listening to sad songs on repeat. As we allow this form of self-harm - deeply personal to all of us - it would almost be insulting to be told that we are the remains of Romanticism. Many of us would scoff at Francois de La Rochefoucauld wickedly declaring ‘there are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard such a thing’.
Crucially, over the centuries, the most important factor to have shaped the way in which we love, in the Western world most prominently, is the Romanticism movement. The Romanticism movement has shaped our ideas of the feelings we should value, and where our emotional emphases should fall. Romanticism reached the highest aesthetic pitch, yet unfortunately it has frequently misled us at a psychological level.
Romanticism made marriage a lifelong passionate love affair, it demonised unsatisfactory/infrequent sex and adultery into catastrophes, manifested a disdain for practicalities and money, and the most harmful notion is that to be in love is to be completely in synchronisation with each other’s souls. By those standards, our own relationships are almost always damaged and unsatisfactory, no wonder separation/divorce often appear inevitable.
In terms of psychotherapy, it is expected that 50% of us have an adult attachment disorder due to our imperfect childhoods. We are tainted by toxicity, our relationship style most suited to us entirely dependent on the way we were raised. So why do we consistently prize a ‘one size fits all’ relationship template?
A novel which rejects this romanticist relationship template is Francoise Sagan’s ‘Bonjour Tristesse.’ The protagonist, Cecile, was condemned at the time of publication for being shallow and superficial due to her insouciant attitudes towards love. She enjoys polyamoury, casual sex, the materials pleasures of life and intense temporary love affairs. Yet this is certainly most suited to her upbringing, and to fit her into the romanticist template would ultimately deprive her of her psychological needs. It begs the question, how many of us betray what is best for our minds due to what is culturally dictated to us?
So let us be consoled by the fact that our troubles with relationships don’t stem from our ineptitude, our own messed up inadequacy, or our own regrettable choices of partners. Knowing the ideals of romanticism invites us to another way of thinking: that we were set an incredibly hard task by our own culture which had the temerity to present itself as easy.