The current ‘atmosphere’ of dating and relationships seems to be circulating the feeling of “I want it – but do I?”. I walk past young lovers in Paris (I’m in Paris at the moment) and see a lot of couples enjoying the energy of the city and each other – playing flirting games of “I love you” and “what more will you offer me” – and they are genuinely happy. I also walk past others who are musing with a friend on how they like this guy or that girl and what might be the prospect of being with this person and excited about it. And it started me wondering – what makes us pursue romantic love and affection with a person.
Even though I read and hear a lot of cynicism about dating, finding lasting love and marriage or commitment – I still see a lot of people pursuing, enjoying and loving romantic love. And I’m not in the online dating world. I see it on the streets, parks, bars and venues of Paris. In the couples and families in my building. On the summer vacations of those travelling in France. And in the everyday quotidian – people are still holding hands as if there was something deeply satisfying about being with someone.
One of the researchers on romantic love is Dr Helen Fisher an anthropologist who has studied the pursuit of romantic love in over 90 cultures across the globe both living today and from our past. Dr Fisher’s research has worked out the hormonal drives and personality profiles of love based on the 4 hormones of the body, estrogen, serotonin, testosterone and dopamine.
What intrigued me about a few of Dr Fisher’s talks in that she still does not have answers for why we pursue romantic love outside the motivating factors of hormonal urges. She certainly has mapped the motivators and she honestly and sweetly say that there is still a piece not covered by her research that can explain why over thousands of years of humanity there is that ongoing pursuit, fascination and interest in romantic love but her research does show that the obsession with romantic love is constant throughout cultures across time and the world.
On the street of Paris, I see young couples bantering and sharing their differing views as they cuddle and connect in what seems a safe place in a world that is full of a lot of change. And I muse to myself that these lovers are in the midst of a period of history which has the most change and the most humans on the planet. In their quiet sanctuary to provide solitude for two – a quiet place where two people can engage in the simplest activity of connection, two people engaged in each other with the hope or joy that this couple provides a depth of feeling they can’t find in the world. And in that connection, they can also feel the precariousness of resisting their lover, saying no I don’t like that and have their lover actually respond with a deep need or desire to keep their lover happy or sustain their affection. And then I think to myself, but humans have felt and thought they were caught in the worst of times throughout many periods of history. Paris itself has seen darker days as many of its museums and sites testify.
Is it that humans crave safety and security with someone in a world where there is no-one to really champion or celebrate them?
I’ve often wondered, if we crave that security as an adult, why isn’t our mother or father’s love enough (if they’re alive) – why do we go looking for a romantic love that is not the love of a dear family member. Some of us don’t like our families, so seeking out a romantic love interest is a good way to find someone who likes you, celebrates you – validates you – in spite of your family.
Getting into a couple gives you a sense of an anchor to the world and a clear position in the social structures. However, when you’re single or a free agent you could be perceived unconsciously as a potential threat to the species – because your role in the tribe is not defined or pinned down, like you could steal a partner in a couple or provide sexual competition or interest that undermines a couple’s perceived stability. As a couple you can be seen as a more stable “economic unit” that is predictable. However, if you are single, you could represent something that is ‘unknown’, your agenda, your ‘orientation’ in the world isn’t clear. What is your reason for being as a single agent?
The irony is that many people will now face being single for periods after being in a couple, because relationships don’t last lifetimes these days.
Are we at the end of thousands of years where the ‘long-term relationship equals life-term relationship’ means we are holding onto an old way of defining ‘security’ as being in a couple and we don’t know how to move beyond that?
It leaves a lot of my older friends who have left a marriage or relationship feeling they have to accept – at some point – that they are OK if they are not in a relationship. And for some they realize it is a powerful place for them to arrive: a final acceptance of they are who they are. They may be single or alone – and they are fine with that and even happy.
However, I still see people at all ages, sparkle when they meet someone who lights them up. And that’s the piece that still stirs me.
Here are my musings on why we as the human race continue to believe in romantic love (in spite of the political climate, the atmosphere of the planet or modern dating and its pitfalls):
two humans coming together with the hope of bringing out the best of each other fulfills a deep human need to know and experience yourself as a lovable, giving, flawed and in spite of the flaws, acceptable human being who can make someone else feel the same and even create the opportunity for that person you love to be more of who they are.
and for some, it is motivated by the desire that this person will accept you and bring out a piece of you that you just can’t find by yourself – but you suspect, sense, believe and hope this other person will find the way to manifest this hidden piece of yourself.
There are not a lot of places in our adult lives, where we play that role for each other.
Another way to put romantic love is that it is our unconscious drive and our soul’s need to discover what is hidden from us that the hope of romantic love offers a chance to get up close and intimate with.
I for one, am a believer in romance.
However, I don’t expect romance to be ‘plain sailing’ because the best intents unless they are fueled by some good common-sense skills on how to treat a human cannot fulfil the ideals of romantic love.
I am truly interested in knowing why you may be a believer or fan of romantic love.