I recently saw a clip from Little Women (which is a story taking place in the 19th century) where Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) has an interesting exchange with Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) that goes something like this:
Laurie: Nothing to be ashamed of as long as you love him
Jo: I believe we have power over who we love
L: I think the poets might disagree
J: I’m not a poet, I’m a woman (with no rights or ways to earn money)
I used to think that society was coming up on a new, logical definition of love. In reality, no thought is really all that original and I shouldn’t have been surprised at the prospect that women of the past realized the positions they were in (though I doubt they vocalized those thoughts). I think this brings up an important discussion though. The age old question: What is love? Also, do we have control over it, is it some romantic mystical phenomenon? Do we have soul mates? Are we destined to meet a perfect someone?
These questions have all been danced around in my previous posts like “Hook-Up Culture” or “What Is A Healthy Relationship?“, but I think all my posts involving sex, intimacy, and relationships are pieces of a bigger puzzle. As much as we’d like to think love is simple, there’s a lot of thing that go into it, which is probably why its such a broad topic that people have a wide range of ideas and feelings about. Go ahead and take a moment, what does love mean to you?
Did you imagine a perfect relationship with a single partner? Maybe you recalled a certain relationship in your past, one filled with drama, heart ache, and intense intimacy? Or maybe you thought of a calmer sort of love, one filled with quiet seclusion and an unspoken understanding. Maybe there were multiple people, or none, maybe the thought of the feeling alone made you want to hide away. There are a million different versions of love, both platonic and romantic, and about a million more reactions to those different versions.
I think the previously mentioned Little Women scene perfectly encapsulates the largest differences between the different versions of love. One is a poetic, romantic, intense, fate-driven feeling that compels two people together against all odds. The other is a quieter, calmer, and more logically driven relationship that fulfills one’s needs. Is one better than the other? Is one entirely fake, since they willed themselves to feel a certain way?
The truth is, many factors that Jo March brings up really do impact what love can mean to someone. The liberty to choose one’s life partner wasn’t always available to all genders and sexualities. Women were married off, queer people weren’t able to even be with the gender they felt attraction to. Even in 2021, a few countries still have laws against being queer, and women’s rights are still being fought for. Famous poets of the past writing about love were either straight white men who could fight for a woman’s love, or people who were writing about the heart break of being in an impossible situation, loving someone they could never be with. In reality, if those sort of barriers weren’t in place, the intensity of their love wouldn’t have been as great.
Have you ever noticed that your feelings for someone is so much stronger when its someone who might never even notice you? You see endless posts of people pining over famous people, and stories of people obsessing over someone from afar. It’s these barriers and romanticization of a person that really make this “poetic love” phenomenon a thing. Toxic relationships that are on and off have a similar barrier, the fear of losing each other constantly keeps people at arms length.
Now, before the end of this post, I would be remiss if I did not put in my own experiences. Given today’s standards, I’m a little hesitant to share this because I know it would cause people to judge me, but logically I know it doesn’t affect me or define who I am. I’ve been intimate with around 75 people, about half I was open to being romantically involved with, and about 10 of them I was actually actively dating. I have felt “poetic love” towards about eight people, but I’ve come to realize that all of my experiences were me desperately searching for intimacy in general. I lacked friendship, let alone people’s attraction and love, so I sought it out like a starving animal looking for food. Many times when I received what I was looking for from the person, it wasn’t enough.
I know now that, much like many people do, I thought a significant other would complete me and be everything for me. In reality, a single person can not meet all social needs that a person has, like people to talk to, a support system, and people to spend time with and share hobbies with. Even in my current relationship, where my boyfriend shares almost every single world view and interest of mine, I have friends outside of the relationship because relying on my partner for everything would be a burden on the relationship. Getting different perspectives, spending time outside of the relationship, helps me grow as a person and appreciate my boyfriend more.
In reality, that sort of passionate love isn’t sustainable. I found healthy, long-lasting love because I stepped out of my ideas of perfection and gave someone who was compatible with me a shot. I didn’t let an instant connection define my future, and I didn’t let small issues ruin things for us. My relationship is the strongest out of all that I’ve seen and see around me because we communicate and are willing to work on things for each other. We’re considerate towards each other, and don’t compromise our boundaries or who we are to make the other happy. So, yes, I chose to fall in love. It isn’t forced, and it isn’t fake, it was just allowing the growth of a healthy partnership that I find comfort and stability in. We make the passion and intimacy, because those feelings come and go, but trust and compatibility are the foundations of a real love.