Is romantic love sufficient for us to sustain intimate connections?
Ever since we were young, we read stories and saw films that spoke of true love in a specific way – there has to be a journey, a bit of drama, that one person who can turn around our entire existence and voila! what we have is ideal love.
Only that, as the world evolves with greater individualism as well as redefining communities, we the people are confronted with a different reality – that love perhaps comes from the meaning we create in our lives and that meaning can be created in a number of different ways. This is an antithesis to the fluff and blossoms we’ve grown up associating with love, the highest romance of its kind, the only thing that can salvage us.
One look at the craving for a significant other that many of us hold and we are reminded of Plato’s Symposium, where the philosopher mentions that man originated as a eight-limbed creature, both sexes blended into a whole. Zeus, the God of Sky and Thunder. However was threatened by this truth, since a whole being meant anyone could be stronger than the Gods. And thus he decided that man needed to be sliced into half so that the Gods remained forever powerful.
Now whether you’re someone who believes in mythology or not, you’ll see how a mythological halving can in fact be a metaphorical representation of most people looking for a “significant other”.
In other words, many people don’t feel sufficient if they don’t have a partner in their lives. However, the question is, is that the only way to attain fulfillment and peace in life?
Why do we define love the way we do?
Flip through the pages of the dictionary at home and you’ll most probably discover the definition of love being “an intense feeling of deep affection”. While that is often quite true, putting it all into the box of “romantic love” without looking at emotional nuances and other bonds that aren’t romantic, is closing down on ourselves and limiting the way we actually feel.
For example, you might be jealous that your best friend is spending time with some other friend more than you. Now in hindsight, if you were to process that jealousy, it might have the same elements as it would’ve had in case a lover was spending time with someone else.
The point is that society as a whole has perpetuated the concepts of relationships meaning nothing unless they are long and love being worthy only if it ends in a commitment as serious as marriage. Even as the world today is more accepting of different kinds of living arrangements, be it between lovers or roommates, what remains as a subtext is the incessant search for romantic love.
Now if you look at love, it’s an intense feeling and one that’s so elusive to capture within a single idea. However, the different people I’ve had spoken to specifically on “love” have unanimously agreed on one thing – they don’t exactly know what it is, though they do know what they want out of it.
Happiness, trust, safety, fulfillment and evolution are a few labels that have emerged.
Is there a way out of the quagmire of romantic love?
Whoever has been in love, will vouch for how good it feels as long as the rush of newness lasts. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, at no other time has the “emotional well-being of the couple” been as important. According to her, it is a contrast to an earlier time when staying on in a marriage, even if it was dysfunctional was non-negotiable.
With time, the idea of working at romance in a marriage was introduced and more recently, a marriage even had to take on the burden of self-actualization. The pressure then on romantic love, or so to say, is perhaps more than ever before.
Now if you break it all down, whether it is data gathered from work done by experts like Perel or examples you see all around you with friends speed dating (and perhaps even breaking up just as fast), one thing is clear – there has to be a different answer to the time and energy that we, as a collective, tend to spend running behind romantic love.
Is there an antidote to the belief of romantic love being the only love?
Thankfully, there is. Though the antidote isn’t in doing away with the need for romantic companionship, but seeing that there is a whole lot of meaning and worth beyond making space for a significant other in life.
1. Cultivate friendships and other meaningful connections
In the heady rush of romantic connections, even the most aware ones among us forget how valuable and fulfilling healthy friendships can be. In a friendship you can trust and build upon, being your true self and allowance for growth feature highly.
Meaningful connections, even if they don’t feature conventional romance, often teaches us to get back in touch with our real and more vulnerable selves.
According to Harvard, a study that observed more the 309,000 people concluded that the lack of social connections hikes up the risk of dying prematurely by almost 50%, no matter what the cause of death. That, in fact, is a parallel to smoking almost 15 cigarettes a day, with a more negative impact than even physical inertia and obesity.In a study published by the University of Michigan, created over two portions, friendships were seen as an important indicator of health and well-being in adulthood.
In the first portion, where more than 2,70,000 people were studied, it was found that older adults who placed more importance on cultivating friendships had greater overall well-being than those who didn’t. In the second portion, conducted across more than 7400 people, it was noted that over a six year period, strains from close friendships caused more chronic illnesses than anything else.
2. Focus on learning new skills and re-examining your dreams
I was recently reading Julia Cameron’s widely acclaimed book ‘The Artist’s Way’ where the author narrates about a number of people who lost touch with their dreams, as they went along in life, giving it shape and structure. What stood out for me is how, based on the author’s own admission, all these people eventually found creative ways to reconnect what they had originally wanted to do, even if they were in other careers by now.
Question is, if they can, why can’t you?
After all, going inward and finding a connection with yourself through something you’d love to engage with, is a form of love. Some people call it self-love and some others, self-care.
In tandem with reviewing cherished dreams, you might also have a buried need to make your current life more exciting. This is also a form of attention that the self can derive satisfaction from. Focus on health, “learn to design stationery, dive into a learning a sport, figure out how to bake…basically, take your pick.
Learning new things have been proven to create greater sense of worth and well being in individuals. As positive psychology expert Vanessa King has pointed out, “Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.”
3. Find happiness at work and creation
Agreed that since the late 90’s, we’ve all heard more and more about work-life balance. But let’s admit that we all know someone who is very content doing what they do. Their bills are paid on time, they contribute to their work environment and it all brings a sense of achievement. Work, when done boldly and happily, can generate a thrill and grounding that is difficult to challenge as an idea.
In the book “The How of Happiness”, which cites numerous studies, it is stated that only 10% happiness is circumstance-based while 40% is activity-based. Which indicates that happiness can indeed be created and more so when you do something you love.
Now you might counter this argument and say, everything comes with its own issues. And I won’t disagree with you. Only that when you spend time finding your purpose and acknowledging what actions feel most authentic to your sense of being, something else emerges.
I like to believe this is what some people say is a “flow state”. When you’re in flow, multiple things happen – your focus sharpens, distractions fall away, your engagement improves and to help it all, even time dilates (at least people perceive it to be so). It is akin to falling in love, in some ways, but also a departure, allowing you to focus on manifesting what might just be your most real self.
4. Build a community and contribute to it
You’d be right to say that this involves aspects of both the above mentioned points. Let’s take the example of Bhutan. The country surveys its citizens across nine key indicators to observe contentment and fulfillment, social vitality and connection being one.
Even the Government of Victoria, British Columbia has been participating in what is known as a Happiness Index Partnership and it has been observed that people in Greater Victoria who don’t get the opportunity to mingle too much socially, still feel less stressed. This is attributed to the sense of community that has been promoted in the area, 31% claiming their lives were “not very” or “not at all” stressful.
You may even want to revisit the old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Why?
Because increasingly as a society, we’ve been sliding into individualistic nooks, seeking everything that makes us loved and happy from one or two people (typically parents, spouse or children). This is stressful for the one seeking love, as well as the one having to “give” it. Though the definition and our own conditioning might make it difficult for us to believe, love can in fact be found in many more ways than one, even beyond all that is mentioned here.
Keep exploring and keep discovering all that challenges you yet provides comfort, brings you closer to your dreams and makes you more of who you are.
This post was previously published on www.themindsjournal.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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