Time for another rant about sexual and romantic scripts! Today’s pet peeve is how we talk about love, both finding and having it. Scripts on love are just chock full of mixed messages, and a lot of them are obnoxiously gendered.
We act like love, specifically romantic love, is the be-all and end-all for happiness. Being in love makes you complete and whole. Though these days we do caution folks to find their own happiness before seeking it in others, we still tend to consider romantic relationships part of a healthy life course. But at the same time, we often deem looking for love as almost pathological. People, particularly women, who are struggling to find romance are looked down upon, studied to within an inch of their life (what’s the Tinder trend of this week?) and hounded with advice. So you need love to be whole, but if you engage in a reasonable search for it, you’re suddenly just desperate?
It’s another example of how no one can win when following these scripts. Presumably, we’re supposed to just magically come upon our perfect mate, without emotional work or time spent in the dating pool. Spend too long looking and your social capital drops, and god forbid you’re aromantic or asexual and not interested in a partner. And this pressure falls disproportionately on women, with all the marketing and media focusing on how a woman has to be loved to feel happy and valued but very little focused on actively knowing how to love. Instead of hyperfocusing on the tactics of search, what if we turned this energy towards skills inside of a relationship, or how to figure out what it is you want, or how to identify when you’re loved by someone who isn’t healthy for you? Food for thought.
Now that I’ve come out of my hermitage once again, I have so many thoughts to share with you!
I was thinking about love in the shower (no, no, not like that) and I came to an interesting conclusion. I was thinking about what the function of “I love you” is in a relationship, particularly when said for the first time. When I was dating my college boyfriend, he said those three words after about six months. We hadn’t been friends first – we met, we started dating, and we’d been cruising along for a while when he dropped the bomb. I said “I love you, too” instinctively, but later in the comfort of my dorm room I started freaking out with my roommate. Do I love him? Do I, do I? The next morning I decided that I did, but it was something of a foregone conclusion.
So what does love mean in such a context? A lot of things, but two major ones come to mine. (1) The people involved have come to a certain level of intimacy and affection. (2) It’s a signal of commitment, possibly monogamy, that you’re in it for the long haul (or feel that way at the moment). The reason it has to serve that double function is the assumption that you didn’t start out intimate or affectionate. Mark and I were not friends in advance, and I never would’ve come to love him on that basis – we just aren’t that compatible. This is why I really like my current approach, i.e., I don’t have sex with anyone I don’t consider a close friend. The fact is, I already love my close friends. We’ve reached that level of intimacy and affection and I already trust them. I know that I like that individual as a person before we move into relationship (or just sexual friendship) territory. “I love you” isn’t some huge revelation. I already did! We love each other, yes, and I don’t mind communicating it, but it doesn’t have to serve function (2). It’s not some big bomb-dropping. I think it’s best not to conflate love and commitment or love and long-term relationships because there are so many forms of love. I could name about twenty people that I truly love, and none of them am I in a relationship with. I like being a bit more practical about it. If I feel that I want to be long-term with someone, then we can talk about it. It doesn’t have to be code words that confuse everyone and require long conversations with a third party. Communication, it’s what’s for dinner.
Off to the Iowa City Women’s Music Festival: Like Michigan, but with Shirts!
(shouldn’t that be their motto? seriously?)