Recently I read someone saying how they were waiting to experience love as it is in the movies; which led me to wondering how these cultural images influence our personal life experiences, as well as what ‘love’ itself is all about.
In modern culture, the notion of romantic love often appears to be shorthand for meaning, success, worth, and various other things. Shorthand both in the sense that these ‘relationships’ often rush to hasty endpoints for the sake of viewing figures, and in that much seems to be skipped over (things like character, realities, difficulties).
Of course, no two relationships are alike and we all seek different things in our lives, but what ideas are we being sold? Is our self-worth, our social value dependent upon a romantic relationship? As in Relating to cultural benchmarks, I question what that really says about us. Often relationships seem to be practical economic or psychological arrangements; offering material, emotional, and social reassurance through the presence of another who reaffirms your views and priorities.
My view tends to be that relationships aren’t so much a place for seeking or strengthening the sense of self, as a venue for transformation and growth between independent partners. I don’t feel being part of a couple says anything fundamental about your worth, given that we are all individuals, complete within ourselves, and life doesn’t need to be so prescriptive in how we understand or evaluate one another.
Looking at movies, they tend to make ‘the couple’ the centre of attention, with all others serving to facilitate or challenge that relationship. In storytelling, that makes sense; but in life it seems combative. Are single people always ‘a threat’ or an inscrutable phenomenon? Are issues always so black and white, with one person gaining exclusivity, or is life more nuanced?
Then, in terms of intimacy, it seems we’re presented with many questionable scenarios and encouraged to accept them as normal. Surely – as with relationships themselves – we are talking of people’s inner selves, their dreams or insecurities, their difficulties in life, and their sense of worth. All areas demanding care, clarity, respect, and compassion; rather than unnecessary comparison with movie star standards.
I suppose we are storytelling creatures, inclined toward casting our life journey into a storyline of the self (especially when that approach is pushed at us through both culture and advertising). But what are relationships, and how do they relate to the self? Are we seeking reflection (see Mirrors we offer one another), security, or acting out our own story? Are cultural representations a sign of reality or something more symbolic (as explored in How many aren’t well represented?).
For me, modern culture frequently overlooks the truth of things while surrounding us with impossible and unhelpful notions. Romance could be this mystery of people sharing their true selves with another, not in a limiting but in a living way; this place where life can unfold and personalities can develop, rather than an often slightly stale recipe without true substance.