Prisoners of Romantic Love

Some friends of mine, Sally and Andrea, have started this thing called ‘Five in Five’. In essence, it is a good, old-fashioned Aussie date-a-thon. Single people have to go on five dates in five weeks – ideally with different people who they haven’t dated before (I’m not sure how strictly this is enforced) – and they get sponsored to do it. There is a website with a guest blog for people write posts on their experiences, or on the themes of dating, match-making, community etc etc. Anyway, even though I am not single, because I am a friend and a blogger, they asked me to write something for their guest blog page. The first thing I wrote was the post that follows, but I decided that it was perhaps a little too serious, so I wrote a really stupid one and sent them that instead. All this is just by way of explaining this post. It isn’t about parenting, or any of my usual hobby horses, but I didn’t want to just throw it away, and you never know, there might be something in it for you.

So please enjoy, or whatever else it is that happens for you when you read my posts….

…I studied psychology for a year, when I was an undergraduate. I gave it away when I realised that you had to study stats, rats and synapses for years before you were deemed worthy to be given the keys to unlock the mind of the criminally insane. I don’t remember much from that misspent year, but what has stayed with me is a graph we were shown in a Social Psychology lecture that charted the amount of love (the vertical axis) there is in romantic marriages versus arranged marriages over time (the horizontal axis). The arranged marriage line resembled the trajectory of a long, slow take-off, while the romantic marriage line looked more like a crash landing. I can’t remember how many years it took for the ‘love’ lines to cross, but it was surprisingly few.

Being heavily invested in romantic love, as I was, I found the graph a touch unsettling – no one likes to feel like they are backing the wrong horse – and it caused me to reflect (for the following couple of decades) on what was wrong with this model of relationship. Now that I am onto my second marriage, I think I’m getting close (a few more marriages and I’ll have it completely nailed). In brief, my thesis is that romantic love creates massive expectations of long term relationship/marriage without providing the requisite tools and support to meet those expectations. You can’t give two people a picture of the Taj Mahal and a $50 gift certificate for Bunnings, and not expect the replica they build to be a touch disappointing. Arranged marriages, by contrast, are like knocking up a bookcase from IKEA with a crack team of tradies – except that it is a magic bookcase, and after a few years it starts to morph into the Taj Mahal (Yes, I know that it is a mausoleum and thus a poor choice for my illustration, but it was the first thing that came to mind).

Now, you may be thinking, I’d rather have a crap Taj Mahal from outset than the world’s best magical, transforming IKEA bookcase, and I hear what you’re saying. But if we want the best of both models then there are a few steps we need to follow. Step one is acknowledging that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Taj Mahal wasn’t built with an Allen Key. If you want your relationship to be a modern wonder of the world, you’re going to have to tool up. If you didn’t inherit a great set of relational tools from your parents, then buy one on Ebay (ie get some therapy).

Step two is lower and heighten your expectations. Talk to anyone who has been in a successful long term relationship (and if you don’t know anyone who has, then step three is to find some) and they will tell you that a great relationship is both more mundane, and infinitely richer and more beautiful, than anything you see on the telly.

Step 3 (or 4) is to get your friends to find your partner. Yes, you read right! I think the most confronting realisation I had from reflecting on the poor performance of romantic relationships in comparison to arranged ones was that, whether we like it or not, when it comes to relationships we often don’t know what’s best for us. Those that love us and know us best, usually know us better than we know ourselves. In other words, get your friends and family (if they really love you) to find you a partner.

There is a second, and even more important, reason to do this, and that is that if your friends and family find you a partner then they are much more likely to be allies, rather than enemies, of the relationship. My first marriage ended because my wife’s parents considered me a vampire (and this was back in the nineties when that was a bad thing). They literally thought that I was sucking the life out of their daughter. She laughed off this act of sabotage at the time, but these things lie like landmines under the surface of a relationship, and when times get tough (and they always do), they blew your legs off.

About six years ago, I had worked myself into a relational corner. Groucho Marx once said that he ‘didn’t care to belong to a club that would accept people like him as members’. I was like that with women, except in my case, the only clubs I let myself join were clubs I didn’t really want to belong to in the first. Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Luckily for me, I was set up, by a friend, with a woman who I would never have allowed myself to pursue, and I fell instantly and completely in love with her.

As chance would have it, the woman in question was in possession of a fairly extensive relational tool kit, and a readiness for the beautiful and mundane. The challenge for us was to build a container for our relationship. The friend who had set us up was the only friend we had in common. We had to start from scratch in find friends for the relationship from within our individual friendship circles, and that proved a bit tricky at first, but we got there (mainly because we knew how important it was from bitter, and sweet, experience). Luckily, thanks to our poor relationship choices in our twenties, our families were ready to receive with open arms any partner that either of us chose who wasn’t an obvious psychopath or narcissist (and I’ve learnt to hide both those tendencies pretty effectively over the years).

To sum up, it takes a village to conceive and raise a relationship, so if your friends try to set you up with someone, don’t take out a restraining order on them.

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5 Responses to Prisoners of Romantic Love

  1. ‘…and this was back in the nineties when that was a bad thing.’ Love it. Rod, I totally agree that relationships can not, or should not, stand alone. Great article.

  2. Rodule says:

    Great post Rod – and send it in to Sally and Andrea – it would be good material for her audience although it does undermine the premise of their scheme! Happy 2012.

  3. Lulu says:

    So true Rod! Vampire eh? I was called the spawn of the devil, or perhaps it just le diable, tout court…

  4. Pingback: Prisoners of Romantic Love | Five in Five

  5. Steve says:

    Appreciated your thoughts. I’m heading out now to find a wife for my eldest son.

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