Issue #64, 1/10/2007
A Valentines Day Dilemma
Family Court Philosopher
Valentines Day is fast approaching, as the circulars and store displays are making clear. Like Christmas, it is another holiday of servitude, created by merchants for merchants, that many of us are powerless to ignore. How many of those bouquets and bonbons are purchased as free-will expressions of love, and how many are bought because the purchaser knows that there will be hell to pay if he doesn't?
During this Valentines season, maybe we should pause to remember those who gave their lives for love. Perhaps we should erect a Wall of Remembrance to those who got sucked into someone else's mental illness and who thereby lost much of their life's potential. It turns out that in real life, love isn't all Cupid and chocolate. Love can be downright dangerous, and few of us are prepared for the peril.
Desperate to not be alone, we often abdicate our usual judgment. Through misty eyes, we tend to see perfection in any jerk with the right body and social packaging. Having thus been seduced and relinquishing all discretion, we often find ourselves in bondage, shackled to a partner without any ability to control them. Nice guys (and gals) have it especially bad: Their adaptability and generosity often gets used against them as the demands of their partner absorb more and more of their resources.
Marriages and other romantic relationships are complex systems of energy transfer. A reciprocal partnership of two equals is an admirable goal, but too many relationships evolve into something more like a parasitic binary star system where a black hole sucks the life out of a living star. What starts out as apparent equality often ends up as a one-sided relationship where one person gives and the other takes. "True love" sometimes becomes a death spiral.
It is not usually the stronger party sucking the life out the weaker one but the other way around. When forced to share a cell with someone who is undirected and insecure, the stronger party tends to be dominated by the other. By complaining, manipulating and tantruming, the weaker party often calls the shots, forcing the other into a insidious pattern of appeasement. Come Valentines Day, the other knows full well what his obligations are and the price to be paid for neglect.
They don't tell you about this in romance novels—that what may lie at the end of the rainbow may be a lifetime of imprisonment. Once you have explored all of the novelties of your partner and achieved all of the trappings of maximum commitment, the question arises: “What do we do now?” Hopefully, you become united in some shared and meaningful mission. If not, then less productive tasks will arise to fill the void.
To evade the growing spectre of meaninglessness, one partner may start creating problems for the other to solve. If one person's abilities and accomplishments exceed those of the other, then a natural jealousy will arise, and the other will often act to draw the other one down to their level. Unreasonable demands are made, dramas are staged and fights are instigated for no good reason. A relationship without meaning eventually becomes a relationship of conflict, because conflict fills the empty space and creates the illusion of substance. It also "equalizes" the relationship by drawing resources away from the more competent party.
The stronger party may see what is happening but may be powerless to stop it. The danger of marriage and other enforced relationships is that you lose your ability to pull away and renegotiate. Imprisoned by financial burdens, children, real estate and emotional vulnerabilities, one partner may feel obligated to appease the other no matter what the demands are. It is either that or face open conflict within a confined space.
"Enforced relationships" are different from free-will ones. If you have given away your discretion in a series of contracts, then you have to be in love. You have no choice. Even if it doesn't feel like love anymore, then you still have to claim it. When Valentines Day comes along, you have to buy the roses and the box of chocolates, to the delight of the florists and confectioners, because to not do so would be unacceptable.
The question arises, then, is love out of obligation or imprisonment really love at all? Are we in love because we are actively drawn to it, or because withdrawal is too painful to consider?
Is this a positive love or a negative one?
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