i blame the beatles. ‘love is all you need’ might as well be the credo of our times. what is the solution to every problem in the world? a big greasy helping of the l word. in society, at least in the (sub)strata i operate, religion is dying. ‘faith in god’ has been replaced with ‘love conquers all’. im not saying this is a bad thing, just that its not the liberation from dogma we might think it is. to paraphrase, the greatest trick that religion ever pulled was to convince us that it didnt exist. religion was for silly peasants worshipping the bearded sky wizard. we sophisticates have evolved past that. we have quantum physics, psychology, and google to explain the world and our place in it. we tell ourselves that we have replaced faith with evidence based reasoning. we turn to science to provide all the answers to the universe. so far it seems to have worked out pretty well; microwave ovens, for instance. i will concede that science explains much of the “hows” of our world. im just not sure if it explains the “for whats”. that was also a function of religion. sure it explained why the sun rose every morning but it also prescribed why you should too. thats where love comes in. romantic love, especially, fills the vacuum left by religion while seemingly eliminating all the negative baggage. all the potential for salvation with none of that ego bruising submission. sounds nice, right? not when youre a perpetual single man in his early thirties surrounded by romantic fundamentalists. for me, romantic love is the last tyrannical force in our culture treated as unquestionable virtue, an old testament god demanding complete allegiance.
i get it though. i understand the appeal. as simon may put it in his excellent book ‘love: a history’, ‘we moderns are desperate to preserve an indestructible residue of the divine in a world powerfully dedicated to the abolition of the divine – but unable, in reality, to give up this most fundamental human need’. in other words, we all know there is no sky wizard. worse, we are all aware of the awful shit that has been done in the name of competing sky wizards. yet, on some level, we still really like the idea of there being some kind of sky wizardy in play. we still need to put our faith into something. so as a compromise, we infuse the sacred mystery into our human relationships. the connection to the divine becomes through each other, each of us a conduit and receiver. it is the one area of life where irrational beliefs and behaviours are totally justified. we believe in magical thinking like ‘soulmates’, ‘one in a millions’, ‘love is all you need’. sounds like sky wizardy to me.
like any religion, faith plays a huge role in romantic love. even when you are single you are told to have faith that there is somebody out there for everybody. if you dont think people believe that with religious fervour, argue the opposite at your next dinner party, see if you get invited back next month. thats the first commandment of romantic love: thou shalt believe there is someone out there for janice. it has its roots in old platonic ideas that at one point we were these complete beings with two heads and four arms that were cleaved apart and forever looking for our other halves. you know, that completely rational belief you hear about all the time in all those science journals. if you actually unpack this idea that ‘there is someone for everyone’ it reveals a lot of the underlying beliefs we have about romantic love. foremost, it is the belief that everyone deserves romantic love equally. i personally dont believe that anybody deserves anything, but thats a whole other argument. the belief is that no matter who you are, what you do, you are entitled to be in love. a problematic statement; does everyone really deserve to be loved? its nice to think so but maybe youre an asshole. do assholes still deserve love? more importantly do they deserve love as much as non-assholes do? if they do, and love is all you need, then whats to dissuade me from being an asshole? doesnt exactly provide a great moral framework for dating does it? at least god demanded you were nice to people. if there is somebody out there for everybody does that mean that the worst piece of shit in the world and myself have the exact same chances of hitting the love lottery? dont get me wrong, i think everybody should be afforded compassion and empathy but to believe that that the transcendent experience of two souls fusing together is equally accessible to everyone is another matter. it actual diminishes its worth if it can be gained so easily. that is, of course, if i believed it existed in the first place. i mean everyone has the right to climb a mountain, but how many of us actually can?
the second article of faith is that romantic love is unconditional. you know, like youre supposed to love god. totally a reasonable expectation to put on another fallible human. you slam these two ideas together in the social subconscious and you get the idea that there is someone out there for me who will love me no matter what i do as long as i love her too. sound familiar? sounds like a long haired palestinian dude i knew about two thousand years ago. the best part is that now your saviour isnt some inexplicably white dude nailed on a cross but an actual human you can have brunch with! heres the rub, we all have an intrinsic need for the sacred in our lives. if you deny that there exists a transcendent dimension to life (ie hippie mumbo jumbo) you will be forced to find that sacred in the material world. as a result we infuse our romantic relationships with some crazy grandeur we used to reserve for god and are inevitably disappointed when they fail to be the transcendent experience we innately desire.
im so lonely