Bad Romance

©Gabriela Camerotti

At age 16 I had little comprehension of romance beyond the clichéd images we’re force-fed in media. However, looking back, I probably had more of a sense of romance in that inexperienced stage of my life than I do now. As Cocteau essentially said, love is shown through action, and it seems in this age of absolute connectivity, where we expose our entire lives to the world in real time, we are more single, disconnected and “action-less” than ever. This disconnect begs the question: how does one reconcile modern life with the desire for love and romance? And is, as everyone seems to be claiming these days, romance dead?

The concept of romance that exists today is the mangled descendent of the medieval “amour courtois”, also known as Chivalric love. Conceptually, chivalry was fairly modern for its time. The lover (idolizer) accepted the independence of his mistress, who was often married to another man, and tried to prove himself worthy of her by acting bravely and honorably and by performing whatever deeds his lady might desire so that he might win her favor. Sexual satisfaction was not necessarily the end goal, as Chivalric love aimed, in its idealism, to exist as ‘love for loves sake’ and was seen as existing on a spiritual level because of the sacrifice involved – although the love was not entirely Platonic either, as it was based on a certain amount of sexual attraction.

Our modern associations of romance conjure commercial images- we’ve even built an entire holiday around selling the idea of love – a far cry from the exalted love knights expressed to their ladies. However, the idea of wooing, courting and seduction still play a significant part in our concept of love and romance. As Cocteau seemed to understand, love is shown through actions, and the idea of romance is what fuels those actions. Our current lack of action (and therefore, romance), speaks to the problem that love is still dependent on a sense of connectivity and intimacy, which has become increasingly rare as we become more and more independent of any sort of obligations or community.

We live our lives singly, at our computers, at our work desks, on facebook, on twitter, showing everyone what we’re doing and thinking, but never actually “connecting” with others. We still desire this sense of attachment, but without actually being attached. We desire love without the inherent risk of vulnerability and hurt that potentially accompany any romantic experience. Therefore, we try to find our ideal mates online, weeding them out through a series of questionnaires and photos, hoping that we’ll get what we ordered and not have to go through the bumps of actually putting oneself out there. Romance requires going beyond one’s self, which in this day seems to be beyond the scope of most people’s behavior because we live such self-centered lives. Chivalry and intimacy both require extending oneself beyond the immediate desires of the ego- loving for love’s sake, rather than desiring love so that we will be loved. It is only in actively extending oneself, through acts of thoughtfulness or consideration that romance exists.

The reality, of course, is that until the last 40 years of history in the western world and even currently in much of the world, relationships were engaged between the sexes as a contractual agreement; the concept of romance played a very small part in these bonds. Marriage was established as a contract between families to secure wealth, power and security. A man would secure his legacy through heirs and a woman would ensure that she would be provided for and kept safe. With the industrial Revolution and the increased access to earning one’s own living, we gained more independence and freedom, and weren’t as obligated to enter into the contract of marriage. If we fast-forward from then into our current state of hyper independence, it’s the norm for people to leave home at the end of their teenage years and go seek their fortune in life. The downside to this is that the social structure that existed previously through family and community and provided a sense of attachment and connectivity (and a specific amount of choices) today seems to be lacking. In 1960, 88% of men aged 35-44 were married, for women it was 87%. By 2007 this percentage had fallen to 69% for men and 72% for women.

Our independence has, in a sense, crippled us from forming intimate bonds because we’re not forced to deal with the realities of relationships, whether they’re romantic or not. We can move on from the guy who’s balding and chews with his mouth open or the girl who’s too needy and likes to watch reality TV. We can safely exist in our independence but we also maintain this idealism and sense of entitlement that the perfect person is out there waiting for us somewhere, and we’re content to have “fuck buddies” and get our intimacy from our friendships until they come along.

Nevertheless somehow the idea and desire for romance and connectivity persist. People complain about being lonely and single, but they create their own situation by failing to open up and connect to other people. The dichotomy is that we still maintain the same dusty ideal of romance that has existed for centuries even though social fabric and lifestyles have changed immensely over the centuries. It’s interesting that a concept that has existed over 900 years is still pervasive, and perhaps it speaks to our desire for a love greater than our desire for immediate gratification.

©Gabriela Camerotti

text by: Joseph Isho Levinson










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