Love is always present. If we take a look at our daily lives, the TV shows we watch, the books we read and the music we listen, we cannot escape this topic. Our idea of love though, dates back to 200 years ago, during the epoch of Romanticism. Almost everything in our society seems to have changed since then. We live, work and communicate differently, but our notion of love has practically stayed the same. Many of us may have experienced, that a lot of problems can arise from the new structures and patterns our modern society is shaped by. What keeps us though, from trying to act in another way and explore new forms of life and loving one another?
One of my best friends, let’s call him Burak, has found his love. His family is originally from the far east of Turkey. Where the mountains rise up to 5000 meters, the newspaper only comes once a week and children are happy to receive candy brought from Germany, as if it is Sugar Feast (Bayram). Everything there is traditional, nothing seems to have been altered by the influence of the Occident. Burak, though, grew up in one of the many multicultural districts in Berlin. Being socialised in the West and at the same time also somehow in Eastern Anatolia. The bonds of the family are still strong. Marriages were usually being arranged. But Burak found the woman, he wants to marry on his own. And that, in a very romantic way.
The ideal of the romantic love, a relationship which is supposed to „last untill death do us part“, which makes us marry each other and start a family together, seems to be influencing us utterly. This ideal dates back to around 1800, the epoch of Romanticism. Up untill that point, marriages were marriages of reason, for the aim of the family’s material reproduction. As soon as taking care for the food on the table wasn’t as necessary as it has been in former times, the new model of marrying started to be dominant. Love could now be the factor to marry. The Bourgeoisie played the Avantgarde and not many generations later whole societies were structured that way.
This is how we have been socialised since then and even completely different approaches and influences, like those of the primary socialisation within the family, don’t seem to be able to compete with this normative ideal. The cultural goods, we consume, if Telenovela, Music or Hollywood, the ideal is being put on our plates permanently by mass media and causes a desire almost noone can escape from.
Last week I found myself at a lecture of the well-known Israeli love-sociologist Eva Illouz. Her thesis is that our society’s idealized notion of relationships and love doesn’t fit our contemporary lifestyle. Our life plans are less planable than ever. We study, work and even live hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometers away from our partners. In former times people were strongly tied to specific spaces and spent their lives usually within a short distance. In the course of modernity the amount of potential interaction has grown tremendously, nowadays especially due to, digital means of communication. Smartphones and the Internet lead us to believe that we are close to the ones we love, while we are far away. But at the end of the day a skin is a skin and we also look for physical closeness and intimacy.
All of this challenges us and causes emotional problems, out of which there seems to be no way out. But what keeps us attached to this ideal, even though we know most of our relationships will not last untill the end of our lives? And by that, I don’t mean Burak, for whom I am very confident that it will, but thoroughly „western“ socialised Individuals.
My answer is: Jealousy. Day by day we are confronted with ideals, which we eventually start pursuing. They give us orientation and we compare ourselves with them. Subsequently we judge ourselves: Do we fit in, or not? Also here, the cultural products of our society, especially not to forget advertisement, confront us with a mirror, we cannot escape. This leads to a latent inferiority complex and we have huge fears, to have it confirmed. A lot of what happens around us we refer to ourselves, in the fear of not having been enough, not having offered enough of this and that and because of that we were not being noticed, considered or someone cheated on us.
Ultimately these dynamics are inherent to the logic of the system, we are all part of. And this logic has certain determinable political-economical causes. The era of neoliberalism, in which we find ourselves in right now has intensified those effects by far. In this stage of capitalism, beginning around 1980, the economy works more and more orientated at the purpose of profit. Ressources were suddenly scarce and to stabilise this instable economical system and save profits, social securities are constantly being insecured and public property is being privatised. Individuals have to succes and „pursue their happiness“ by themselves and cannot withdraw any longer into the „comfortable position“ of the welfare state, that takes care of them. Solidarity has been displaced by a large part through Hyper-Individualism. Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister from 1979 – 1990) has said the exposing sentence: „There is no such thing as society!“. Hence there are only billions of Individuals that have to look for their own well-being on markets. And this is supposed to carry us as a whole to the best situation with the biggest well-being for the highest number of people. Meant was, back then, as well as today, the market of labor, but we feel the side effects on other markets. There are not only markets for apples, cars and other products. There are also those for sex and friendships, purchasable and romantic love. And on every single one of them we are competing for privileged positions. Whoever is not able to make it, has to blame himself, is the motto.
This also implicates for our relationships: Whoever is not able to enter one, is a loser. And whoever is not able to keep up the ideal of romantic love is also a loser. Every „loss“ we will finally trace back to our own imperfection, because that is the way we have been socialised. Individualism, our claims of possession and immense self-ideals increase our jealoucy beyond all measure.
To not let the disaster take its course, it needs the courage for progressive change. New models of relationships should be tested. At least in young years the old relationship-model appears to have reached a dead-end. Even though, most likely, it won’t be easier emotionally. „Affairs“, even if they happen consensual, agreeing and opened, will still hurt. You cannot just simply erase the socialised influence on your world of feelings. But if one asks herself basic questions like: Why am I feeling like this right now? And: Does it have to be that way?, and one thinks the answers consequently to the end, it might cause a long-term process of thinking, perceiving and eventually feeling in a different way, which might ease our pain. Only with the courage to challenge things, new forms of relationships can be exploited, that might suit our contemporary forms of interaction and lifestyle better.