There’s a lot of talk out there about the unrealistic expectations of romantic love. Comments about the juvenile hope that the most intense part of “true love” will last forever are ubiquitous on blogs and in print. Columnists decry the idea that we could ever be taken care of the way that we were as infants, and claim that it is this infantile need to feel the center of someone’s universe and to feel loved unconditionally which keeps us unhappy with the way love “really” is in today’s world–busy, scheduled, dull–warm but not hot.
I agree with them. What I don’t agree with is their logic. As neat as this psychological analysis of our attachment issues may be, I believe we miss the forest for that tree.
I do think we have a need to feel that we are the only one, that all of the attention is focused on us for once, that it’s all about me, me, me, and that I can be loved unconditionally. If you ask me if I think this is a juvenile need, I don’t know, because we have never had to live this way until the last century or so.
Adults have historically had the support of extended family as well as a village or neighborhood communities to help raise kids, plant food, keep things safe, get some affection, build a house. We lived in smaller communities; we lived with grandpa and grandma, sisters and brothers, older cousins with older kids, close friends. We didn’t rely on one person—a partner—to fill all of our needs. We had lots of help and company. People took care of us for our whole lives, not just as babies. And we took care of them.
What about today? We know it’s not fair to ask a spouse or life-partner to shoulder so much of the burden of what we need. But we don’t have enough support to get what we need, either. So we take on too much, and our partners take on too much, and no one gets enough. Is it any wonder that we all want to be infants again—the only life period when this society deems that type of care acceptable?
Is the answer to the “We Want Romance” problem just that we are just big babies seeking to return to an idealized space where we had everything that we needed, and therefore we need to grow up and understand that this is unrealistic and childish? Or is the answer that we need more community and family closely around us to give us a hug when we need it instead of a latte, to give us a hand when we need it instead of calling a contractor, to tell us we’re awesome when we need it instead of paying a therapist? Would it free us up so that we could go on more dates instead of sitting in front of the TV, exhausted? Would it mean we needed less attention from our partners since we had more overall? Maybe it would simply be that we would feel less guilty asking for it, knowing there was more to go around.
We don’t have to return to the past to test the theory. We can create community close to home, it just takes time. We can make decisions to make partnerships with others in our neighborhoods or families or with friends so that we can share more of our burdens and not feel so alone. Maybe this would give us more breathing room so that we wouldn’t need our partners so much as want them. Maybe this would allow us to love our partners, and to be loved, with the aliveness that in some distant place in our soul we know is our birthright.
Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo