Love doesn’t exist. We’ve been sold this ideal of “love” as a force which conquers all obstacles and ends in a happily ever after. But if that were true, there would be no breakups. We wouldn’t be confused about whether we’re in love or not, or believe we’re in love but later realise we never had been. We wouldn’t fall out of love. At the very least, breakups and divorce would be very rare. They’re not. It’s extremely rare for someone to end up marrying their first love, let alone their first date. We should face the truth- love is an emotion, nothing more and nothing less.
It may be more stable than most moods, but it’s still a mood- changeable. Some emotions such as anger or hatred can last for years- longer than many relationships. For some bubbly people, happiness is a lifelong emotion with only occasional pauses. All emotions are capable of lasting anything from seconds to a lifetime. When they last a short time, we call them ‘moods’ or ‘feelings’. If they last longer we call them ‘traits’ or ‘phases’. If they last longer and cause issues for the person, we label them ‘mental illness’. When they last decades, we see it as a ‘personality’ or ‘temperament’. (Or a chronic or major illness if the effects are negative). And love is the same. It can last a few months or a lifetime. Some people believe in love at first sight, and if that exists, then it proves that love can be as immediate as any other emotion. Accepting that love is simply an emotion produced by brain chemicals- and could probably be explained as lust plus friendship- is a lot more realistic.
Capitalist lies and psychological harm; how the idea of love ruins relationships
What was once an occurrence in fairytales (which actually didn’t explicitly state that love defeated evil or that the relationship was lifelong) is now perpetuated by Disney films, dating shows and pop culture. The goal of most televised dating activity and the premise of most contemporary music lyrics is that love should last for life. Dating and “failed” relationships are the search for that everlasting love, and anything which doesn’t match the ideal is denigrated as a mistake, tragedy, or failure . These “failed” relationships are usually mourned and seen negatively. In some cases their ending may be celebrated as correct since the love ideal was never reached (Little Mix’s Shout Out To My Ex, Rachel Steven’s Sweet Dreams My LA Ex, Eamon’s F**k It, just off the top of my head). The more self-aware songs acknowledge the contribution of relationships which don’t yield the love-ideal to one’s experiences and personal growth. Examples would be Fighter by Christina Aguilera and Shout Out To My Ex. There are other takes on the issue, such as mocking someone for losing a potential opportunity to find love, or blaming finances or the partner’s actions for the dissolution of a relationship. It’s as if any union which fails to provide heavenly bliss or an eternal lifespan has to be explained. It Ain’t Me by Selena Gomez, Fuck It by Cee Lo Green, All I have by Jennifer Lopez, Love Yourself by Justin Bieber, and countless others all fit this vibe.
Now, it’s not the fact that these songs exist. There should be- and indeed are- songs about every facet of human existence, from media hounding to prison, parenthood to Pizza Hut. Why wouldn’t there be songs about breakups, or about disappointing relationships? However, the overarching theme of TV shows, music, and independent content like vlogs and blogs on the subject of relationships is that love is the ultimate goal. Even songs about casual relationships suggest that this is simply a temporary lifestyle due to current preference or, more usually, time constraints. The end goal is still idealised love. And that expectation is so embedded in Western culture that every relationship which doesn’t last forever is seen as a failure. Even couples who stay friends after splitting still tend to view their time together as something that “didn’t work”. That’d make sense if there was betrayal or toxicity involved. But beginning the search for a life partner as soon as you’re out of high school and disparaging every partner who turns out not to be “the one” is self defeating.
It prevents a true appreciation of every relationship. All experiences are special and provide life experience, enjoyment and growth, as well as getting to know the other person. It doesn’t matter if the encounter lasts an hour or the best part of a century. It’s still unique. It’s still a part of your life story, whether the impact feels like nil or everything. Your brain is always learning, and you still gain something from most mundane experiences, even if you can’t quite remember who taught you that position.
The ideal love expectation doesn’t just cause unnecessary grief when relationships end or fail to meet such an unrealistic standard. It actually prevents ideal relationships forming, as we’re less likely to tolerate partners who we don’t think will satisfy this standard, so we end things with them- even though, in a more relaxed environment, the partnership may have thrived and eventually become “love”. The expectation also drives some people to obsessively chase their soulmate, dating endlessly to find someone to settle down with. When marriage is the goal and the relationship is rushed into and developed too quickly, breakups often result and the cycle repeats itself endlessly. The determination to find a life partner actually hinders that from happening.
Idealised love also leads some to fall into the trap of thinking love will solve all their problems. It likely won’t, because the issues are inside of themselves, not outside. Nobody can heal trauma for you or change your unhealthy habits. Treating love as a cure-all and The One as a saviour only leads to disappointment, breakups, and decreased chances of actually finding a stable relationship. It could even promote codependent or unhealthy relationships.
How the love ideal is used to exploit and manipulate
Abusers often use “love” to justify criminal behaviour. Paedophiles and those who abuse their position of power try to convince others that the relationship transcends laws or social norms because of love. They say to their victims things like “it’s okay for us to sleep together because we’re in love” or “our love is so special that society can’t understand it”. They may try to convince courts that they were in love with their victim and therefore their intentions couldn’t be bad or blameworthy.
Some countries have ‘Romeo and Juliet’ laws where paedophiles will walk free from court if they can manipulate their victims into saying they’re in love with the abuser. Love is used to justify statutory rape. Not the size of the age gap, not consent, not if there was grooming or not, but love. An idea, not an action or intention. A philosophical concept which is impossible to identify, measure, legally define, prove or disprove.
Abusers also use “love” to defend their violence towards their partners- they did it “because I just loved her too much to let her leave.” They committed sex crimes because they were “in love so I couldn’t help it”. They stalk their exes because “we were meant to be together” or “I still love him”.
It’s not so long ago that whatever crimes were committed within a marriage (a relationship where love is presumed) was legal- even if it was maiming or rape. While this is more to do with property and contract principles (women being the property of the husband or having to obey, meaning rape should be allowed or is the wife’s fault because she refused to obey her husband’s demands for sex), the fact that marriage was the trump card for previous generations probably has some impact on love being the trump card for this one.
Truly appreciating and experiencing: a healthy view of relationships
Love doesn’t need to be the goal for everyone. And perhaps it’s there more often than we think. Who says love can’t last a few moths or a few weeks? If it’s possible that love can happen at first sight, perhaps a small minority of people can experience love for a span of days.
Every experience is worthy. This time will not come again and has not happened before. The person you are now is different from the past you and future you. So every relationship is special in its own way. If you encountered that same person again in ten years, things might be different, even if it’s just the current events or the device you call them on. We should embrace the positive, not the negative. Take from each relationship the life lessons it taught us, the dating skills, the restaurants we discovered, the activities we were introduced to, that joke his friend told that one time, the turn-ons we didn’t know we were into. It’s all no less powerful, no less memorable or beautiful for not lasting forever.