Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Search of love

It is a strange thing, this quest of a man to find a woman, and a woman to find a man. It is not strange at all, at one level of course: like all living creatures we have an inner imperative to reproduce, to pass on copies of our precious little packages of DNA. But the quest for emotional intimacy, for someone with whom, at least ideally, we can spend the rest of our life, is a strange and tortuous one. I suspect, although I do not have the socio-historical evidence to back this up, that the ideal of “romantic love” that so often accompanies this quest is a very modern one. I wonder where it came from? What need does it fill? What is the loss for which it attempts to compensate?

When we are young, our personalities and values are often not yet fully formed, our ambitions and wishes only vaguely outlined, as we enter into this partnership for “life”. There is an upside and a downside to this. The upside is that the man and the woman (or the man and the man, or the woman and the woman) being not yet fully formed, help to form each other. They are still malleable enough to mould their lives and personalities around each other. Mistakes can be made, but there is still plenty of time to correct those. The downside is that two peoples’ personalities, beliefs, goals and values can begin to diverge, as they take shape. What seemed a good fit ten years ago, no longer is. There are, of course, many reasons why a relationship might not endure, but this is surely one of them. And we must note that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Religious convictions aside, perhaps men and women have not, in fact, evolved to remain in a single, lifelong relationship. Perhaps it is the persistent illusion or myth that this is the case which makes the failure to do so worse. I do not intend to belittle the emotional, psychological and economic consequences of the end of such a relationship for both the couple themselves and for any children involved. Nevertheless, perhaps the myth does not aid the process.

Despite these initial failures, the quest for a partnership continues. Perhaps men are more prone to launch themselves hastily into this pursuit than women. It is my impression that this is the case. But now, as people enter mid-life, there are additional problems. As often as not, we are now dealing with people whose personalities are well-formed, and even solidified. Lifestyles, goals, beliefs and values are all now more or less set in concrete. Each individual is now used to their own space, they have their own habits and quirks, and, in general, their lives are very “busy”. So now we have the problem of trying to fit together two solid objects, with hardened edges, and without a great deal of space or time in which to do so. Now there is no moulding and shaping. Pretty soon, edges will clash, and there will be breakages. I do not have any suggestions to offer about how to deal with this issue. I only wish to emphasise here that it is an issue; and that people who are “seeking a relationship” may not always recognise this, or be honest enough to acknowledge it.

So the problems of forming a relationship do not go away or even diminish as we grow older. They do, however, change. The desire for such a relationship also never seems to go away or diminish. Does the type of relationship we are seeking change? Perhaps. But that is another story.

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