When I was a child I couldn’t understand why most pop songs were about romantic love.  Why weren’t there any about velociraptors, subglacial volcanoes or the gravitational collapse of interstellar molecular clouds?  Yes, I know my parents should have spotted the warning signs in my dislike of football.

But I had a point.  We’re bombarded by love songs. And not just by love songs.  Also by constant reminders that we should be in a relationship.   Our tick-box society tells us that, along with having a successful career, a big salary, the right clothes and a nice car, we should also be part of a couple.  You need this to BE somebody.

Straight or gay, there’s an intense idealization of romantic love.  And if you’re on your own on Valentine’s Day, it’s really sad.

Coming to an arrangement

That’s not how our ancestors saw it.  A few hundred years ago, falling in love was regarded as a crazy basis for a partnership.  Arranged marriages were considered to be far more stable than love matches.  Samuel Johnson said that marriages should be made by the Lord Chancellor without the parties having any choice in the matter.  And yet, for all the bad press that arranged marriages justifiably get these days through their association with coercion, violence and all kinds of other abuses, there are also stories of successful ones where a deep love gradually evolves.

Valentine’s Day

If you’re happily paired off on Valentine’s Day, that’s great.  But if you’re not, or if you’re in a less than satisfactory relationship or if you’ve just broken up with someone, then it can be a very painful occasion.  Valentine’s Day can be a bit like Christmas – you’re always imagining that everybody else is having a whale of a time and that you’re failing.  A psychotherapist colleague tells me that he has clients who avoid going for a walk in the park because it hurts to see all the couples walking hand in hand.

 What is this thing called love?

Now, I’m absolutely not saying that romantic love is a bad thing.  Being in love can be one of the most fantastic experiences known to human beings.  It’s not every day that you have the sound of a Saturn V in your head, the sensation of being plugged into the National Grid and the feeling of walking at the cruising altitude of a bearded vulture.  The point I’m making is merely that romance is pushed a lot.

Maybe it’s a corrective to remember that the process of falling in love is nature’s trick to get us to learn the real business of loving.  Somebody once said, ‘Love is blind, marriage restores the sight’.  That’s a bit harsh but there’s an element of truth in it.  When we’re totally smitten in the early stages of a relationship we’re often mesmerized by all the similarities between the other person and ourselves.  It’s only when we spend a lot of time with them that the differences emerge and we start to understand what it is to really love another human being.  We accept and love them for who they are not for a mirror they hold up to us.  Long-lasting love isn’t narcissistic.  It is fulfilling.  And it brings peace.

Being somebody

By the way, on the subject of BEING somebody, what does that mean anyway?  Emily Dickinson wrote a famous poem that goes like this

‘I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!’

For a horrible moment I thought she said ‘Blog’.