Our Cultural (American) Myths of Romantic Love
One thing of which I’ve been particularly sensitive lately is the utter poverty of our American (Western?) myths and ideals on love relationships. As Americans, we are inundated – through movies, advertising, music and literature – that all that matters in a successful relationship is “love.”
For example, take the “Romantic Comedy.” Two people, usually incompatible in virtually every way, meet under less than auspicious circumstances; they fall madly in love through a series of slapstick conflicts, and then somehow magically live happily ever after. There’s no talk of financial matters, family matters; no discussion of how their relationship will serve society; etc. It’s all about “love”, romance, infatuation, sex. Every conflict and incompatibility is experienced and resolved (usually through sex) in the course of two hours.
I think that such a (mythic) picture of relationship is actually harmful to our relationship success in the real world. We grow up with this idea that any storm can be weathered, and difficulty overcome, if we simply “love each other.” We scoff at individuals who say they married “for money,” or because “he has a good job,” or because “she’s my ‘Sugar Momma,'” etc. Subtly, subliminally, almost imperceptibly, we are brainwashed into believing that marriage based on such considerations is base, vile, immoral.
Toward A “Philosophical Perspective” on Relationships
I recently received hexagram #7, THE ARMY, in connection to a question about my dating – and potentially marrying – an older woman. The line of text that rang a bell in my spirit states,
A more philosophical point of view [on relationships] can do wonders at this time, whereas a focus on the more eccentric aspects of your relationships can lead you astray.
Non-Western Views on Marriage and Relationships
I began thinking about how non-Western cultures treat the institutions of marriage and relationships. In particular, I thought of Asian-Pacific Rim, Middle Eastern, African and Indian cultures. In many of these cultures, arranged marriages are the norm, and have been for centuries. The families’ primary consideration is not “love” in our Americanized, romanticized sense of the term. Rather, the primary considerations are economical, familial and communal.
The families involved are more concerned with the economic viability of the relationship, the benefit the relationship will bring to the families involved, and the larger purpose the relationship will have in terms of serving the community at large.
After these questions are well considered, only then do the subjects of romantic love and compatibility factor in. And in many cases, romantic love does not factor into the decision at all.
How This All Relates to Hexagram #7
As I weigh the pros and cons of my personal relationship, in the light of Eastern concepts of love and marriage, I get the following:
*Barbara (my girlfriend) is financially established; she has a house and is willing to let me live with her. Currently, I rent; co-owning a house provides me with assets I would not otherwise have, thus benefiting me (at least if the real estate market in this region ever improves!) in the long run.
*She also runs a business from her home; I also have a business. We both have corporations. Therefore, financially speaking, a marriage offers hefty tax benefits for the both of us.
*The house is large enough for both of us to run our businesses out of. I currently do not have the space in my apartment to really take my business to the next level; she does.
*She is excellent at client management and business development; these are not my strongest points. Thus, she can help me with these vital aspects of building my business.
*I excel in the technical, entrepreneurial and more strategic aspects of running a business. These are not her strong points. Thus, I can help her business, which in turn helps me. A mutally beneficial business relationship – as well as love relationship – is definitely a real possibility.
*A marriage between us would mean that I would assume half her assets (namely, the equity of the house). This is a huge benefit. In turn, she would receive half my assets, which right now primarily include job and insurance assets.
*Spiritually-speaking, we both have a larger vision of creating charitable foundations to benefit the disadvantaged; and both of us desire to adopt a child at some point in the future – this also benefits society.
*Barbara, being significantly older, has wisdom I don’t yet have. There is much I learn from her on almost a daily basis about important matters such as work, business, finance, balance, family obligation, etc.
*Barbara’s health will likely start to deteriorate long before mine; I will still (hopefully) be young enough and strong enough to take good care of her, physically and financially, as she ages
*In short, our combined assets and income are huge pros to our relationship
*I worry that Barbara, being 20 years older, will be less attractive to me as the years go by. She worries about this, too.
*I worry that, because of her age, I won’t be able to handle taking care of her as her health deteriorates. (Of course, this is based on a projection that her health will start to deteriorate when I’m around 50, in the golden years of my work life, when I’m approaching retirement and want a traveling partner).
*As the relationship is not only age-differentiated, but racially-mixed, I worry that family and friends will disapprove.
Concluding Remarks: On Relationships
As you can see, all the “cons” are based on speculation, projection, worry, fear. By contrast, all the “pros” are based on fact, rational consideration, financial and societal feasibility.
Tina Turner wrote, “What’s love got to do with it?” Surely this hit song flies in the face of our cherished, Americanized views of love, sex, relationship and marriage. But it was a hit song nonetheless, and it contains a counterintuitive, if liberating truth – a truth that I’ve been realizing, gradually, of late : Love, in itself, will not make for a successful, happy relationship.
Ray Charles perhaps said it best:
“I got a woman, way over town, that’s good to me. Oh yea! She gives me money, when I’m in need! Oh, she’s a kind friend, a friend indeed! I got a woman, way over town, that’s good to me. Oh yeah!”
–Ray Charles, from I Got A Woman
Now, I realize that my statements may offend your moral sensibilities. I understand that some of you are “moral idealists.” But I am not. I am a philosophical practitioner [http://gnosisarts.com/nj-philosophical-practitioner.html], a businessman, a computer programmer. In other words, I seek the truth as it is, not as I would like it to be. Albert Camus once remarked that “truth, while crushing, liberates.”
Consider these relationship facts:
The divorce rate in America is among the highest in the world (around 52%). The majority of American marriages end in divorce. I’m certain that most of these couples who divorced participated in a wedding ceremony in which they stated their undying love for one another. Almost all these couples would say they married because they “loved one another.”
QED: The Beatles were wrong: love, by itself, is not all we need.
Surveys report that couples from arranged marriages, by contrast, have a very low divorce rate. While we can always say that this has more to do with religious or social factors, such a claim is not conclusive and does not change the fact that these couples stay together.
Additionally, some studies report that couples from arranged marriages have greater marital satisfaction rates than couples from chosen marriages. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that this may be because the couple from an arranged marriage grows to love one another, gradually over time; that the commitment to maintain the partnership precedes the (romantic) love that generated the partnership. Moreover, the quality of love that develops in arranged marriages over time is often richer, more stable, less affected by emotional swings and less impacted by financial or health hardships.
QED: Mary J. Blige’s statement was incorrect: Love isn’t all we need.
What I am coming to believe is that we’d all stand a better chance of having a happy, successful, long-lasting marriage, if we just take the “romantic love” variable out of the equation when choosing a mate. Unfortunately, the odds are against you if you believe that love, by itself, will sustain a marriage; and, as my momma always says: Numbers don’t lie.
But we Americans, like chronic smokers, who believe that “it won’t happen to me” as they watch a close friend die of lung cancer; say the same thing with respect to divorce: “It won’t happen to me; we’re meant to be; we love each other; we’ll be together forever.” Of course, we say this as we watch, time and again, the majority of couples around us splitting up left and right. Clearly, our belief that “love will keep us together” seems to be little more than wishful thinking.
Lt. McCaffey: “I want the truth!”
Col. Jessup: “You can’t handle the truth!”
—A Few Good Men