If you’re sitting at the dinner table across from your significant other this Valentine’s Day thinking, “Cupid got it wrong,” then you might need a history lesson in love. Television, movies and music make love seems like some over-powering compulsion that must have a set of characteristics that, ordinarily, people don’t want in any other area of their personal lives. For example, on the hit show Scandal, Kerry Washington’s character Olivia tells her ex-fiance Edison that she won’t marry him because she wants “painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.” In a clear, level-headed response, Edison informs her, “Love is not supposed to be painful or devastating. Love isn’t supposed to hurt.”
The modern ideal of love is that unless it’s rough, rocky, dangerous and forbidden, then it’s lackluster. This has left many in the game of love confused, hurt and angry over relationships that don’t fit the passionate Hollywood stereotype. Worse yet…that notion has left those who have experienced a difficult, painful and devastating love reeling from the emotional effects of such a rollercoaster affair. If love isn’t supposed to be an all out assault on our senses, driving us mad with each passing day, then what exactly is is supposed to be like?
In ancient times, (think ancient Greece, not ancient Egypt), romantic love wasn’t even held in the highest regard. Love for friends was considered more precious than romantic love. An article featured in the Washington Post recently reflected the difference between how we view love today and how love has been viewed historically. In fact, the power of friendship, not romantic love, has been referenced as far back as the Bible. In an excerpt from the Washington Post article, the author points out that, “In the Bible, King Saul’s son Jonathan loves David, the young warrior who slays Goliath, “as his own soul” and swears eternal friendship with him, while David says their friendship surpasses romantic love.”
And you thought Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis had a deep bro-mance.
This notion of an all consuming love that Olivia Pope laments about is unrealistic at best; dangerous at worst. In fact, this ideal of the perfect, unwavering and unconditional love is a relatively new concept. In fact, according to the Washington Post, it wasn’t “Until the 18th century, love had been seen, variously, as conditional on the other person’s beauty (Plato), her virtues (Aristotle), her goodness (Saint Augustine) or her moral authenticity (the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau).”
In my own relationships, I have succumbed to Olivia’s idea of “devastating” love just one time…and that one time taught me a valuable lesson. If you can’t say that you want a “devastating” career, or a “devastating” experience in parenthood…why would you want a relationship with that or other negative characteristics? Love isn’t intended to be this separate, tumultuous thing that doesn’t affect our other duties in life. Having unrealistic expectations in love, or any other area of life, is a sure-fire set up for failure. The ancients didn’t believe in the type of love we crave today. They didn’t even qualify romantic love in such ways.
So the next time you’re tempted to say “the hell with it” because you haven’t found your “Olivia Pope-style” love, reassess what it means to be a good friend and measure your current relationship to that standard. If your significant other is respectful, kind, thoughtful, etc and you love them, then that’s the foundation for a great romance; despite what Hollywood tells you.