Monday, May 02, 2005

EOTM: Love: The Real Kind

Forget "Romeo and Juliet" and its modern day clone "West Side Story". Forget "Sleepless in Seattle", "When Harry Met Sally", and all the rest of the commercial Hollywood tripe. If you want to see a real love story, rent a small budget film by the Montana Historical Commission called "Heartland".

Set in Montana (surprise!) around the turn of the last century, this beautiful little film shows mature love at its mundane but substantive best. There are no roses, Valentines, jewelry, or hankie waving declarations of love. There are simply two people who grow to respect, care for, and trust each other with their lives. Neither could hardly be farther from a Hollywood stereotype. No cover material for GQ or Cosmo here. Just people of substance and character who learn to depend on each other and support each other as they face the common challenges of survival.

The modern notions of "romance" and "romantic love", peddled in the forms of mindless mass market entertainment called romance novels and "chick flicks", have created such unrealistic and destructive expectations in the minds of so many people, mostly women but also a large number of men, that ordinary relationships which fall short of the simplistic perfection of idealized "love" are no longer considered satisfactory to most. There are never any stopped-up toilets, nor unpaid bills. Everything is "perfect", idyllic, utopian: the modern day version of the garden of eden myth. Gone is the concept of "for better or worse" which was the foundation that made marriage so successful historically.

When one can depend on someone year in and year out to be a partner and a support, to lend a helping hand when one falls, to nurse one through the occasional sickness or misfortune that is part of the real human condition; over time a deep respect and caring grows. This is real love. This is what will make a marriage work.

Romance is the most transitory and ephemeral thing in the world. One of the stupidest statements possible in the English language is "I still love you, but I'm not in love with you." We can be "in" a bathtub, or "in" deep shit, but we cannot be "in" love. Love is a verb, not a noun. One experiences love by loving, not by having love poured on them.

The emotions associated with romantic love are based entirely on the drive to reproduce which is built into the cells of every living thing. The thrills, the headiness, the euphoria, are all part of the mechanisms which serve the purpose of inducing us to take risks which may endanger ourselves in order to engage in the reproductive act. For most of their lives, human beings today are not active in reproduction. Basing relationships solely on reproductive mechanisms leaves them no foundation when reproduction is not the purpose of the relationship. This is why the vast majority of marriages are failing at the end of the 20th century.

Modern relationships tend to be like the old Greek myth of Procrustes, the robber who kept an inn to lure unwary travelers. He demanded that they fit perfectly into the only bed he had and chopped off parts which were too long or streched parts which were too short to fit. The ubiquitous nature of modern media has created "ideals" of what and how people "should" be which are so rigidly fixed in many people's minds that the first thing they do in a relationship is set out to transform the other person into the closest facsimile of the ideal which is possible given the nature of the raw material.

This is particularly true of women. Dozens of authors, women and men, have used the phrase "men are projects", i.e. remodeling projects. Folk wisdom on this issue abounds. "Women are always surprised when their husbands do not change after marriage. Men are always surprised when their wives do." Women who consider their mates projects instead of partners will always end up in a power struggle and control battle which, for the man, amounts to fighting for his life. The implicit message is "I have the right to, and intend to, destroy who you are so that I can make you into who I want you to be." Not surprisingly, this message does not thrill many men.

Mistaking the feelings which fuel the reproductive drive for love, and the false confusion of sex with intimacy and love, creates relationships which cannot be anything but short term and disappointing. In rural America, many a kitchen has a plaque on the wall that reads: "Kissin' don't last, cookin' do." This folk wisdom reflects the fact that a marriage is essentially a partnership formed for the purpose of helping the partners and their offspring survive. A natural division of labor based on the differing roles in the reproductive process made it wonderfully good sense for the male to spend proportionately more time in the outside world doing the work of feeding and clothing the family, while the female spent proportionately more time in the home using the produce of the male's work to create an environment which was conducive to survival for both of them and their children. Romance does not feed you when you are hungry, nor keep you from freezing to death when the temperature is below zero.

Only when all basic survival needs have been met, do people have the luxury of pursuing activities purely for pleasure, entertainment, recreation, or self-fulfillment. Technology, urbanization, and modern production/distribution systems have moved most life sustaining activities outside the bounds of the typical family today. Basic survival needs are seen as "entitlements", which is far different from conditions which prevailed in this country only a few decades ago, and which still prevail in most of the world. Survival is NOT an entitlement to most people. People who stand balanced on the precarious edge of survival understand this all too well. In such conditions, someone who shares their own resources to help another survive is commonly understood to be doing so because they are acting out of the emotion of love.

Therefor, a realistic definition of love is sharing one's resources to help another survive or even prosper. This is so central to men's intuitive understanding of what love really is, that when this is NOT seen as love, when it is rejected as love and they are told that love is objects given, they refuse to accept than definition and get confused and angry. They fall into the trap of believing that the more safe and comfortable they can make a woman feel, the more she will feel that he loves her. Modern men have been slow to realize that the sense of entitlement of the emotionally arrested adolescents, which modern women have become, makes them consider this to be the zero point. It is not the result of their labors, simply the minimum entrance requirements to get men to the starting line.

Comfort, safety, freedom from hunger, are all assumed by women today. And like the proverbial complaint of every generation about the next, they have no idea what it took to create it. They assume that they are entitled to it, and are wounded and oppressed if they do not have it given to them. Now that material expectations have escalated to the point where it takes years of 60+ hour weeks to accumulate enough experience and wealth (plus social connections and a lot of good luck) to be able to provide that, the vast majority of loving men are simply invisible to most women.

Today, the idea that a woman be a partner and expend a equal amount of effort to creating the comfortable environment they share has given way to the dogma of victimhood which asserts that a man who asks, or worse has the audacity to expect, that a woman make an equal contribution is considered guilty of oppression. Most women throw away more real love than most men get in their lifetimes.

Sadly, this fiction has been so well promoted and publicized that the majority of women have fallen for it: not just the extremists. Nothing is more indicative of the paradox of today's notions of love than the woman who complains bitterly about all the shortcomings of men, makes her hostility and contempt for them clear on a regular basis, dismisses their attempts to show love in the way that they know best, then cannot figure out why she cannot get one of these awful creatures to fall head over heels "in love" with her. Watching such a woman it is easy to take the equally hostile position that; even if the distorted claims of the feminists were true regarding how men consider women's mental capacity to be limited, they were apparently not without justification: women do not exhibit much intelligence when it comes to recognizing how their own behavior contributes directly to their circumumstances.

The most bewildering thing to men today, is how women expect them to take this outpouring of hostility and hatred and magically transform it into warm feelings for those women. Women seem to believe that they can bully men into loving them by hating us. It doesn't work that way. Hate breeds hate. LOVE breeds love, and any woman willing to love men, or one specific man, will find herself well loved in return. As long as she does not mistake jewelry and sport utility vehicles for love.


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