Romance: On Value, Need, Seduction and Violence

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Why is romance such a strong value? I think part of the reason is that our emotions are so excluded for much of our lives. Romance is one area where we are allowed to make a decision based on our emotions.

Many Hollywood movies are dedicated to it; major sections of the publishing industry are devoted to it. There is a special day for it, and some things are sold mostly because of it (chocolates, champagne and many greeting cards for instance). Romance is a big deal.

Romance is a value for us. Some people spend their lives hoping for it. For those who have experienced an intense in-love experience, this isn’t surprising. I have been in-love properly once (with my first wife), and I am glad to have had it. For me it was an experience of extraordinary intensity. Just being with my partner was charged, and I was catapulted back to childhood in some ways too — feeling needy and with changeable emotions. I had the precious experience of feeling my heart fill with love. My experience of romance was positively delicious and deliciously positive.

Why is romance such a strong value? I think part of the reason is that our emotions are so excluded for much of our lives. Romance is one area where we are allowed to make a decision based on our emotions. The only other area I can think of is aesthetics — the objects and decoration that we like. But this isn’t so highly valued and (for most of us anyway) doesn’t touch us so profoundly. There are far fewer movies, novels or greetings cards devoted to the pursuit of beauty. The other part of the reason I think is because it feels so good.

I don’t want to devalue romance, but I do want to point out that it is not entirely good. The experience can be so intense that it is difficult to see beyond. By this I mean things like the couple being so wrapped up in each other that they don’t pay much attention to anyone else. They can be quite heartless in dropping other friends. The intensity of the experience can also blind us to the reality of the person we are in-love with (especially when it is love at first sight, we forget that we know little of the other person). Worst of all, in my view, the romantic relationship can include violence. I think that this is the clearest example of the intensity of the feeling leading someone to be blind to the person they are in-love with: they care about their own feelings and lash out when they feel bad. They then often feel bad and feel remorse and insist that they do love the person they hit. I don’t think this is love, but I do think they can be talking about in-love.

This is the darkest side of the in-love experience — that it can be compatible with violence. There is also a side to romance that is much more benign; I refer to seduction. One person can set out to quite deliberately seduce another; those intense, spontaneous feelings may be absent for the seducer, even if they are present for the one being seduced.

A successful seduction shows that the in-love experience can be fairly one-sided, that it has to do with an individual’s needs rather than being so much about the other person. (I think this explains why it can be surprising who is an effective seducer — they don’t necessarily appear conventionally attractive.) What are these needs? Why is it that seducers are effective?

I haven’t made an extensive study of this or been around many effective seducers. (My interests mean I don’t hang around those kinds of places and groups much I suppose.) The ones I have observed give attention: they are totally focused on the person they are seducing. They also lay on the compliments — with a trowel. They don’t go in for half measures. Others I have read of use humour, “laughing people into bed”.

I think this means that we are most open to being seduced when we need to feel good about ourselves. Being in-love fulfils a need — as does eating with friends or doing well in a game we value — just as the social force of romance (all those novels, movies and greeting cards) shows how much our emotions need a legitimate outlet. I don’t mean to suggest that in-love is somehow a bad thing.

This leads me to suggest something that may seem utopian: that our thoughts and feelings can function in harmony, that we can have relationships where both people have their needs met. I think there are examples of these things all around us, but they often aren’t pointed out to us (they are so common that we ignore them), and our attention often focuses on our frustrations rather than our fulfilment (even if fulfilment is much more common).

In most of our friendships, most of the time, there is a healthy give and take and some degree of mutual benefit. Even commuting to work we get on pretty well with other commuters. When deciding what to do we often do take account of how we feel about something (although it may be harder to talk about this than discuss a rational process).

So I’m suggesting that in some ways there is more romance in our lives (more mutual fulfilment, more engagement with our emotions) than we may notice. So I’d like to hear your experience. Do you find it easy to take account of both your thoughts and feelings? Do you find yourself in relationships that are mostly mutually fulfilling, or do you find yourself being more giving or taking? Has romance been an important part of your life (whether fulfilling or disappointing?). I’d like to hear from you in the comments.

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