Death like birth is a one off life event. We cannot learn through our experience of either to “get it right” next time. Love on the other hand (or the act of ‘falling in love’) is an event amenable to repetition. As such it is also available for re-definition by the forces of culture – political, philosophical and economic.
We no longer imagine or indeed contract for that (romantic) notion of love “till death do us part.” A vision in part predicated on (now outdated) kin-ship structures. These days it seems we care less to tie ourselves into lifetime contracts, or at least not without the freedom to change provider.
Love in a consumer age
One factor involved in the consideration of any investment is the risk attached. The ‘hookup’ model of relationship is a way of keeping (emotional) risk to a minimum. Its strategic focus is on convenience and short term satisfaction. It requires a particular vigilance to any (unruly) emotional undercurrents, with cost/benefit analysis consistently calculated and reviewed. When the initial (emotional ) investment is small there is protection against future insecurity in what can be a highly volatile market.
In his book, ‘The Art of Loving’, Erich Fromm describes how satisfaction in love cannot be attained “…without true humility, courage, faith and discipline” a vision at odds with the consumer age. Now the structures and forces of the market place promise something different. We can barely move for ‘expert’ relationship advice and books, articles and podcasts abound to coach us in the practice of relationship consciousness. In the online marketplace, the otherwise busy consumer may choose from an extensive menu of mouthwatering relational options. Available with an ease of access (and exit) and an abundance of choice, previously unknown. The new ideal of instant satisfaction takes the wait out of wanting with all risk insurance and money back guarantees there to catch us if we fall.
Love and uncertainty (uncomfortable bedfellows)
Love though is an unruly force and resists attempts at mastery or design. Love finds its own meaning in a continual state of becoming. Its creative forces are fraught with risk and like any creative force, we may never be sure where it will end. When we ‘fall’ in love, we enter into a great unknown, we feel untethered from our usual moorings and suddenly vulnerable in the force field of another’s freedom. Indeed, love navigates a fine line between security and freedom and is threatened by both. ‘Too much security’ may feel like fusion or possession, stifling the creative urge. ‘Too much freedom’ (and a deficit of security) may lead to an overwhelming and agoraphobic sense of uncertainty.
There is then an inescapable duality in love and any attempt to surmount it ends only in its destruction. This paradox lies at the heart of loving. Eros forever haunted by Thanatos like an iron hand clad in a velvet glove.
Love seduces and emboldens us (at least in its opening gambit) to dive into the uncharted waters of ‘otherness’ and engage with the unknown. Love as an antidote to death soothes the ever present human dilemma of separateness. The blessing and the curse of individuality makes a mockery of us and all lovers seek to foreclose the space that separates them from their beloved. It is though in this very act that the death knell to love is sounded. Whatever else love might be a commitment to it inevitably involves the certainty of uncertainty.
To love is to risk and there is no algorithm to square that particular existential circle. The last word on love may perhaps always be best left to the poets.
Source – Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving(1957; Thomson’s, 1995)
Gerry Gilmartin is an accredited, registered and experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor. She currently works with individuals (young people/adults) and couples in private practice. Gerry is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Gerry Gilmartin –