It’s Christmas time and traditionally a time for relaxation and spending time with those we love. I’m interested in dialectics and because Christmas is such a focus point for relationships and all the happiness that comes with freedom to spend time with family and friends, there is inevitably another opposite pole to all the festivities. Many people will be spending Christmas alone or unable to be with their loved ones for various reasons.
This is an important observation for writers, because most of the characters in stories are people, and those people have relationships. Stories are built around happenings and drama, and rarely concern the bare-bones, slow-moving background that trundles our lives along. Lots of stories about relationships concern love, the beginnings of love and the breakdown of love. Sometimes this can be love between friends and sometimes romantic love. For the purposes of today’s blog, I will consider romantic love.
I sit firmly in the Scott Peck camp of romantic love. Peck wrote ‘The Road Less Travelled’ and described romantic love as a mating strategy, followed by a difficult transition into real, lasting, enduring love. There have been many critiques of ‘The Road Less Travelled’ and more of Peck’s life. It seems that even though he wrote a book about how to avoid suffering in the name of love he could not maintain this in his own life and was divorced. This echoes the path of how we often consider romantic love, fragile and impermanent as it is. Many years ago, following my interest in critical realism, I wrote a short essay, A Critical Realist Analysis of Love which brought love into essentialist terms, and dismissed the magical feelings of experienced life as hormones. Since then, I have differentiated between romantic love and enduring love. The former indeed seems to reflect a mating strategy as described by Peck, and myself in my essay, and to be the subject of most stories about love relationships. The latter appears to be forged from mutual respect and barely anything to do with sex, more about loyalty and friendship. The overlap and the reason that the two are often confused are largely philosophical: we think we are in love but are really in lust, overcome by hormonal bliss. When this begins to fade, ready for the forging of lasting friendship, we are implored by various media to ‘keep the spark alive’ or to ‘keep the flame burning’. The excitement of the raging hormones must be kept alive at any cost, if this is to be ‘true love’. Heaven forbid that we sink into the perpetual bliss of a stable state.
Consequently, there are two main types of Christmas relationships: those couples who amble through amicably, looking forward to the time they can put their feet up with a cup of tea and those who drink and fight through the holiday period, determined to grasp the spark and keep fanning it by jealousy and obsession, only to make up again in the new year. Break up to make up, refresh the exciting hormones of courtship until they drop again to a dangerous level of sub-lust, only to begin the ritual again!
Writers revel in this lust-love, faithfully reporting the roller coaster ride of the hormone rocket. After all, what would be the point in writing about boring, respectful, predictable, real-love happiness? I read somewhere that one of the keys to conquering the fear around loss in love relationship0s is to face up to that fact that it is definite: one day, one way or another, one of the partners will leave. This realisation negates all the obsessive clinging and hormonal lusting, as hopefully it confirms that everyone is a whole person and their partner compliments them, not completes them and that every minute spent with this valuable person, living happily and securely is a bonus.
But where is the soap-opera plot in that? Where is the dramatic scene or the heart-rendering song lyric? Surely we, as writers, are not perpetuating the myth of lust-love as real-love?