The Essence of Romantic Love is Nothingness?

A controversial title, no doubt, but certainly not intended to arouse your momentary attention. It comes from a genuine concern regarding a phenomenon so central to our lives – romantic love. Specifically, the passionate, companionship-based love between two people; the kind of love that that we assume was the force behind what gave us birth; the kind of love we see in the movies; the type of love that we desire insofar as we are affectionate beings.

So what do I mean by claiming that its essence is nothingness? Well, it’s quite simple. It rests on the idea that romantic love is conditional. Its formation and maintenance depend on certain criteria being present, and if these things cease to be present, it leads to breakups, divorces, and heartache. Such criteria can take a variety of forms for different people. They can be the enjoyment of someone’s appearance or wealth; the appreciation of someone’s good character, intelligence, understanding, charm, or spirit; the giving and receiving of support or emotional attention; feelings of trust, and so on. However usually it’s through a combination of many such desired attributes that love is established. There is no magic to the feeling of love. In most cases it is nothing more than a high score on a list of a person’s personal criteria. If you meet someone who satisfies many of your preferences – especially the most important ones – you will fall for them, and not necessarily through choice. There is more to the feeling of love of course, much of which is related to the subconscious mind, unmet needs, upbringing, association, etc., but the causes of love are not what I want to focus on. I’m more concerned with the idea that two people can fall out of love. That is, two people can share the most intimate, meaningful connection with each other, and then later, treat each other like strangers, or worse, even be agitated or repulsed by that ex-lover. How many people do we know who have loved a certain someone, perhaps used to make love to that certain someone, and even produced life with that certain someone, but are now largely estranged from them? What an odd phenomenon. Given the fact that the average person feels such a connection to more than one person throughout their lives, it’s fair to say that the construction of love, followed by its deconstruction, is actually the norm. That, is a worrying fact about love.

After the established passion, intimacy, and bond between a couple, we see too many cases where passion is replaced with indifference, and intimacy with distance, as the ‘magical’ bond ceases to exist. In essence, love becomes nothingness. Once certain criteria or needs cease to be met, it reveals an emptiness underneath. There is no transcendental, everlasting, underlying bond. It is a construction. Literally, like the building of a house on empty space, enjoyed for a while but always potentially destructible insofar as it was constructed in the first place. Some buildings last a few months, some a few years. The lucky ones make it last a lifetime. But this doesn’t deny the emptiness beneath. It’s just the case that these minorities of lasting relationships are fortunate enough not to arrive back at this emptiness. They build a strong enough house and maintain it together through the internal and external challenges that threaten its construction. In such a sense, the nothingness at the heart of romantic relationships is consistently masked. All the while, our culture, media, family and friends constantly tell us that ‘true love’ does exist, that it is ‘unconditional’, and that it ‘never dies’. I’m afraid the overwhelming evidence around us of break ups, divorces, and the endless examples of people contently moving on with new lovers, suggests otherwise.

In sum, it is impossible for something to be unconditional if it has evolved from the presence of certain conditions. And insofar as anything is conditional and constructed, it can be deconstructed. All loving relationships begin from a lack of feeling love towards that significant other. Over time, whether through a friendship or at first sight, love is conditionally created and strengthened through the satisfaction of certain criteria. Thus, insofar as romantic love starts from nothing, it can always return to being nothing and can never be associated with an underlying, unconditional connection. The nature of relationship breakups and divorces, followed by the finding of new love, offers overwhelming support for this.

I’m not claiming that romantic relationships are therefore a waste of time. By all means, people should construct and maintain these houses, and indeed, such constructions can be beautiful. However, the general popular perception of love as this transcendental, abstract, everlasting connection is quite unhelpful and leads to a lot of disappointment. It’s far healthier for us to be grounded in reality, and to see love for both what it is, and what it is not.


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