Whether it is the chase for love or the struggle to maintain that love once found. Humans have always been obsessed with the subjective perfection that love brings. For us, love is the closest thing to magic we have. However, there are so many types of love. Not only is there the burning love that we all crave, but there is also the love of a friend. Romance and friendship have been the two subjects that have been the underlying cornerstone of our entire social and emotional stability that so many base our lives. However, with so much of our lives being cemented and built around these two concepts, is there one finite definition for both that we can base our expectations, or more importantly, does love really have anything to do with either concept? To get a more intimate look at what romantic love really is, we need to take a bit of a history lesson into what exactly romance has been. By definition, a romance is not technically a type of relationship at all. A romance is a medieval story based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural.(Webster’s Dictionary, 2019) Only at the point of one using romance as a verb does any kind of intimate or affectionate relationship come into being.
The act of romance is an extreme sexual interest or enthusiasm between two lovers; usually between two people who are unmarried. In other words, a love affair. When taking a step back and looking at the definition of romantic love, can we realistically say that a romantic love is substantial enough to build a life around, or could the relationship require an element of something else in order to survive? This brings us to our second concept of friendship. By definition, friendship is a friendly feeling or attitude; kindness or help given to someone.(Webster’s Dictionary, 2019) In our society the view of acquaintances are merely as friends at arms length. A true friendship is viewed as something deeper and more committed and meaningful. True friendship is something that some people view as more precious and valuable than a romantic relation, and in some cases, even more reliable and stable. With this view posed, why now more than ever does our society scare so easy and clam up when the subject of committed monogamous relationships come into play?
The concept of friendship in the society has never really been challenged in the ways that romantic love has been in the past. Humans have tended to hold on to our friendships in many more ways than we do to our romantic partners. The expectations and foundation of friendships are far more flexible and open for interpretation than that of a romantic relationship. Due to this flexibility and freedom to evolve naturally, friendships often progress to become stronger, more reliable, and more committed than those of a romantic nature. In many ways, friendships are given the freedom to evolve and grow uniquely according to what works best for the two friends involved and invested in the friendship. This cannot be said for every romantic relationships due to the pressure of attaining that “ideal relationship”. This pressure often squashes the opportunity to really develop a unique and fulfilling relationship. Stated in the textbook, friendship has three basic characteristics; however, one must remember that these characteristics will be shown and interpreted differently with each friendship.
The characteristics of a friendship are mutual trust, honesty/support, and one specific common subject the friends share that they initially bonded over(Santrock, 2017). In addition, observation has shown that people have different friendships for different areas of their life, although all are equally important. Because as a society we often have different dimensions of ourselves, so to do we have different friendships for each. In this system we do not ask impossible understanding from one specific friend, we limit the disappointment of both parties and also the burden of not being enough. By dividing our lives and involving a few friends into our lives instead of one to shoulder all of our troubles we in turn bring ourselves closer and open up more to create a healthier atmosphere for everyone involved. By limiting involvement of each friend we balance each friendship and prevent ourselves from stifling and ultimately extinguishing the flame of the friendship . With this understanding, does this mean that we ‘love’ one friend more than the other, and furthermore, how does love translate into a friendship?
For the sake of arguing every aspect of this topic, let us set the basis of the definition of love to be the Webster’s Dictionary definition. By definition, love is strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.(Webster’s Dictionary, 2019) So to translate that into a friendship, we can in fact love our friends very deeply. As a society, studies have shown that a strong friendship network is vital to a healthy emotional and mental state. This has been especially prevalent in studies done on the effects good and bad friendships have on women. In 2015, at a talk at TEDWomen, Jane Fonda and Lili Tomlin talked specifically on the topic of having a strong female friendship base has helped shape and guide them into their successes more profoundly than any other relationship they have.(TEDTalks, 2015, TEDWomen) So to say that friendship bonds have a great impact would be correct, and to say that the love and devotion we also share in those relationships is a fundamental influence in most all healthy human lives would also be correct. The deeper and deeper we get into the science of emotions and human interaction the more blurred and obscured our categories for each relationship in our lives become. To love is to breathe in most senses. Without love a little piece of us is suffocated more and more, just as if we were to cut off all oxygen from ourselves. The more isolated by categories and societal definition love becomes, the less freedom love has to flourish into it’s full potential.
In this, we come to tackle the most debated, critiqued, and sought after topic: love, but more specifically, romantic love. It is the basis for the majority of our great pieces of literature, art, music, and now media. But why is something that has been revered throughout the ages so poorly understood? Is romantic love interpreted or is there a concrete definition and framework that all find at some point throughout their lives? To begin, we must look at the history of romantic love and how the concept and content that makes romantic love has evolved and changed. One of the key characteristics of romantic love has been “belonging” to each other. Many speak of belonging as finally finding their place in the world. But, where did this concept originate and thus become a basis for our emotional security and validation of a real and worthwhile relationship? To answer this question we must go back hundreds of years to a time when marriage was more of a business deal between families and less a consenting joining of two people in a mutual affection for each other and willingness commit and share a life together. The belonging idea came from the wife quite literally belonging to the man. Affection took no part in the idea of belonging to each other. Throughout the hundreds of years and evolution of the concept of love and marriage having anything to do with each other, so to did the definition of “belonging” to each other.
One cannot successfully romanticize a concept that was once a survival and economic tool and not have a breakdown or feeling of wanting one way or another. The idea of a monogamous romantic relationship such as marriage go against everything that we are discovering about humankind in its entirety. Scientists are discovering another element to how the human race connects, relate, and exists together as one ever changing and interdependent body. So, to say that a monogamous relationship is even remotely possible without wandering actions, thoughts, or talk would be setting one up for failure in today’s society. Technology and knowledge brought about many new concepts that we as a society are still learning to evolve and understand, and to exclude the way we look at love romantic and otherwise would be foolish and counterproductive of us. Love is the cornerstone, if not the foundation of who we are. As humans evolve, so must our love languages, definitions, and how we interpret them if we are to evolve into well rounded and loving people.
Throughout the exploration of a different perspective into the definitions of friendship and romantic love, we have found that in order to thrive and evolve along with this brave new world around us, we must learn to look at these fundamental relationships with less confines and perhaps jump into a new and slightly uncomfortable set of scenarios. As a society we have no difficulty having multiple intimate and devoted friendships and being interconnected with each other. However, when marriage or dating someone specific comes into play, it seems to bring out the selfish, insecure, and overly dependent aspect of us. As said in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, “In fact, if to be in love is to be unable to live without possessing the object of one’s desire, to sacrifice to it one’s time, one’s pleasures, one’s life, I am really in love…”(Les Liaisons Dangereuses, 2005, pg. 41) However said in irony and sarcasm, what Vicomte De Valmont is indeed true in how we act when we are irrevocably in love. But is this infatuated love healthy, and furthermore, is it supposed to last forever? Could the very affection we hold with such high regard in fact be the kind we should hold loosely to?
In closing, to say that we cannot love our friends or need their friendship less than the love and relationship with our romantic lover is quite wrong. In many ways, in today’s society friendships are far more valuable and important to our health and emotional state than a monogamous relationship. Far too many times in today’s society we seem to think that our romantic love is what will make us whole or “belonging” somewhere, whereas, in so many ways, the opposite in fact happens. From the dawn of marriage until now we have seen the concept and very framework evolve and change, and who is to say that it will not continue to evolve and change. Perhaps into something that at this time we could not possibly understand. A perspective not many look at is that friendship has never evolved. It’s framework and irreplaceable need in each person’s life has never changed, and has always proved to be a valuable and positive part of life. However, romantic love, and marriage, has been evolving and changing since it’s inception into our societies. The things that change are the things that need growth and perspective.