I’ve recently experienced horrible responses offline to me expressing somewhat pragmatic views on dating. Perhaps it’s because romanticism is not only strongly incorporated in our culture but also traditionally opposed to reason. In other words, for many, you can be either a romantic or a cold, calculating person. As humans, however, we can rarely make a successful decision based on our heart’s desires or on reason only. The balancing act requires that we make decisions taking both into account.
Do you know this feeling when you meet someone and you just immediately feel this special connection? When you feel drawn to them and start to behave like a little girl around them, trying to impress them? Romanticism would have you believe that this is a feeling you should follow and even if it will put you in difficult situations, eventually it’ll lead you to this beautiful place called happily ever after. Well, no. The feeling I’ve described is attraction and has to do with lust. There’s nothing romantic in the fact that your body is urging you to have sex with someone. Attraction doesn’t care for your self-worth or well-being. It wants you to make babies. Sometimes it chooses people who are good for you, sometimes it doesn’t. This is precisely while following the “connection” on its own isn’t a good idea.
Now, if you actually follow this feeling you may end up in an even bigger trap set by your body, called being in love. Perhaps, it’s another mechanism that’s aimed for partners to be together for the first crucial years of the baby’s existence or to make you guys have a few babies. Maybe the reason why the initial feeling disappears after 1 or 2 years is because the more babies we have with more partners, the better from the evolutionary point of view? Who knows. I really think, however, that there are evolutionary reasons behind falling in love and it’s not only my theory. The author of “The Roads Less Travelled” shares similar views in his excellent chapter about the difference between being in love and actual love. The whole point is that as humans we can make better choices than basing such a big decision as a choice of a partner on an initial liking only. In fact, we should make better choices because we want more than just butterflies for a little bit and then misery with a partner who doesn’t understands us, who bores us or with whom we constantly fight (or all of the above). Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to say “no” when you’re feeling attracted to someone but be honest with yourself and stop glorifying it.
Of course, the romantics came with other ridiculous ideas to protect their promotion of following your “heart” = your loins (probably because of the consequences that often follow such choices). They’ll try to tell you that suffering is a virtue. This, yet again, is a harmful belief. Suffering is just something that happens to human beings, but sometimes we can avoid it and when we can, we should. No one is better, because they suffered more. Yes, there is something to say about using suffering to build resilience and learn that you will survive no matter what but that happens naturally when we’re teenagers. Causing yourself unnecessary suffering is silly. Where do you think the glorification of women who went or want to got through childbirth without epidural (with the consequent shaming of those who opt for it or even worse for a Cesarean section) is coming from? From the same way of thinking, trying to teach us that suffering is noble. According to these beliefs if you’re having a difficult start of a relationship it’s just a trial and you must persist through the difficulties to find a happy ending. How many romantic comedies having this pattern you can enumerate? Fiction is just fiction, though. Among other things, it’s also meant to make these dreams come true on the screen, which wouldn’t in real life.
Romanticism in its praise of strong feelings also promotes an idealized vision of dysfunctional relationships. It isn’t only about fair maidens being conquered by seemingly bad boys, who change the moment they meet the One. Following your heart is also supposed to mean crazy passion, mixed with even crazier fights. Break-ups and make-ups, alcohol, drugs. All of those are romanticized in mainstream cinema and books. Misfits can also be perfect matches, as if two broken people could actually create anything healthy and lasting. Being sensitive and emotional is one thing and not having your shit together is another. Praise of the latter was a great excuse for the exuberant hedonism of romantics such as Lord Byron, who had one love affair after another with representatives of both sexes. Of course, he was only following his heart! 😉 Modern romanticism just incorporated the old ideas and started to make blockbusters by reusing them.
Does this mean that we should ignore completely what our heart tells us? Of course not. Being in love is a great thing but it doesn’t mean that we have to follow it blindly. After the initial butterflies fly away, love can replace them. It’s love, however, that should be treated as a romantic thing that is. Commitment to one another, mutual support and stability are the things that should be valued as they are the ones that will lead people to the place, when at the age of 80, they still hold hands. Blindly following the in-love high will maybe also get you there but chances are you’re rather end up staying with someone you don’t like that much for eternity just because you had kids and you don’t want to put them through the trauma of divorce. Trust, safety and intellectual understanding are things that many people need and there’s nothing wrong with wanting them. If we’re in lust, I mean in love, with someone who we can’t count on and who’s in general unpredictable, eventually it will wear us off.
The reason why I always underline the need for certain pragmatism at the initial stages of dating is because it’s much easier to say “no” to a stoner broke ass wanna be rockstar on date one than to turn around when our pink glasses of in-loveness are already glorifying everything our partner does, not allowing constructive criticism. Even though it’s never too late to break up, some people, if they’ve gone too far, will decide to keep going. If you know you have such tendencies, use your reason too. When it shouts that you should run for the hills, do it. Don’t believe the mainstream culture that’s telling you that you have to go with the initial feeling of “connection”. We’re humans not animals, we can stop ourselves. We have brains and we can make better choices to to be in not only lusting but also lasting relationships.
Any words of wisdom, Dear Reader? Do you always follow your “heart”? Or do you add a little bit of reason to your dating choices?