Friday, August 10, 2012

The most amazing event in history!

While riding the London tube, I saw this advertisement for an online dating site:

It reads: "The most amazing event in the history of the world will happen in London this summer.  Plus there's that Stratford thing too.  Falling in love.  Nothing on earth can match the feeling."

I saw the ad multiple times during my stay in London, and had some time to think about it during long tube journeys.  It plays on a common trope in American (and obviously, British) culture--that falling in love is a completely unique and rarefied experience.  There is nothing else like it.  I've always felt compelled to say that I "fell in love" with music, maybe to show that I do experience a full range of emotion.  Although, maybe I don't, and maybe that's fine.  I can find people attractive, have crushes and romantic feelings, and love people, but I have never in my life felt obsessed with another person.

But we all have certain things we can't experience.   For instance, I don't have synesthesia.  Since I first heard of synesthesia, I've thought that having it would be very interesting (although I know it can be problematic for people who have it).  However, no one places value judgements on people without synesthesia.  People who don't fall in love, though...that's another story.  Most people seem to accept the fact that some asexuals don't fall in love, but non-asexuals who don't fall in love tend to be portrayed as either callous manipulators or immature people who are scared of commitment.  In asexual visibility literature, it is often emphasized that asexuals can fall in love "just like anyone else".  I think this just perpetuates the idea that "falling in love", out of all other emotions, is put on a pedestal, and that people who aren't ace all fall in love (which is untrue).  No one ever says that "asexuals can make friends just like anyone else".  (And this might actually be relevant as well, since on coming out I've been asked if I prefer to be alone in all cases.)

While I don't have the authority to talk about falling in love with someone from personal experience, I can speak to the messages that I hear about it.  Whether or not they're true, we all hear them, sometimes every day or more, and repeated exposure to ideas affects us.

The idea that people in love recede from the larger world is problematic.  It relates to the idea that we are all broken up into completely independent nuclear family units, and this kind of thinking has really had a negative impact on social policy in America.  I don't think it's a good thing that people in love are expected to completely withdraw from their friends, communities, and families of origin.  It's not good for the people in the couple either, as their support networks may no longer be there once the honeymoon period is over.  Being in love may feel like being on drugs, but people are also encouraged to act like that's the case.  Back when marriage was largely a financial arrangement, did people fall in love like they do today?  Did they experience the feelings but just ignore them?  Maybe they had "falling in love" feelings towards friends, as described in Surpassing the Love of Men.

Right now I'm listening to a totally unrelated book called The Lost City of Z, which is about explorers in the Amazon (spoiler: they're racist).  Some indigenous people were described as being so far from civilization that they "didn't even have a concept of romantic love!"  It was like that fact was the ultimate exoticism.  But to me it makes no less sense than our society does.


Sara K. said...

Great post! And I agree - American (and apparently British) culture tend to put 'being in love' on a pedestal, in a way which is harmful to pretty much everybody (though to different degrees).

One thing that strikes me about Taiwanese culture is how much, particularly among more traditional/conservative people, the relationships between blood relatives, particularly parent and child, are valued. Unfortunately, this has some nasty effects (putting lots of pressure on people to get married and have kids), but Taiwanese people do seem to rely less on their romantic relationships to meet their emotional and social needs.

For example, in relatively traditional/conservative circles, the fact that somebody lives with their parents actually makes them more appealing as a marriage partner since it implies they have a good relationship with their family (I don't think this is necessarily true, but I'm not a socially conservative Taiwanese person).

Multiple Taiwanese people under 30 have told me that when you marry, you're not marrying an individual, you're marrying an entire family. And when I watch Taiwanese TV series, the relatives are generally very involved in the romantic couple's relationship. I've read that this is one of the things which distinguishes Taiwanese TV dramas from Korean and Japanese dramas - apparently K-dramas and J-dramas focus much more on the couple itself (which, as someone who has read a lot of manga, I can believe - in manga, the parents often don't really exist, let alone do anything significant).

Ily said...

@Sara K: Thanks! It's always interesting to see examples of other cultural norms. While I've never lived in an Asian culture (and am not at all familiar with Taiwanese culture in particular), I have noticed that my friends from Asian countries see it as much more "normal" to live with their families of origin than white Americans do. (Considering the current economic climate, this seems more progressive to me!)