“Falling in love is scary.” The cliché is always there, and most people choose to glorify their singlehood to stave off loneliness. But this cliché represents something deeper. In an attempt to rationalize the sexual part of our lives, whether as a single person or a couple, we simultaneously glorify singlehood and forgo the romantic parts of our nature once we do enter relationships.
In pop culture it seems that relationships are only meant to achieve something for our own self-development, while singlehood is the “liberated” man’s path to self-creation. See Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next.” But this understanding ultimately represents an indifference or even stigmatization of falling in love, or embracing the eros in our nature.
Falling in love, if one removes the postmodernist view, isn’t about giving up power, but developing a friendship which inspires wonder. Our culture has attached falling in love with sexual desire and gratification. But even the closest of friends feel a deep attraction and admiration for each other, which is not a sexual feeling, according to Psychology Today. You know what I mean: There are certain conversations or interactions that leaves one feeling struck. See Taylor Swift’s “Enchanted.” Something within us resounds or corresponds to that other person.
Most often we make a dichotomy between falling in love with a romantic partner and the love we have for a friend. But both share the same initial sense of wonder, and both inspire admiration and lead us to follow that initial point of attraction for the rest of our lives, in the best of cases. Falling in love only differs with a romantic partner in the end, since this relationship leads to marriage, sex, and a greater responsibility in the form of children.
Plato acknowledged the eros within our nature, and the philosopher’s eros for what is as being the highest form it can take. Wonder is what the philosopher begins with, and love and desire is how he ascends to “the Good.” This same principle should be applied to our approach in relationships, but Western civilization has either rejected this part of our nature by rigidly assigning it to one compartment of our lives, or fetishizing sexuality until it’s grotesque.
Romanticism, if greatly simplified, means a greater emphasis on the beauty of our surroundings, and all the mystery of nature can teach us. It rejects a scientific arrogance in categorizing the complexities and mysteries of life, which can be applied to personal relationships, since picking apart every piece and examining it causes the thing itself to lose beauty. Choosing romanticism brings us something better.
In order to prevent the accusations of “kinkiness,” many of us at Hillsdale have rejected romanticism wholesale (except for a few English majors). Falling in love is seen as being something one grows out of as one reaches maturity. Focusing on schoolwork, future career plans, and finding a life-long partner is now as about romantic as creating a spreadsheet.
Rather than forgo the romantic part of our nature, embrace it. In a crude imitation of Aristotle’s advice to aim for the excess or deficiency of the virtue in order to hit the target, we must choose to embrace the romantic, which does not mean an embrace of shallow sexual desire.
I’ve never been bothered by women who fall in love with multiple men in their lifetime or vice versa. There’s something beautiful in the interaction between the sexes, and it should not be discouraged.
The ease with which I can fall in love should, paradoxically, strengthen my ability to love in a committed relationship because I haven’t rejected that romantic part of myself. Embracing our romantic desire or admiration of someone does not preclude our ability to have stable, loving relationships. It can even strengthen it, because now the foundation touches our nature, not just the surface-level expectations we have.
Choosing to put love on the backburner can often result in relationships that make sense practically, but lack emotional attachment. This isn’t to say that we don’t have personal connections with the people we date, but we still subject the relationship to the economic standard of utility and rational choice. We often ask ourselves: “Why spend time with someone of the other sex if you aren’t going to potentially marry them?”
Rejecting romanticism in relationships doesn’t give us better relationships; it leaves couples as two people paradoxically living their own lives, together.
Aristotle believed philosophy started with wonder. If applied to romantic relationships, that sense of wonder at another person should be there. Each person has within them the spark of something beautiful, but we miss this part if we plan our relationships the same way we plan our major.
By choosing to focus instead on the beauty of other people, we more fully understand our own humanity. This general openness to falling in love with what we read in class and the people we meet in the form of friendship or romantic relationships leads us to form attachments that run deeper and connect us to the primal nature of love.