Love, versus the “idea of being in love”

By Juliet O

Have you ever heard the phrase “I’m in love with the idea of being in love”? This phrase relates to a real phenomenon. Many of us, your author included, have at one time or another been in love with the idea of love.

It is actually quite easy to be seduced by a concept. And love is a seductive concept. Our literary and artistic culture is riddled with hyperbolic, overwrought, and unattainable descriptions of what love means. The way love is described in famous novels is so exaggerated, it becomes almost absurd. In Goethe’s famous novel, Sorrows of Young Werther, the main protagonist actually takes his own life because the woman he loves doesn’t love him back. When the novel was published in 1774, it inspired a wave of “Werther fever” as young men throughout Europe began dressing in the style of the main character as described in the book. This “Werther fever” even lead to many copycat suicides as readers actually took their own lives, like Werther did, when confronted with unrequited love. This example shows how susceptible we are to ideas of love, even when these ideas in no way resembles the real thing.

Love shouldn’t drive you to die. It should give you a reason to live. And yet if you were to read The Sorrows of Young Werther or Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights, you’d think love and suffering were one and the same, that you couldn’t fully love someone without suffering great pain and loss. Even cinema reflects this strange comparison of love and suffering. Just look at movies like Titanic or Gone with the Wind or Moulin Rouge or Casablanca. Even though the two main characters in all these movies are separated by the film’s end, even though we’re deprived as an audience of a happy ending, we blissfully watch these movies and use them as actual examples of “true love”. Would these movies have been as romantic had the characters gotten together and lived happily ever after? I doubt it. I certainly wouldn’t have cried so hard at the end of Casablanca had Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman flown off together in a plane to get married and settle down. We love their story because it ends in loss.

These stories that we tell ourselves are beautiful and enjoyable, but it’s important to realize that they’re just stories. They’re a work of fiction that represent an idea that has little bearing in real life. Real love is far from the idea of love. Real love isn’t always exciting; it’s actually frequently boring. Unlike these dramatic stories and movies that operate by a series of ups and downs, high highs and low lows, mystery and intensity, unexpected twists and turns, the real thing is actually far from turbulent. Real love, the kind that sustains over time and contributes to ones life in a positive way, is actually really stable. And when you love someone, you don’t expect them to be like heroes or heroines in plays, movies, or novels. You accept them as real people with real personalities. People are not ideas, and if you like someone because they symbolize or represent something to you, you’re in for a disappointment. No one can live up to your ideas, because those ideas aren’t theirs but yours, and as such, when you love your ideas, you aren’t in love with anyone else; you’re actually in love with yourself. You’re in love with a figment of your own imagination.

So next time you tell someone that you like your guy because he reminds you of someone else or that your gal is great because she represents an attractive ideal, think long and hard about whether you’re actually in love or just infatuated with the idea of love. These things are distinct and highly incompatible, and to think they are one and the same is to accept a delusion that can only lead to disappointment.

Real love sustains and leads to happiness. So wouldn’t you rather go for the real thing?

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other articles on love:
When it comes to love, it’s worth a try
In love, remember to check your baggage at the door
How to talk to women 101
Online dating rule: take things slow

Photo credit: deardarling

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