Valentine’s Day may have come and gone but love and relationships are two topics which have been on my mind for the past couple of days. Not necessarily just in a romantic sense, but also platonic love between friends and family. As someone who has been in and out of several relationships over the past few years, and in between had a great deal of time to ponder over my definition of ‘love’ and reflect on my experiences, I thought that it would be fitting to write about a topic which many of us have misconceptions and warped ideas about. Through observing my friends’ relationships too, I have come to notice many patterns and ideas that are deeply embedded in our culture. These need to be questioned if we are ever to truly feel happy and fulfilled in our connections with each other.
Why do we have a warped perception of love?
Needless to say, our perception of relationships is largely influenced by our parents, novels, films, and the media. Many novels romanticise the act of falling in, being in, and experiencing love. Great love stories are unpredictable, surprising, touching, heart-wrenching, traumatic, emotional, beautiful, and so much more. In spite of the hurdles conveyed in romance novels, we still feel compelled to crave the love that many characters experience. It goes without saying that love and connection are fundamental human needs, but surely we need to start calling into question the extent to which this portrayal lives up to reality. One of the most famous love stories of all time Romeo and Juliet is at its fundamental core a tragedy, but for some reason we idolise the star-crossed lovers’ deaths as a ‘true act of love’. Now, do not get me wrong, Shakespeare was a literary genius, but it is pretty obvious that if we set our standards of love against his play we would all be pretty screwed right now. After all, love develops over a lifetime, not just 480 pages of a play.
An inaccurate portrayal
I think that love, romantic or platonic, is a hell of a lot more complicated than novels, films, and the media make it out to be. Not only that, but there are certainly books I read when I was younger which were predicated on the idea of love being about arguments, heartbreak, and great emotional turmoil. Love is either portrayed through rose-tinted glasses as a light-hearted, airy fairy act or as heart-wrenching, emotionally turbulent and one could even say verging on abusive. Relationships require work, compromise, and clear communication on both parts. It is rather worrying, in my eyes, the way many acts are permitted for ‘the sake of love’ because this clearly filters down into what we see as acceptable in our relationships. I remember watching ‘the Kissing Booth’ a couple of summers ago and was completely baffled by the fact that Elle’s boyfriend’s aggressive behaviour and shouting was unquestioned. If we are feeding this message into young people’s minds, then how can we ever expect them to be in healthy relationships?
How should we define love?
I am pretty sure that everyone who has met me has heard me banging on about the following phrase. We accept the love we think we deserve. As cringey as it is, I really believe that in order to feel truly fulfilled in relationships, self-love needs to come first. Time and again, I have seen my friends accept behaviour and treatment which they really do not deserve. I really believe that we could all do with setting higher standards and recognising our self-worth. It has broken my heart to see people who I love being treated like less than they deserve, and I think that in order to overcome this, we all have some self-improvement and introspection to do. We also need to get past the point of idolising unhealthy relationships and start questioning what is acceptable, or unacceptable behaviour for the sake of love. Particularly during the pandemic, we have all seen how important human connection is in getting us through difficult periods of life. If we want to feel fulfilled and connected, it is time to invest more energy into our relationships and re-evaluate how we treat both ourselves and others. At the end of the day, none of us are perfect, but we can all start making an active decision to be more mindful of how we treat both ourselves and others. Only then do I believe that humanity at large will become more compassionate, aware, and empathetic for the good of us all.