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Disney ruins relationships

December 16, 2013

What insights are gained from pub conversation, in that moment between talking coherently and falling flat on your face! A friend and I were engaging in it the other day (there was another person, but since they were on the tequila I’d say their faculties were closer to the face-floor level) and we got onto a conversation about relationships. One specifically. My friend, who we’ll call The Big Cheeseburger, had just dumped her sort-of boyfriend. The details are most likely more complex than a few seconds’ explanation allow, but basically he had committed the faux pas of saying “I love you” far too soon into the relationship (to use the term loosely).

There will be a split reaction about this. Some of you will groan inwardly and remember all the times when people you’ve been seeing have put you under the same pressure. Others of you will cry “Whaddabitch!” Both modes make me uncomfortable. On the one hand, I know that it’s difficult when one person feels more than the other and it’s not good to be either party. On the other hand, I’m starting to think that maybe Cheeseburger’s response is just a symbol of what a muddle definition we have.

I don’t want to trek over the old lines about how the Greeks had several kinds of love, blah bah blah. I will say that I think that, without knowing Cheeseburger’s ex or caring about him, he probably didn’t quite mean what she thought he meant. Not that I know what she thought – let’s say she thought that he was saying that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Likelihood is, she’s right, in a sense; that’s probably exactly what he thought he meant. But, that’s not what he meant.

What he meant was: “I care about you. My feelings of care are strong and hard to define. I think about you a lot; happiness strikes me when I see your smile and I’m gripped by fear by the thought of your coming to harm.” Ladies, gentleman, and everything in between: that right there is just good old fashioned attachment. There’s nothing wrong with it, it happens all the time. It can happen within a few days (hours, if you’re me) or not happen for several months. After that point, it will have happened; you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t care strongly about someone with whom you’d had an intimate relationship for several months.

Intimate relationship covers a few things, but I think we can agree that any sexual relationship will become intimate if it goes on that long. If you don’t care about someone who you have had sex with, that means they’re essentially an object to you. This is where Cheeseburger parts with logic slightly. She absolutely doesn’t want to be objectified, in fact I’d say it gets her back up more than most other people’s. Since it’s impossible to be in a sexual or even just semi-sexual relationship with someone without forming an attachment to them, it’s an absolute guarantee that Cheeseburger will encounter someone saying that they are in love with her prematurely again. Not only once, either; many times.

I blame Disney. There, I said it. Disney fairytale teach us from a young age that attachment to a member of the opposite sex which culminates in “marriage” (a child-friendly euphemism for sex) is always “love”. The problem is, it’s not. People like Cheeseburger get uncomfortable by the word because they do not have overwhelmingly positive experiences with it; “I love you” is too usually synonymous with “I want to possess you, I want to keep you, and if you try to leave I will make your life as difficult as possible.” Of course, that isn’t love. That’s Twilight. And Twilight is just what would happen to Cinderella and the rest of them if the story continued after the “marriage”.

I’ve already asked the question “What is love?” and I remember thinking that other people’s “love” is not the business of the person receiving it, and as a feeling you are entitled to it. That’s because you can’t change it. It is what it is. That does not mean it is not badly defined, or that it is not badly defined for us by institutions that don’t realise the power they have, in a media reliant society, to change the nature of relationships and expression.

I think it’s interesting that the love which we shout about from the roof tops is the most dubious. Love is as love does, I think. If you’ll take care of someone sick even if you hate it, I’d say that was love. To name love as the gooey feeling you get when you find someone both attractive and endearing in equal measure is to devalue it. It’s the most useless kind of love, the one that stops you being able to let go. Not to get all Buddhist on you, but if your love can become an obsession perhaps it was never love. I don’t get obsessed with my brothers and parents because I love them.

It may not always feel like I do because I don’t think about them all the time and I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling. If anything, that’s how I know it’s love; it’s domestic, it’s dependable, it’s calm. I take it for granted because it’s stable but I know that the loss of it would leave a huge hole. I can’t feel this hole now because I am so dependent on the network its hard to imagine it crumbling. The fact that it’s always been there and is the foundation of my existence makes it, not the blue sky above, but the ground beneath my feet. I can live without ever seeing the blue sky again however pretty it might be, but without the ground I would fall forever.

Only a long term relationship could be called love, because it’s the only relationship that reaches this stage (hence why I think marriage should be awarded not chosen, if its going to exist at all). Outside of soap operas, ex married couples often get on quite well because they know each other better than anyone else. A lot of rot is talked about how your relationship isn’t a relationship if you don’t do X but that has to be defined by the pair. We want to have everything, so we forget that for most other of our relationships, stability will do. No one else needs to “prove” they still love us. Your siblings are allowed to have other siblings, your parents other children, your friends other friends, without it devaluing the relationship. The exception is partners, these people we supposedly love the most but put the most restrictions on, for no good reason; only the socially acceptable reason of sexual jealousy.

Disney causes a problem because it places more emphasis on the wrong kind of love. It defines as positive a feeling which only feels positive, but isn’t overwhelmingly expressed as such. Attraction and attachment are nice and all, more-so when requited, but all this smoochy talk about “forever” is not biology, it’s socialisation. Still, I hear comment after comment about how family values are declining because parents won’t stay together and I am ambivalent about it; on the one hand, I do think that we’ve trained ourselves to ask for too much from one person and that if we could settle we would have better relationships, but on the other I believe that the days when no one got divorced were simply worse days for women, since they were the people whose choices were truly restricted.

On the subject of gender politics, I have a theory. I’ve heard from various (dubious) sources that men are more romantic than women and quicker to say “I love you”. If that’s the case, I wonder if it is not a result of inequality, too; men are not socialised to think of sexual attraction as being an emotion because they are not socialised to think of women as people, rather, objects.

Little wonder then that when they do feel what a well-adjusted woman might simply call attraction or “like”, he calls love. It feels strong because he has nothing to compare it with. It is women who are socialised into thinking that every response is a powerful one – only, with feminism, it has become evident to many of them that this is bollocks on toast. Feminism has not quite yet managed to provide the same level of education to men. Objectification is discussed, possession is discussed, the condescension of chivalry is covered, but the oppressiveness and self-destructive nature of “romantic” talk is less comprehensively tackled.

One of the most annoying things about it is that I feel that people like Cheeseburger and her ex-whatever are talking cross purposes. There is no guarantee he even meant what he said – though judging by his understandably-yet-still-inexcusably spitting, angry reaction, he did. Yet it’s shocking how many people say “I love you” when they’re not certain and feel like they must. Where does that pressure come from – aren’t we worth anything unless we love and are loved in that very specific way?

Even if the feeling is real (or feels “real”), the need to express it is very telling, when so many people these days don’t want to hear it. “I love you” is the ultimate splurge, the gift / burden of your strongest thoughts and emotions on other people. Once again, this has to be social. Just like how most of us manage to answer with “I’m fine” when asked how we are, rather than the often more accurate: “I’m falling down a deep black hole, there’s no way out.”

We need to start learning to accept that “love” is not what Disney says it is. It’s a word that creates a big pink sticky bubble that some people, often rightly, feel trapped in, and their feeling of entrapment is not personal to the person who is farting out that big pink bubble. The people who don’t “love” you are not people who don’t care about you and not people who could not love you, by their more realistic definition of the word, one day. They are reticent people who have good reasons for their reticence based on life experience.

Equally to these people though, those who “love” you do not love you. Their feelings did not change with the expression of a word that was constructed in their mouth for them. They are as likely to get bored of you as you are of them, however romantic a soul they have. It’s best to gently pass over the word, explain why you have difficulties with it and move on from the topic. If the other person is half way decent, they’ll get it – as long as it is a personal point you’re making, not a political one.

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