Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Imaginary Love

“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single,
it’s that I’m lonely and likely to stay lonely.”
–Charlotte Bronte

In my Valentine’s post, I referenced my aversion to Romance. For the longest time, I haven’t entirely understood this, since everyone around me seems to like the sappy love stories I actively avoid. Ever since I shared my short work with you, I’ve spent some time considering what it is that steers me away from normal human fodder. (My first guess was that I’m an alien, but I haven’t found enough evidence to prove that…yet.) At last I’ve come to something of a conclusion. In order to really explain this to you, though, I need to interview a very special person.

I’d like you to meet my imaginary fiancé, Edward Townsend. Edward brings many excellent qualifications to the table, including a Ph.D. in Romance from the University of Tough Love in Antarctica. Today we’re going to discuss some common misconceptions about this popular topic. So let’s begin.


Ed, over the centuries, love has been perhaps the most central obsession of every culture, spanning back to the creation of the world. Now, I know you studied History as part of your extensive training. Can you give us an idea of any traditional misperceptions that might have been carried down to us?


Actually, I can, and I’m really glad you asked that question. Take Ancient Greek Mythology. Nowadays we find depictions of cutesy Cupids with pudgy cheeks and harmless weapons. What some people might not realize is that this is very untrue to the original legend. For starters, Cupid himself is neither sweet, innocent, nor charming. In fact, he is spoiled, selfish, and mischievous. Though he is gifted with this incredible matchmaking power, he makes no qualms about misusing it. When his mother, Hera, nurses a grudge against Jason—our hero of the Golden Fleece—she coerces her son into shooting a woman named Medeia with his love dart because she knows this will lead to Jason’s downfall. Cupid, by no means too young to understand the ramifications of his actions, willingly complies—in exchange for a toy.


Can you tell us a bit more?


Since you have a space limit, I’ll stick to a summary. After Cupid shoots Medeia, she betrays her father and her kingdom, flees with Jason—leaving death and devastation in her wake—and eventually goes mad. When Jason tires of her—some would say he catches her insanity himself—and remarries, Medeia kills his new wife as well as her own two sons.


In your opinion, what might this myth have meant to the Greeks?


It seems pretty clear they were trying to make a point here. Human love is by its nature imperfect. It is jealous, selfish, cruel, unbalanced…the list goes on. That’s not to say we are incapable of stable, wonderful relationships. But those take work, and no romance is perfect. I think the Greeks understood how dangerous love is, that it blinds and annihilates and consumes. It’s akin to riding a wild horse—you may be in control, but the moment your attention strays, you’re likely to get thrown.


Now that we’ve had our History lesson for the day, is there anything you’d like to share from your extensive reading? I know you’re into Shakespeare. You could probably dig up loads of material from his writings.


I can indeed. Shakespeare dealt very heavily with relationships and human interaction. I could give you dozens of examples, but I think the most popular would be Romeo and Juliet, so I’ll tackle that. If any of you aren’t familiar with this work, be forewarned—I plan to discuss the ending. But before I get to that, I’d like to touch on a tangent really quickly, if that’s all right with Liz.


It is.


Thank you. In brief, perhaps the most commonly misunderstood line in the play is Juliet’s famous question, “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” For those of you who aren’t well-versed in Shakespearean-era language, it would seem she’s asking Romeo where he is. But that’s not actually what she’s saying. The better translation is, “Why are you Romeo?” Romeo is a Montague, Juliet a Capulet. Both their families are locked in a bitter blood feud, and both individuals understand what they risk every day in giving their hearts to each other. While their love is beautiful in its devotion, it is also destructive and reckless.


Which leads to your discussion of the ending. And I think I know what you’re going to say.


*Chuckles* Liz has listened to me rant about this so often; she’s probably tired of it by now. What bothers me most about the conclusion is not that it’s tragic, but that it’s meaningless and entirely avoidable. When Romeo believes Juliet is dead, he is justifiably distraught. But I speak from personal experience when I say that the death of a loved one does not entail the end of all things. While it may seem romantic for Romeo to kill himself and so join Juliet in her grave, just like hugging a cactus may seem like a great way to embrace nature, the consequences are not as beautiful as the concept. And while that’s a silly comparison, it warrants consideration. Had Romeo not surrendered to despair, the two could still have had their happy ending. After reading this play, I know that I have not witnessed true love. If the two genuinely care about each other, and by extension their individual well-being, they would be horrified by this double death.


Can you pin-point some ways our modern culture reflects a similar misunderstanding of love?


Oh, absolutely. One of our greatest strengths is that we learn and absorb through story, but that is also one of our greatest weakness because we can inadvertently swallow the wrong messages and mistake fiction for reality. Usually when we watch a movie or read a book, we can differentiate pretty well. We recognize where the stuntman uses wires or the writer employs poetic license. But the line gets blurry when it comes to romance. Because our culture is inundated with portrayals of happy, flawless couples, we can begin to assume a relationship will fix our loneliness. After all, the happy ending comes when the guy gets the girl. So we put this into practice and then wonder why we still feel empty and irritable and human. Disillusioned by this failure, we break up and move onto the next woman or the next man, wondering why it never seems to work out. It’s not that I’m against love. On the contrary. But I’m against improper representations. In its truest form, love involves pain and sacrifice and choice (as seen in Jesus’death and resurrection), and I think we don’t see that often enough in our entertainment to understand what it’s like in real life.


Well thank you for joining us today, Edward. As imaginary fiancés go, I’d say you’re the best.


  1. Wow. Your imaginary fiance certainly has some things to say about love! I agree that we don't always have a realistic view of romance in our real world, which is why I don't really have an interest in it (but, of course, I do read lots of romance. I like sappy romance, bad llama) but I think that by showing the messiness and struggle with love, it can make a really big change in how we expect our real-world relationships to go as well. It's a great point! :)

    1. Ah Ed, he's very opinionated. :) That's why I love him. Occasionally I will read a sappy romance, and there are some romance authors like Heather Hepler whose works I love. As a general rule, though,I prefer other genres. But I respect your personal tastes, and Ed doesn't judge you either. I prefer harder, more emotionally taxing stories, and a happy ending isn't always a requirement for me. :P

  2. "In my Valentine’s post, I referenced my aversion to Romance. For the longest time, I haven’t entirely understood this, since everyone around me seems to like the sappy love stories I actively avoid."

    I love this. I feel exactly the same and I couldn't figure it out for ages. Your imaginary fiance was so awesome. I couldn't help but laugh at some of the answers like - "It's so true!!" I'm also against improper representations, but at the same time, if I read something too much like real life it would be kind of depressing. It's as if we want the happy fantasy, but not so much that it makes us skeptical or pessimistic.

    By the way, I found you from Heather's ^ blog, on her Love A Blogger Saturday meme!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, and I'm glad you liked the post! :) I think Heather is becoming my best publicist. You think Ed's awesome? I think so too. ;) And yes, I agree that we should have something of a balance in literature (not just Romance). I read to escape as much as I read to learn and experience and grow. Books should be a safe environment where we absorb difficult truths without suffering as much as we would in reality. Or at least, those are the kind of novels I prefer.

  3. Just wanted to let you know that you won Dove Arising at Literary Rambles. E-mail me at with your address. Thanks.