For those of us in many countries, February 14 comes sugar-coated with images of flowers and chocolates, romance and love.
Okay, it’s true: I’m a sucker for romance. Romantic love can bring great delight. Falling in love, itself, is a moment of such intensity that you simultaneously feel connected with every atom on the planet and yet are oblivious of everyone but one other.
I also know it can be a terrible trap. Too many people buy into the notion that every one of our emotional and intellectual needs should get met with just this one other person. Too many people hold the bizarre (and self-defeating) belief that they are incomplete until they meet their “other half.” Too many people are trapped in destructive relationships because it is the place where they once felt love. And too many people who aren’t romantically in love feel belittled in a culture that celebrates it at every turn.
So how can we liberate romantic love from itself? I was recently asked that (more or less) at a university where I was speaking.
And (more or less) I said this to these students:
- Whether you’re hooking up with someone for one night or the rest of your life, you got to treat that person with respect. You hear that word all the time, but what does it really mean? It means listening to their words, to their body language, to what they say and what they don’t say. It means respect for their sexual desires and preferences. It means knowing you deserve respect in return.
- Value independence: Both theirs and yours. Paradoxically, two independent people can form a stronger bond and a healthier relationship than two people who stick to each other like barnacles to a ship.
- Coercion, and physical, sexual and emotional violence, destroy relationships and destroy lives. Learn about consent and make sure you have it.
- Challenge gender roles that limit who you each are and how good a relationship can be.
- And don’t worry. When it comes to romantic love, no one actually knows how to run slow motion down a beach into someone else’s arms.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on romantic love. Respect in relationships. And what men can do to help redefine our relationships whether with women or other men.