Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ghost Limbs

Romantic love has me baffled.

The way I see it, romantic love is the bait that draws us humans into creating family relationships. As social creatures, we need family; our first family can't sustain us forever, so we must form more family ties out there. Those ties and bonds are built around reproduction, and so the pattern continues for a new generation. Romantic love is what lures us to do this.
From Southern Nazarene University,
So what about after you've done your part to ensure the survival of the species? You've made and raised your children. If the pattern held, having done this thing you would then settle in to be the comfortable wise elder, help out with grandbabies, leave this romantic stuff for the next generation.

But more often than not, it doesn't work out like this. Romantic love is too heady a substance. We still crave it like addicts.

This is your brain on romance (from
So people cheat on their partners, they leave partners to take up with another. They have midlife crises. They chase romantic love like a will-o-the wisp through the forest.

Or worse yet, people who started out with romantic love stay together out of habit, fear or duty. And they let the romantic side of themselves go dormant, sublimate it, transfer it, repress it.
This would be transference
When people find themselves alone at midlife, what do they do with this impulse toward romantic love? What is the point? Why doesn't it go away and leave us alone?

Why must we continue to play this particular game when we are no longer properly equipped, with the beauty, charm, energy and naive hope that are necessary in order to play?


Kym said...

I've sat here staring at the screen waiting for "words of wisdom" but they've escaped me--fluttering just out of reach. But your post touched me and I couldn't slip away from your place without letting you know I'd been here and carried away your words with me. Thank you.

Kato said...

That IS your brain on romance! Yes, there's hormonal "romantic" love, which seems at times to counter evolutionary goals by bringing ultimately incompatible pairs together. There's the wishful, pining kind of romance based more on dreams than even on chemistry, and then there's that rare, soul-deep kind of "romance" that defies criteria like beauty, charm and youth.

Emma Goldman said something like "We all need love and understanding...and a woman needs a damn sight more when she grows older..." (She had a 29 year old lover at age 53, and at 64 an affair with a man who was 28 years her junior! Yet she always held a fierce attachment to her life-long comrade, Sasha Berkman).

Romance that lasts takes work, like a garden through every season. Some of us are impatient, leaving after the first bloom or the final harvest. You seem like someone who appreciates when the soil is resting, the leaves are composting, new, unseen potential is slowly, microscopically brewing just below the surface... I hope any loneliness you may feel right now is filled with a chaos of green growing possibilities soon. Remember, you can kindle a romance of a different sort with that grandbaby (My daughter and I are planning a "romantic" vacation this summer with Victorian B&Bs, castles, horse-drawn carriages and four days on a train)!

Indie said...

Kym, I am just glad you read it.

Kato, wow, beautiful response!

I specialize in the "wishful, pining kind of romance based more on dreams than even on chemistry." Thanks for wishing me green growing chaos; that's such a wonderful thing to say!

Your upcoming vacation with your daughter sounds fabulous!

Kato said...

I'm happy to have struck a note with you, Indie! One of the best things about love is its infinite variety and surprising appearances. Kym, the last time I saw you, you were performing a labor of deep caring for a mutual friend; that has a romance to it, too.

OK! I was looking for this for you. A friend I love a lot just gave me a volume of poetry (something I usually pass on-- too romantic) by Marge Piercy:

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs.

Indie said...

I love that.

Anonymous said...

Arent't you just glad to have MS K.? At least some of them brain functions aren't working properly, so we don't have to worry about them too much... *sarcastic* And then you don't have to be alone to be alone in midlife, you can be in the middle of a relationship, just living your lifes... *sigh* And... without this gewy (?) feelings life would be SO VERY BORING! So enjoy spring K., flirt a little, and start building at least a couple if not a new family. Am I making any sense? Anyway, have a good one, R.

Silver Bee said...

We all, inescapably, experience life alone. The establishment of a distinct identity (recognized by ourselves and others) is universally acknowledged as a step in maturity as we separate from our mothers. As children, though we yearn for independence and the authority to choose for ourselves, we pay a fearful price. Independence means we become responsible for our choices and, inevitably, begin to see that we are more alone than we had anticipated.

It takes a while during or after adolescence for each of us to realize just how independent we really are. Those with strong, present, extended families or their surrogates (churches, tight-knit social groups, military affiliation) take longer to recognize this. We live with the illusion that we are accountable to others who care deeply about our behavior, our choices, our thoughts.

Before this becomes very clear we must weather a “monsoon season” drenched by wave after wave of hormonal floods. Simultaneously our culture teaches us this myth of romantic love which most of us inappropriately associate with infatuation. We fall “in love” with “love”. Our intent is to locate someone with the perfect combination of a mother’s non-judgmental acceptance and self-sacrificial care, the physical perfection of a Disney cartoon, and independent wealth.

For some it takes several relationships/marriages/lovers before it begins to appear that is more difficult than we had first thought. We had imagined that because the “other” suited our mental picture they would, of course, be mature, value-driven, and compassionate (or at least only moderately narcissistic).

Some figure out early that what they really want is a “soul mate”. The current definition of that label implies political, spiritual, artistic, recreational, gustatorial and intellectual commonality.

I suspect we all yearn for approval and validation. Would it be easier if I simply said we want to be desired? We feel most alone when we experience emotion by ourselves. We want to be able share sunsets, roller coaster rides, double-chocolate decadence and musical concerts with someone we respect who experiences the same response to the same stimulus at the same time. We want reassurance we are not alone.

beachcomber said...

*sigh* The bodice-ripper pix really did it. Those of us who have (or had) long-time relationships, miss the button-popping power of lust we once experienced. Even being in a comfortable relationship of many years, I find myself missing that feeling. I think the pharm companies are recognizing this with those viagra/levitra/cialis commercials showing older couples with that twinkle in their eyes and no sign of bursitis. Maybe they should combine arthritis pain meds with one of those 'wood forming' concoctions.

You may be single but you're not alone in missing that feeling of being adored. I suspect you're right, that the mid-life crisis affairs are often just a quest for that feeling that someone finds us attractive again. So, should we stop pining for the feeling or continue to search? Nah. You shouldn't have to lose an old relationship just to get the sizzle of a new one. I keep looking for it at my house but everywhere I look, I find dust bunnies and old socks but I suppose there's a certain comfort there.

BTW, that guy in the picture has simply awesome moobs.

Anonymous said...

My experience with romantic love has given me a deep appreciation for the phrase so often found in the lyrics of country and western songs about being "put up on the shelf."

Indie said...

Ya know, I really wasnt' trying to post about doom and gloom. I am just trying to sort out the place of romantic love in midlife. I'm trying to decide if it's something worth going after, and if so, why?

Kristabel said...

It is, Indie. Just trust me on this.


Kato said...

Just don't bring home a guy in a cape.

Indie said...

Well, it depends on the cape, don't you think?

Kato said...

If he's wearing a cape because his biceps can't be accommodated by sleeves... maybe. Avoid the high-collared-Dracula types, magicians, pro wrestlers, Superman-wannabes and those who just can't figure out buttons or zippers. Capes of velvet start out luscious, but they pill up in the wash. Hardier materials can double as a blanket for those spontaneous "picnic moments". I'm thinking Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, here.

I'd like to hear people's secrets for keeping romance alive (besides pharmaceuticals).

Kato said...

Maybe this discussion should move to Kristabel's...?

Indie said...

No way! Why should her blog get all the action? :)

Anyway, so I am following this quite closely: guys in capes only if they aren't wearing them because they can't manage zippers (an important skill, I understand). And only in natural fibers, because pills are a pain.

But don't look to me for insight about keeping the fire alive in a sustainable way. It is an unsolved mystery for me.

Kato said...

I think Silverbee hit on something (no pun intended) with the phrase "We want reassurance that we're not alone"; a romantic partnership helps us deal with the illusion of duality/plurality by indulging our egos in the illusion of oneness. That dance is eternal, whatever the physical accompainiment.

Missing that rush of hormonal cocktail may indicate the addictivness of "romance"... why would there be such a huge market for it otherwise? Check out (oh yeah, when you have time) "The Female Brain". It's all about the hormonal roller coaster we all ride from conception onward. A mid-life yearning for being 20 again is just the tip of the iceberg.

To be fair, I should disclose that the 64-year-old-Emma Goldman's young lover was not only a sociologist who loved her for her politics and philosophies, but he was also blind... Guess that's the first secret revealed!

Indie said...

Now wait just a gosh darn minute: I never said anything about wanting to BE 20 again!

The only reasons I'd go back there again would be
1) to go to college and get a fantastic job so I could be financially independent,
2) stop squandering my love on unlikely guys, and
3) be a much better, more attentive, moment-savoring young mother.

In other words, I'd only want to go back to the 20s if I could bring the wisdom of the 40s with me.

Kato said...

So, you WOULD consider it?

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth; that just seems like the cliche, of course. But the real need for connection, love and physical contact are with us for life. Thank goodness! The challenge to meet those needs when our lives are solitary is heavy.

Indie said...

No, I guess not. I will just finish college and get a great job, hold out for someone wonderful but be ok if I wind up alone, and savor the children now, because these times too will fly away and be gone.