The Dangers of Romance

[This is a rump article. I started it some years back, but never finished it. It seems though that the time is right for some anti-romantic propaganda.]

A couple of years ago I published an article here about Tristan and Iseult based on a Bengali version of the medieval legend. The story has also been analyzed by the Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson, The Psychology of Romantic Love. Although I am not that familiar with the overall body of Johnson's work, he is the author of numerous books on various aspects of archetypal psychology and clearly a man of deeply spiritual inclinations, as are many Jungians. This is a particularly important work as it deals with the interface of cultural products like myth and legend and the effects with human psychology and in particular the influence it has on creating unrealistic expectations in people.

For Johnson, romanticism means "an idealized attachment to something unattainable." When that kind of illusory sentiment becomes the dominant motivator in conjugal relationships, it has a destructive effect. As Johnson says,
We might expect that a cult of love that specifically opposes marriage, that encourages passionate relationships outside marriage, that seeks to spiritualize relationship into a perpetual and superhuman intensity, would be a very poor basis for marriage and a very risky approach to human relationships. Yet these are the ideals that underlie our patterns of courtship and marriage to this day! Taken on the wrong level, these inherited ideals cause us to seek passion and intensity for their own sake, they plant a perpetual discontent that can never find the perfection it seeks. This discontent grays over every modern relationship, holds an unattainable ideal before our eyes that blinds us perpetually to the delight and beauty of the here-and-now world, (Arkana edition, p. 47)
Let us say that this is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

All the great love stories are tragedies. Perhaps that is the truth of romance.


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