Monday, 1 June 2015

How to Spot “Love Myths”

Welcome to the final part of my series on egalitarian sexual relationships, in which I finally get around to discussing the “relationship” part of sexual relationships. Feel free to check out the first and second parts of this series, for a discussion of how to apply leftist and feminist principles to sexual acts themselves.

Our culture is full of what I term “love myths”, claims about romantic relationships that I view as incorrect or unhealthy. This post will be addressing five common love myths.

While I am a bitter, single person, what I say is not intended as an argument against romantic relationships, in fact I favour loving egalitarian relationships over promiscuity and other loveless sexual activities (which apparently makes me a horrible prude). However, if criticisms of ideas and behaviours offend you, feel free to not read this post (or anything I write).

Myth 1: You Should Not Think Too Much About Love

Mainstream culture often tells us that we should not (or cannot) apply rational thinking (or any kind of thinking) to love, because “love is irrational”. The idea is an appealing one, because many people think that being “rational” and “scientific”, means being cold-hearted and uncaring.

I think of myself as a rationalist. I aim to use rational arguments and evidence to gain an accurate understanding of real world. I then use this knowledge to come up with ways to improve the world. Other people (e.g. capitalists) use reason to figure out the best way to exploit others for the sake of gaining money and power. I do not view these people as “too rational”, rather they are too selfish. The culture has some funny ideas about rationality. These misconceptions are addressed in this brilliant speech by Julia Galef, so I recommend watching it if you have any concerns regarding rationality or its application in our daily lives.

The issue of applying rationality to love may be discussed further in another post. For now I will point out that though people preach against applying rational thinking to love, they nonetheless do so. Debates regarding “shipping” are an example of this. These debates involve evaluating fictional couples to determine whether they should be endorsed instead of alternative romantic pairings. Such debates are common in fan communities and while they sometimes inspire anger, they usually involve the use of rational arguments. If love were immune to rational thinking, people would not be debating it to the degree that they do.

In a post responding to pro-BDSM arguments, I claimed that the things we are told not to think about (such as love) are the things we, as radicals, should think about the most. This is because the notion that it is wrong to think critically about a particular concept or institution protects it from criticism and conceals any broader social trends behind it. If an idea or institution can only survive by closing itself off from rational criticism, then it is unlikely to be worthy of respect. This is true of our culture’s notion of “love”, which brings me to the next myth.

Myth 2: "True Love" Means Being Obsessed With Someone

There are many books, films and television shows in which a character declares that they “cannot live without him/her” and this is seen as the epitome of “true love”. Characters usually make these statements after knowing their romantic partner for a few days at most and learning nothing about them except how pretty and superficially charming they are. This myth is related to the first one, for it implies that if someone is thinking clearly and making sound (non-suicidal) decisions, then they cannot really be “in love.” This myth has obvious dangers. It encourages people to neglect all aspects of their lives that do not revolve around their “true love”, including their jobs, education, friends, families, hobbies and communities.

However, my main concern regarding this myth is that is encourages power inequalities within relationships. The more dependent one person is on another, the more power the latter has over the former. This clearly occurs in workplaces, where employees consent to exploitative conditions, because they depend upon their bosses for their incomes.

I would argue that obsessive “love” (or rather infatuation) creates emotional dependence, which has a similar, weakening effect. All other things being equal, those who believe that they will experience depression, craziness, “emptiness” or suicidal tendencies without their “true love” will have more difficultly leaving the relationship than those who simply enjoy spending time with their partner. This makes those who mistake obsessive infatuation for love vulnerable to abuse, though perhaps not quite as vulnerable as those who depend on their partners for things they literally need to survive, like food and housing. Nonetheless, the obsessive love “ideal” is clearly contrary to the formation of genuinely loving, egalitarian relationships.

Myth 3: Love Is All about Trust (or “Good Women Trust Men”)

In the previously mentioned post on BDSM, I stated that women are expected to love and trust men blindly and this trust is believed to be essential for relationships. The message that trust is inherently praiseworthy (whether there is good reason to exercise it or not) and that people (particularly women) are obligated to trust others is so common that some might wonder how I could possibly disagree with it. Allow me to explain.

I have previously argued that instead of shoving “trust” down women’s throats, we should encourage men to earn women’s trust. This requires men to be honest, fulfil their commitments whenever possible and avoiding activities which suggest that one is obsessed with sex or dissatisfied with their current partner (e.g. sexually harassing random women). People (including men) who behave this way will naturally receive trust from their partners and thus do not need to demand it. Our culture encourages women to trust their male partners even when they know little about them or have reasons to believe that they are not worthy of trust (e.g. when a man has a history of behaving aggressively towards women). I am not anti-trust, but I do criticise those who demand blind (non-evidence supported) trust.

The demand is similar to the religious notion that faith (believing in the existence and moral goodness of a god or similar being, no matter what) is vitreous. In fact there is a Bible passage (Ephesians 5:22-24) that compares a wife’s relationship to her husband with the relationship which is said to exist between religious believers and their god. The passage claims that both should involve submission (no surprises there). I do not think it is a coincidence that blind trust is preached alongside subservience, in both religious and romantic contexts.  After all, if you believe that a particular being is always right and always has your best interests in mind, even when there is reason to think otherwise, you are more likely to mindlessly obey their orders, or in other words, submit to them.

I do not believe that this kind of unthinking trust is an expression of good character, nor is it ever merited. While there are people whom I regard as generally intelligent and morally good, I do not automatically believe everything they say and obey their every instruction. Belief and trust should be earned, not demanded, and such trust should not lead one to believe that others are infallible

Myth 4: Women Have "Unrealistic Expectations"

Unlike the other myths discussed so far, this one is blatantly conservative and does not sound particularly romantic. It is often employed by supposedly rebellious people (usually men) who chide romantic comedies, along with the infamous Twilight series, for raising women’s expectations of men to “unrealistically high” standards. While this myth may seem to counter the idea that women should view men as perfect gods (which was discussed in the previous section) the end result is the same. Women who buy into it subordinate themselves to abusive or otherwise unpleasant men.

According to those who make this argument, the problem with Edward Cullen and similar characters is not that their appearance, wealth, physical strength and superficial charm are emphasised over any admirable personality traits they (may) have. Nor are their aggressive, dominating behaviours considered a problem. Those who make the “unrealistic standards” argument actually think that such characters are “unrealistic”, because they are not as sex-crazed, emotionless or uncaring as a “real man” is encouraged to be in our culture (see this brief video by Anita Sarkeesian for an explanation of the difference between feminist and anti-feminist critiques of Edward’s character).

It is indeed unrealistic for a non-royal woman to believe that her future partner will be a prince (or the modern day version of that, a capitalist) or that he will be physically flawless, speak in perfect, poetic prose and have zero annoying traits. However, what women need are not lower standards, but better standards. Our culture needs to stop focussing on surface level traits and discuss what really matters in a relationship. Those who wish to be in romantic relationships (with men or women) should be encouraged to seek out partners who will treat them like equals, avoid the use of physical aggression and develop emotional attachments, which are based on inner human characteristics (i.e. their thoughts, feelings, personality traits, etc.) Whatever anti-feminists may say, these are reasonable standards to measure men against.

Myth 5: Love Is All About Sacrifice

This myth is also somewhat conservative. It may seem like a healthy, realistic alternative to the belief that love is always wonderful and will magically solve every problem a woman has, but in reality it is just another way of getting women to shut up and submit. In fact, it further inflates the importance of romantic love in the lives of women, by implying that love is so inherently valuable that any suffering associated with it is worthwhile.

No relationship is perfect and minor sacrifices, such as having to sit through a boring (yet non-traumatising) film or television show may be justified, but often the sacrifices expected from women are more substantial. Women who accept this myth often give up their jobs, have more children than they want to, leave homes they prefer to stay in (or, alternatively, remain at home when they would rather be travelling) and abandon any ambitions they had prior to entering into the marriage or relationship. Thus the outcome of this myth is similar to that of the (rather liberal) obsessive love ideal discussed above. 

I think the amount of sacrifice required for love can be minimised if men and women decide, before they enter into a serious relationship, what they want from that relationship and choose their partners accordingly. For example, those with a strong desire to travel should avoid dating those who prefer to stay in one place. Furthermore, some of the sacrifices which are supposedly an inherent part of love are in fact a result of capitalists wanting more control over their workers. Fewer workers would be sacrificing their jobs for the sack of love if capitalists did not demand actions which are known to harm romantic relationships, such as working longer hours or moving to another town. Though it is clear that men are not expected to make nearly as many love-related sacrifices as women are, it seems that the group which is least willing to make sacrifices for the sake of love is the capitalist class.

Like several of the other myths I have discussed, this myth may encourage women to tolerate abuse. The idea that love consists of, or is caused by, experiences of pain and sacrifice is promoted in many fictional works (I may one day write about the presence of this idea in the Hunger Games series) and by conservative Christianity (through the Jesus narrative, which focuses on a bloody human sacrifice) and by liberal practices, including BDSM. Call me crazy, but I think loving someone means wanting to limit the amount of sacrifices they must make in order to be with you. If you truly loved someone, you would not deliberately put them in danger of pain or injury, nor would you try to take things from them. 


I hope this post and the previous two have helped readers understand what it means to have egalitarian sex lives and relationships. Now that I have pointed out these love myths, you will probably see them everywhere you go. I encourage readers to critique them whenever they occur in media, books or conversations. Who knows, we might just be able to raise people’s conscious and perhaps even make them think.
I wanted to post this third part of the series last month, but it ended up being a lot longer than I had expected. I had to cut many parts from it, which may be used in further posts. I hope you enjoyed this post anyway. Let me know what I should write next.