The war between the sexes has taken many casualties and left few unwounded combatants on the battlefield in recent years. Women, being the stronger sex emotionally, have won a Pyrrhic victory. But has romantic love survived, and should it?
We first need to define what romantic love is. Even my male friends use the words ‘love’ and ‘in love’ interchangeably, and I’m always asking, which kind of love are you talking about, falling in love, or simply love?
When I went to Russia in January of 1990 to form a joint-venture company with a leading Russian businessman under perestroika, I fell in love with my interpreter. Alla was a brilliant but disillusioned former head of the young peoples’ (under 40) communist party. She was cynical not only about communism, perestroika and Gorbachev, but about humanity in general.
Alla lived with her alcoholic husband and their two young girls in a small apartment with her parents, which was a typical Moscow situation at the time. Despite her cynicism, and atheistic upbringing, she said after spending a few days together as my interpreter, ‘God brought you to me’. Since I had started the company with several American partners in Silicon Valley ‘to help build an ecologically and ethically sound market in Russia with our former superpower enemy,’ it wasn’t hard for me to believe it as well.
Looking back on it, I had a case of the knight in shining armor syndrome. But though that was naïve, it wasn’t false, and not even necessarily mistaken. Alla needed rescuing like no other person I’ve ever known, and I held the keys to a new life for her and her daughters. I was in the right place at the right time with the right vision, and though Russians hate Americans now, they had a very favorable view then, and rolled out the red carpet (pardon the pun) wherever I went.
Most women in the West still believe in romantic love, but at the same time are cynical about it. When I tell my story, they don’t believe a man could say and mean, ‘This thing is much bigger than us, and we both need to pull for it, whether it’s right for you to leave your husband or not.’
Needless to say, there isn’t a storybook ending to this tale. Americans did not come to the aid of Russians when they threw off the chains of communism, as they and I thought we would. And Alla, in a fit of Russian pride, took the high-level job in DC I found for her, but said no to the vision, and to me.
Russia and America could have worked together for the benefit of humankind, rather than the detriment, as we did and still do. With regard to romantic love, I feel in retrospect it was an unintended experiment to find out if this, the most personal of emotions, could have a place in the transformation of individuals and peoples. It can’t.
Romantic love is the illusory sensation of wholeness through the union with another person. Evolution apparently appropriated the existential alienation generated by the emergence of symbolic thought, and used it as a driving force to match couples of roughly equal capacities. Being in love gave the individual the vital feeling of wholeness through union with another, and gave evolution a driving force in propagating the species.
Without romanticizing a bygone era of romantic love however, it has degenerated into something destructive. Indeed, romantic love is probably the single greatest cause of spiritual erosion in North America in the last 20 years.
A lot of young men and women, having been terribly hurt, consciously or subconsciously go out and hurt someone else as a perverse kind of payback. With people changing partners a few times a year on average, a lot of broken hearts lay in the wake.
There is no better way to kill the spirit than to break the heart. Because most people don’t heal, learn and become stronger, romantic love has come to serve the spreading darkness in human consciousness very well.
However, more and more people are seeing that, first and last, one has to be whole within oneself. And being whole in oneself, does one feel a need to ‘fall in love?’
Radical change is imperative if we are going to survive and flourish as a species, but romantic love, being partial and personal, will not be a catalyst for it. Falling in love may be an inevitable part of being human, but it has little or no importance in a serious life.
A Russian friend at the time, a man who lived in Kiev, worked in the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and came to the United States to get help for his young daughter who had cerebral palsy, wrote recently.
Ominously, he said, “We are going to Russia take our father from Ukraine to Russia/Siberia; he is an 89-year-old Russian man, who fought against Hitler. Now Hitler is a hero of Ukraine.”
Given the present crisis in the East and West, only two things are clear: Neither America nor Russia will lead humanity out of its morass, and romantic love will play little or no part in the transmutation of man, whenever it occurs.