Why Love Hurts, Eva Illouz

Introduction: The Misery of Love

  • If anything, our contemporary sense of appropriateness would command us to follow the dictates of our heart, not of our social milieu.
  • Second, a battery of experts would now be likely to come to the rescue of a hesitant Catherine (Wuthering Heights) and of Emma’s (Madame Bovary) passionless marriage: psychological counseling, couple therapy, divorce lawyers, mediation specialists, would massively appropriate and adjudicate over the private dilemmas of prospective or bored wives. In the absence of (or in conjunction with) experts’ help, their modern counterparts would have shared the secret of their love with others, most likely female friends, or, at the very least, occasional anonymous friends found on the Internet, thus considerably diminishing the solitude of their passion. Between their desire and their despair, there would have been a thick flow of words, self-analysis, and friendly or expert advice

  • They would have derived a sense of glory not from the experience of grief, but precisely from having overcome it, through an arsenal of self-help therapeutic techniques. Modern romantic pain generates an almost endless gloss, the purpose of which is both to understand and extirpate its causes. Dying, committing suicide, and running away to a cloister no longer belong to our cultural repertoires.
  • In fact, few people living in the contemporary era have been spared the agonies of intimate relationships. These agonies come in many shapes: kissing too many frogs on the way to Prince/ss Charming; engaging in Sisyphean Internet searches; coming back lonely from bars, parties, or blind dates. When relationships do get formed, agonies do not fade away, as one may feel bored, anxious, or angry in them; have painful arguments and conflicts; or, finally, go through the confusion, self-doubts, and depression of break-ups or divorces.
  • Countless self-help manuals and workshops profess to help us better manage our romantic lives by making us more aware of the ways in which we unconsciously engineer our own defeats. The Freudian culture in which we are steeped has made the forceful claim that sexual attraction is best explained by our past experiences, and that the love preference is formed in early life in the relationship between the child and its parents.
  • More: Freudian culture suggested that, by and large, romantic misery was inevitable and self-inflicted.
  • Whether psychoanalysis and psychotherapy intended to or not, they have provided a formidable arsenal of techniques to make us the verbose but inescapable bearers of responsibility for our romantic miseries.
  • Painful experiences of love were a powerful engine activating a host of professionals (psychoanalysts, psychologists, and therapists of all kinds), the publishing industry, television, and numerous other media industries.
  • in Simone de Beauvoir’s famous words, even in love men retain their sovereignty, while women aim to abandon themselves.
  • Shulamith Firestone went a step further: the source of men’s social power and energy is the love women provide for them and continue to provide for men, thus suggesting that love is the cement with which the edifice of male domination has been built.
  • This book thus wants to outline a framework in order to identify the institutional causes for romantic misery, but it takes for granted that the experience of love exerts a powerful hold that cannot be simply explained by “false consciousness.”
  • My claim here is that the reason why love is so central to our happiness and identity is not far from the reason why it is such a difficult aspect of our experience: both have to do with the ways in which self and identity are  institutionalised in modernity.
  • If many of us have “a kind of nagging anxiety, or unease” about love and a sense that matters of love make us “troubled, restless, and dissatisfied with ourselves,” to use the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, it is because love contains, mirrors, and amplifies the “entrapment” of the self in the institutions of modernity,institutions, to be sure, shaped by economic and gender relations
  • to show that it is shaped and produced by concrete social relations; to show that love circulates in a marketplace of unequal competing actors; and to argue that some people command greater capacity to define the terms in which they are loved than others.
  • Women’s social inferiority could thus be traded for men’s absolute devotion in love, which in turn served as the very site of display and exercise of their masculinity, prowess, and honour. More: women’s dispossession of economic and political rights was accompanied (and presumably compensated) by the reassurance that in love they were not only protected by men but also superior to them. It is, therefore, unsurprising that love has been historically so powerfully seductive to women; it promised them the moral status and dignity they were otherwise denied in society and it glorified their social fate: taking care of and loving others, as mothers, wives, and lovers.
  • historically, love was highly seductive precisely because it concealed as it beautified the deep inequalities at the heart of gender relationships.
  • It is this profoundly split and dual aspect of love – both as a source of existential transcendence and as a deeply contested site for the performance of gender identity – that characterises contemporary romantic culture.
  • For example, when (heterosexual) love became the constitutive theme of the novel, few noticed that it became tightly intertwined with another theme, no less central to the bourgeois novel and to modernity at large: that of social mobility
  • Ute Frever: “[E]motions are not only made by history, they also make history.”
  • Eighteenth century sentimental literature and novels further accentuated this cultural tendency because the ideal of love they promoted contributed, in theory, and in practice, to unsettle the power which parents – especially fathers – exerted in their daughters’ marriages. Thus, the ideal of romantic love was an agent of women’s emancipation in one important respect: it was an agent of individualization and autonomy, however circumvoluted such emancipation might have been.
  • Love put women under the tutelage of men, but it did so by legitimizing a model of the self that was private, domestic, individualistic, and, most of all, that demanded emotional autonomy. Romantic love thus reinforced within the private sphere the moral individualism that had accompanied the rise of the public sphere.
  • Finally, to be intelligible to oneself and to others, an experience must follow established cultural patterns. A sick person may explain his disease as God’s punishment for his past misdeeds, as a biological accident, or as caused by an unconscious death wish; all of these interpretations emerge from and are situated within elaborate explanatory models used and recognisable by historically situated groups of people.
  • my objection to the current dominant psychological ethos is three-fold: that what we take to be individual aspiration and experience have in fact much social and collective content to them; that psychic differences are often – though not always – nothing but differences in social positions and social aspirations; and, finally, that the impact of modernity on the formation of the self and identity is precisely to lay bare individuals’ psychic attributes and to grant them a crucial role in determining their destinies, both romantic and social.
  • as Schopenhauer has suggested, suffering derives from the fact that we live through “memory and anticipation.”
  • When suffering cannot be explained, we suffer doubly: from the pain we experience and from our incapacity to bestow meaning on it. Thus any experience of suffering always points us to the systems of explanation that are deployed to account for it

Leave a Reply