13 January 2009

Te Quiero

  • Jan 13, 2009

Te Quiero

In Spanish the term for "I love you" is the same as "I want you"

Contrary to what English speakers might assume, this isn't meant to imply lust.
Te quiero is just as applicable to love for family or friends (with te amo reserved for romantic love - though te quiero is appropriate for a spouse or lover as well)

This is perhaps no more than an idiosyncrasy of language and translation, but it strikes me as the dominate view of love in our own culture.

We might say "I love ice cream" or "I love that movie", meaning that you really really enjoy it.  When something brings us great pleasure, we love it.
Certainly our friends and family and lovers ought to bring us great pleasure.

This type of love, possessive and self-centered, can certainly be applied to people.  I love you because you make me happy, I enjoy your company, I want you around.

It is perhaps unfortunate that we have one word that should cover such a broad range of emotional experience.

Love can also mean "I want you to be happy".  For objects it never means this, but hopefully for people it often does.  While in the 1st meaning it is dependent on my own happiness to exist, in the 2nd I am willing to deliberately sacrifice my own happiness for the benefit of the object of my love. Ideally a good relationship (any type, not just lovers) will have both types, but really they are two different things.

We feel real care and concern for others, we want to make them happy as they do us, but in a culture obsessed with the self it can be all too easy to get caught up in prioritizing selfish love.

There have been a number of studies out there which confirm in scientific terms what we have known from folk wisdom forever: it is better to give than to receive.  It turns out this isn't just a way of conning the populace into desirable social behavior, its an innate truth of human nature.  Spending money on a gift does more to raise subjective well-being than spending an equal amount on ones self (http://tierneylab.blogs...nytimes.com/2008/03/20/yes-..money-can-buy-happiness/). 

It seems that love as a feeling of care for others as opposed to a feeling of enjoyment of others, particularly within romantic relationships, is strongly de-emphasized in our culture.
We each spend our time focusing on our own needs being met, giving little time left over to question how much we are meeting theirs.

I see people being quick to point out that it would be unhealthy to prioritize another over ones self - but see, as long as its mutual, it balances out.  Its just like in society: everyone does better when everyone does better. 

Imagine a game of tug-of-rope.  Two equally matched opponents face off.  They pull and struggle and sweat and the knot in the middle stays more or less right in the middle.
If either lets go, they lose, and the consequences may be miserable.  But say they both agreed to stop pulling.  The knot still stays in the middle.  But they don't have to fight anymore.  Things are still the same as they were, but both are better off.  This is what happens when you focus on being good to your partner instead of just on them being good to you.  In the end, instead of a sacrifice, you are both better off than when you started, which is how a good relationship should be.

Perhaps a part of our high divorce rate and the increasing age in which, on average, our generation spends serial dating, is somehow tied to our culture's intense focus on self (as opposed to community or family, for example - the rise of both consumerism and the list of terms that begin with "self-" that have entered our collective consciousness) as detailed in the documentary "The Century of the Self"(the entire movie is embedded in my December 17, 2007 blog entitled "Just in time for Christmas").

We question "is this person doing enough for me?" and when the answer is no, we move on, without ever having considered the possibility that maybe they weren't doing enough as a result of us not doing enough ourselves.  If their needs are unmet, it will be hard for them to focus on ours.  I've never lived in any other time or place, so it would be presumptuous to assume that if the expectation were long-term or permanent relationships that we would be any more prone to view relationships as real partnerships, as "we are in this together, lets make it work for us both".

Part of it may also be our focus on romance, on being "in-love".  We grow up hearing fairy tales and seeing romantic comedies and it becomes our model of what "love" is "supposed" to be like.  Who wouldn't want that wonderful giddy feeling of total infatuation to exist forever, for the passion and excitement of a brand new relationship to carry you happily ever after?

Only problem is, it doesn't.  Not for anyone.  On average it seems to last about a year, maybe 2 or 3 for some. (http://articles.latimes.com/..2007/jul/30/health/he-..attraction30) After the honeymoon period is over, once real life sets in and mundane day to day life conflicts crop up, once the other person relaxes off of their best behavior that was meant to win you over, sooner or later the passion, no matter how strong it started out, wears off.  After all, a lot of the excitement stems from the novelty itself, and from the fantasy of a person's potential.  At that point, traditionally, so called "companionate love" is supposed to take over - essentially a strong friendship, and/or feelings of loyalty, commitment, and of course care for the other; these things can give a relationship value and meaning.  But they are severely undervalued in our culture, or at least ignored, in favor of romance and passion. (http://www.utne.com/Science-Technology/Romantic-Comedies-Are-Making-Kids-Miserable.aspx?blogid=36)
The end result: 50% divorce rate (and the accompanying single parent households), generations of people who have endless strings of brief semi-committed relationships, and even an entire sub-culture which insists that polyamory is not just acceptable, but an ideal that everyone should strive for, and the suggestion that a desire for a monogamous relationship is in itself a sign of conformity or repression.

This cultural shift was perhaps inevitable with the nexus of several unrelated social and technological advances.  The invention of a safe, effective, reliable, accessible form of birth control decoupled sex from reproduction (http://www.medicinenet.com/..script/main/art.asp?..articlekey=51170). Without that causal dating and not getting married until well into ones 30s is pretty impractical and something few would be interested in. Like all of our sexual morays, waiting until marriage developed before there was an effective method of birth control, and our collective conscious is relatively slow to adapt to technology. 
At the same time the inventions of the washing machine, microwave, fast food, and other household labor saving devices meant it actually became possible to take care of one's own house while having a full time job. Without those things washing clothes is a major undertaking, cooking a meal needs to be begun hours in advance, and taking care of a household is a full time job in itself.  These changes made it unnecessary to have a spouse for practical reasons, and made the concept of being "independent" available to nearly everyone.
Feminism made what birth-control and labor-saving devices allowed on the practical level also socially acceptable, and then end result is that, while people still enjoy having partners, we don't really need them any more.
Each of these things taken by themselves are obviously positive steps which improve the lives of everybody.  That they happened to all develop in the same time span of time perhaps encouraged the shift in how we view relationships, to the devaluing of commitment and the focus on passion and chemistry as the most vital parts of partnerships.

If for what ever reason (needing two people to run a household, having children in common, or it being socially unacceptable to divorce) a couple doesn't see splitting up as an option, it is more clearly in both individuals' self interest to deal with problems.  Then, assuming an egalitarian outlook (and I acknowledge that in the time I am describing that was definitely not the norm) it makes sense to view a conflict as "we have a problem, and we need to figure out a way to solve it".  If there is no incentive, the outlook by default is often "this person is making me unhappy, and I don't like it". 
Similarly, we don't see any inherent value in commitment, largely preferring to see partners as "the best I've found so far", always leaving the option open to upgrade.

There seems to be a lot of people who believe that things like monogamy, marriage, perhaps even heterosexuality are purely social constructs, are outdated and repressive, and that not being comfortable with sex without love implies someone is less free, open, and comfortable with themselves.
But religion didn't invent the connection between sex and emotion.  Religion tries to make it a moral issue, which of course it isn't, but nature linked the two.
Ultimately, sex is about reproduction.  Obviously it plays a social role as well, and like chocolate cake and rollercoasters we have been clever enough to harness technology to manipulate the pleasure centers of our own brains outside of the ways nature intended. 
Even so, when framing what is "natural" or even "healthy", it is probably helpful to look at it in its most basic, at its evolutionary function.
In a specie where both genders put substantial resources and time into caring for each generation of offspring, its no wonder that we would also tend to develop emotions that favored a single long term-partner, that we would become jealous of infidelities, and even that a double standard might exist between men and women (if he cheats, his partner isn't stuck raising a child that isn't hers).  This doesn't make these things good or ideal, any more than anything which is "natural" is ideal (Being eaten by a mountain lion is natural.  Doesn't make it a good thing.)  But it does make it understandable.

I think our generation may have gone just a little bit too far in rebelling against the old standard in this case.  It is a good thing that everyone has freedom and options and that no one is ostracized or punished for their choices which don't hurt anyone else.  But when in our zeal to allow freedom we try to force ourselves to fit an unnatural standard, or we ignore the valuable parts of things like commitment, in the end everybody loses.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you ask a question, I will answer it.

NEW: Blogger finally put in a system to be notified of responses to your comments! Just check the box to the right, below, before you hit "publish"