There has been a persistent theme in my life over the last few weeks of analyzing romantic relationships and how I feel about them. I just finished a wonderful book on the subject entitled Communion: The Female Search For Love by bell hooks. Hooks is a feminist writer whom I had heard of but had never read any of her books. The book was an excellent analysis of how patriarchy impacts romantic relationships.
Hooks’ basic premise is that enlightened women, especially feminists, who have been largely successful in fighting patriarchy in so many other areas, want romantic relationships that are deeply intimate and fulfilling. At odds with this goal is the patriarchal tenet that says that real men are unemotional, closed, and unwilling to talk about their feelings. This is a learned social behavior, not something innate in male babies. Male babies cry for the same reasons female babies cry. But, over time we learn our roles within the patriarchy; and these roles provide built-in conflict when it comes to relationships.
Happily, more and more men are embracing feminism, knowing that equality and decency towards one another is not merely a “woman’s issue”. Every living human being has had a mother at some point, so women’s issues affect everyone. In addition, the happiness and success of our daughters, sisters, friends, and coworkers affects the society as a whole, not just those individual women.
While hooks’ book title implies that the topic is romantic love, that is only part of it. Love is love, and it shows up in many different forms. Strong platonic friendships in addition to healthy family relationships, where they exist, are key to a sense of community and to one’s overall happiness and security.
What I took away from the book for myself is a confirmation of what I see going on in many romantic relationships and a rational explanation for why I have resisted them. Within patriarchy, women are taught to find their fulfillment within the boundaries of a romantic relationship. Men are taught that marriage is a trap and a burden that should be postponed for as long as possible. Women are taught that being loved by a man is the highest form of validation and the key to a happy and successful life. Men are taught to find their validation through work, that women are an accessory to their lives, and that a wife’s goals and aspirations should be secondary to the man’s career goals and to the happiness of the family. Men are also taught that they should be superior to all women in all relevant aspects of life and that a woman’s beauty is a reflection upon his worth as a man. This is why many men, especially those whose financial success makes them feel entitled, leave their marriages in pursuit of younger women once they reach a certain age. A woman’s worth, under patriarchy, expires once her youthful good looks and innocence give way to wisdom and maturity.
Given this sad state of affairs between men and women, many women understandably try to navigate their happiness as best they can without directly challenging the system. To challenge the system is to risk “being alone” – which is patriarchy’s ultimate punishment for lack of conformity. Society has always taught women that the worst thing that could happen to them is to end up a “spinster” or “old maid” (notice that there are no male equivalents for these derogatory labels). So women try to find love anyway, within the system, and often tolerate a lifetime of disrespect, uncertainty, and a lack of love. Those who are luckier either find loving enlightened men or “benevolent patriarchs” with whom they are able to forge reasonably happy unions.
The whole topic is fascinating to me, but I am happy to be a spectator for now. My goal is to fill my life with love of all kinds. I love my children, my friends, my career in art, my God, and myself. I find a great deal of fulfillment in just Being. Ironically, self-love is the first step and represents the only real shot any of us has in finding romantic love. But a general sense of happiness and fulfillment is what’s important and is what we are put on this earth to experience.
May this week be one of deep, profound love and connection with Reality and with each other. Peace and blessings and, as always, please continue to follow your Bliss…