not in Primary anymore

down with (patriarchal) love


I’ve never been a fan of the word “preside” being used in the context of marital relationships or relationships in general. The word itself implies dominion and when it comes to love, as author bell hooks writes, “…Love and domination do not go together-that if one is present, the other will be absent.”(Communion: The Female Search For Love) . It is in this that I’ve found myself searching for love this summer, that is, what it is and what does it mean in my life.

Fresh off the heels of the end of a romantic and later platonic relationship, I found myself wondering what I did wrong. Was I not witty enough? Did I say the wrong thing? Should I have let him win that argument? These thoughts raced my mind as this person soon found comfort in the arms of another. I felt hurt and I soon began to question my beliefs as a feminist. At least, I began to question my feminism.

Perhaps if I didn’t think this way, maybe we’d still be together. If I had only told him that I would take his last name, maybe we’d still be talking about getting sealed in the temple. He said once that “now he knew why he was the ‘girl’ in our relationship.” Should I have then been less assertive?

Like there should be a “girl” in a relationship. What does that even mean?

I became jealous of his new relationship as it unfolded on Facebook, like many relationships seem to do nowadays. It was a jealousy that mirrored the feeling that existed in our romantic relationship and subsequent platonic relationship. It was that sense of control that fueled us. A power that we both seemed to vie for.

As bell hooks also notes in her book Communion, Feminism taught us to question what love meant but offered women and men very few options or solutions to the problems that arise in patriarchal relationships. Many self-help books offered (and still offer) ideas on how to have “better” relationships or how to get our partners to be “more physically and emotionally involved”, but did not (and often do not) address the underlying causes for lapses in emotional and physical intimacy that some partners exhibit. I remember buying books like Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man and Why Men Love Bitches (and later Why Men Marry Bitches) and wondering why I still felt uncomfortable when I’d apply the advice I was given (other than the fact that the author of the latter named books felt it necessary to include the word ‘Bitch’ in the title. The term often describes women who break patriarchal norms as being incapable of love, but I digress). Things would be cool as long as I “followed the rules” but as soon as I stepped out of line, the relationship would get back on that same sour path it was on before or if I was single, I would remain that way until I got back with the program. I’m critical of books like these because they assume that if I were to follow these rules, I would A.) attract more partners and/or B.) make my partner be more interested in me. The methods often focus on coercion and manipulation in order to have a “successful” relationship. These two things have absolutely no place in the pursuit of love.

Feminism was slow to define and discuss love, so patriarchy went ahead and did it for us. We, as in women, began to enter the workforce to challenge patriarchy in a way that was never seen before. This became an option to counteract the preconceived notions of love. However many women felt bitter, angry and in many ways betrayed when they still encountered the same influence of patriarchy in romantic and platonic relationships, despite their new found “freedom” beyond the home. Particularly in the realms of physical and emotional intimacy. Relationships continued to be defined by patriarchy while our place beyond motherhood and the home continued to evolve.

To define love, whether it is romantic, platonic or of the self, we should recognize that love is essential to the human condition. Even hate, a form of love, albeit an absence of it. We often talk about equality in relationships but rarely discuss ways to define love and distance ourselves from the parent/child relationships that form under the guise of boyfriend/girlfriend, boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, husband/husband, wife/wife or “loving ourselves”. Thus, we submit ourselves to the same disturbing patterns that patriarchy perpetuates. Patterns of control, competition and jealousy; not being able to “let go”. That feeling of who will “take the lead”, as if there was only one who rightfully should. The prevalence of dishonesty…systems of oppression rely on deception to maintain power and the lies we tell ourselves and others is an extension of this system.

My proposed solution to find love, to love ourselves and to love others, is to truly distance ourselves from behaviors that are manifested by patriarchy. To distance ourselves from the notion that we must adhere to the traditional standards of relationships and marriage in order to be happy. While the absolute dissolution of these traditional ideas would prove to be a complicated effort (there are many couples and individuals who stand by these traditional ideals of love and are truly happy with how things are), I ask that we consider and push for other ways of loving that are also meaningful and fulfilling for all parties involved. This sounds like an “of course we should” statement because it is. This idea is neither new or revolutionary. At the same time, this solution involves an amount of examination of marriage and relationships as institutions and as such, should be questioned. Philosopher Michel Foucault notes the strong presence and influence of “disciplinary institutions” in society. These include schools, hospitals and prisons. These institutions have a direct influence on our subjectivity. It is because of this, we must be critical of these institutions. I suggest that we add marriage and relationships to this list that feminists and our allies must be weary of if we are to pursue perhaps the most revolutionary idea of all: love and our right to choose and exercise it.

Love is the force we have to form relationships, with others and with ourselves. It is the “groundbreaking” idea that care is a priority. In systems of domination and supremacy, we are led to believe that seeking love, devoid of control, jealousy, competition and manipulation, is to seek a life full of heartache and loneliness. To deviate from the system is to risk uncertainty and unhappiness. But as the summer winds down and as I continue to understand love separate from patriarchal norms, it is a risk I’m willing to take.

10 Responses to “down with (patriarchal) love”

  1. Eleanor

    Like many things, Love is one of the things that we often allow to be defined by the examples around us. I think that there is always danger in this because you can never know everything about the perfect couples you see out there (especially on the internet)

    As my marriage progresses I have realised that it is a deeply personal thing, and we are defining together what that love means to us and how we can express it in ways that are acceptable to us both. I would suggest that each couple has to do this, whatever the shape of their relationship is.

    Love itself is really simple. It’s the living of it that isn’t. Society, law, and even religion can really muddy the waters – but love itself is as simple as ‘I love you’

    Also… plutonic? Platonic.
    Unless you were meaning of Pluto. Or some punny slang meaning that I’ve never heard of before.

    • Janan Graham

      Haha no it’s not new slang. It was an error on my part. Thank you for the correction. Also thank you for sharing your story and thoughts about love!

  2. Rachel

    I must admit that coming to my feminist awakening after marrying a very “traditional” man while I was still very young and “traditional” myself has been a major stumbling block in our marriage. I don’t think my husband sees it as such do much as I do. I know through the example of my very wise mother in law that we can make it through these trials and both come out the better! I’ve found that I have to keep a level head and not turn into anything that he could deem a stereotypical angry feminist while we work to understand why our beliefs on certain issues are so incompatable. I’ve also had to learn how to speak in a way that he understands.

    • Tb

      I grew tired of reading your rant. Perhaps this is an indicator of your relationships. Love is beautiful, but can become difficult when someone is too overbearing.

      • Curtis Penfold

        Thanks Tb for dismissing the legitimate feelings and experiences of Rachel.

        Mourning with those that mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort, lifting one another’s burdens–

        Nah. I don’t do that. I get tired of their ranting.

      • Rachel

        I remember very vividly being told by my mother before a skiing date with a boy I liked to “fall down a lot so he can help you up.”. I had multiple experiences of that sort of guidance in my dating life. I had experiences of going farther than I was comfortable sexually because I thought that I had to in order for whatever boy it was to like me. I developed a lot of hang ups surrounding men and sex because I was preached to that boys only thought of me as a sexual object and in order to ensnare one for marriage I had to tease enough to draw them in an then comply with their desires just enough but not “give away the milk before the cow was bought.”
        My husband has been extremely supportive of me as I work through these issues and learning the true nature of sexual love and the true nature of a romantic relationship and how I don’t always have to be accommodating or willing to do things that I don’t want to do. but it is been hard for him to in learning that he can’t get everything he wants just for asking. I find it difficult to express myself to him on these very sensitive issues and very very personal issues as well. So conversation is tricky so that we don’t accidentally offend or degrade one another.
        If we want to end relationships of patriarchy we need to start with our children and our peers and teach them that it is not okay to demand that one gender always acquiesce to the other. That mutual respect is love. That being willing to compromise is not failure. I could go on but I wouldn’t want to rant.

  3. beholdconfusion

    I thought I had very modern thoughts about feminism when I married. I didn’t. It has been tough to work out new ways of thinking and being that feel right and just even when I have a 100% on-board husband. Sometimes he feels blindsided by my anger about something that just yesterday was fine. Heck, sometimes I’M blindsided by the same! But what can you do? We can’t change the past, so we continue to work for a better future where our kids might have to do less of this gender-role heavy lifting.

  4. storydreamcaster

    I love this. I get so tired of people telling me that I don’t date or have boyfriends because I refuse to “play the game.” Well, the game is manipulative and not at all my idea of how to have a functioning, equitable relationship.

  5. Cari Clark

    Interesting! Perhaps you might want to read “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us” by Danielle Crittenden. Often, the problem, as I see it, is that a woman with feminist views examines every aspect and word of a relationship through an “Is this patriarchal oppression?” lens. Men are genuinely surprised by some of these interpretations, and it’s not necessarily because of “male privilege.”

    Never should a woman violate her own principles or pretend to be something she is not to ensnare a husband; that is so essentially dishonest that I cannot believe an LDS woman would consider it. If the “real you” isn’t for him, it’s time to move on. We all have things to learn from others. Honest self-examination is important, too (and we all need to be kind and thoughtful toward one another, even more in a marriage), but if you are comfortable with yourself, just keep moving toward your goals. Love and marriage will happen when the time is right.


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