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.