Shakespeare’s most famous play could well have been entitled ‘Fabrizio and Juliet’ if Fabrizio had showed up a minute before Romeo.
We all pursue our own goals, our own ideas of happiness, of ‘our best self’, or just follow our obsessions if you like. People we meet and fall in love just happen to be at the right place, the right time (or wrong, you pick the word): the place and time we need to fall in love.
By no means do I intend to underestimate Romeo, but in order to be realistic, one has to acknowledge that chances are there were many other bold, handsome young men whose noble families were keen to eliminate other noble families. Randomness plays a big role in defining what the name next to Juliet’s will be, and it is only our a posteriori deterministic need that makes us neglect this, the need to find meaning through idealization. Quoting from one of Mr. Pamuk’s books:
‘Many people know that no life is predetermined and that, in reality, every story is a sequence of coincidences. Despite the big number of those who know this, when, at some point in their lives, they turn and look back, they reach the conclusion that the situations they lived through as coincidental, they were -in their present view- nothing but necessities.’
Indeed. What love would be like if Juliet was all: ‘Oh Romeo I love you! But in case you don’t make it tonight, I’ll call one of the other 999 Romeos out there’. No, no. It is a fact that the person is randomly picked in that sense, and it is a necessity to neglect this fact. Unless…well, unless things don’t go well, in which case we suddenly remember the randomness factor. But doesn’t this switch make us look fool or at least inconsistent with our very ideal of love that we were so keen to follow to begin with?
According to many, romantic love in modern Western world is what we use to make a once-in-a-lifetime choice, a choice that it’s too risky to make without Cubic’s help. Alfred Gell makes an interesting analysis on his article ‘On love‘. Take for instance this tribe in New Guinea, called Umeda. They live in villages of max. 750 persons. The Umedas marry cross-cousins, i.e. the person whom they will marry is pretty much predetermined, often before they hit puberty. There are really no ‘singles’ available to mess around and fall in love. Yet they do. Mostly through extramarital relationships of women with younger unmarried men, that must remain secret at all costs. Pure Umedas, you think, what a lack of freedom…Well, not so fast…Let’s move to ‘our’ society, shall we?
“Here people are taught to believe that one day they will discover, through elective affinity, out of the indefinite number of social others of whom they have generic knowledge, some particular one to love, with whom they will live in predestined harmony, have children and so on. I do not need to say that this idea is as arbitrary, as fantastic, as anything Umedas believe on the subject of sorcery. It is, however, necessary, given the fact that in modern society choice of mates is not institutionalized at the level of individual (though it is highly institutionalized in other ways, i.e. class, locality etc.)”
And he goes on to say:
“Because, pecuniary advantage aside, there are no really good reasons for committing oneself to one person rather than another, and very good reasons for fearing the worst, the essentially arbitrary choice is rationalized as fixed in advance by the wiles of the love-god, whose intervention relieves us from the burden of responsibility for our actions, which, in fact, is necessary for us to act at all, rather than hover interminably in a state of radical indecision. Whereas in Umeda love is outside the social system, in our society love has license and is supposed to make the world turn around, to be the very principle upon which society rests’.
I find this ‘functionalistic’ view to be quite grounded. However, one could as well argue that this only applies to the initial stages of a romantic relationship, when two people first meet, flirt and grow intense feelings without really knowing the object of their affection. As they spend more time together and they get to know each other, they grow – if they’re lucky enough – another kind of love, more grounded on the ‘real’ qualities of their partner, more informed, more knowledge-based. Now their actions- maintaining the relationship or not – is based on rationally evaluating the other person according to the information they receive. This must be the real thing then.
Well, not so fast…Coming up next, love as a system of knowledge.