America is just as much an idea as it is a chunk of land. The American idea is composed of several sub-ideas, each of which has become more or less prevalent over time – the free market, the pastoral dream, the sovereignty of the individual, the pursuit of happiness….One idea that has remained at the fore is romantic love. We are spoon-fed romance from birth, from Disney princesses through high school musicals to the infamous rom-com. Of course, romantic love is not exclusively or even originally an American idea, but it fits especially neatly into the narrative of the USA.
“The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth, have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” (Preface to Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman)
Romantic love represents the triumph of individuals to forge their own destinies and pursue their own desires. The opportunity to be romantically involved with whomever one chooses has become something like a sacrament to many people who take stock in this aspect of American myth. (I call it myth here not to be disparaging but to emphasize that it is something that people believe in, not something that is necessarily the case.) Many people now accept the concept of falling out of love and believe people should have the freedom to move on and find love with others. Controversies surrounding the legal parameters of love – the politics of the bedroom – are at the forefront of the public consciousness. I am not going to discuss the specifics of any of these because, quite frankly, they’ve had way too much air time already.
People are so worried about being deprived of romance but rarely think of the deprivation that stems from their obsession with romance. It is a wonderful thing that there is no limit to the number of people that we can find admirable and compelling when we live with open eyes and hearts. Ironically, in our cultural pursuit to swing the doors open, we have shoved strong feelings through an ever narrowing window. Now every passing emotion has some Freudian significance behind it, and we can never think twice about someone without wondering what it means. We believe that our strong feelings and affection are definitive, when really we should be grateful and blissful in our ability and inclination to love people at all.
America made us lose our minds over the thought of finding The One. Now it’s making us hysterical about what The One means, if there can be several Ones, how we designate people with One-like status, etc. For a change, let’s make peace with our capacity to love, to connect with others in a way that moves us, to be electrified by the brilliance in humanity, and to recognize the depth and complexity of our feelings without sidling into identity crisis. Let’s not chase the One so much so that we leave out the Many. This love is free, man.
Copyright 2015 Sarah Blake
Image: America, Thomas Hawk, February 1, 2013, CC.