The Dumb-Smart Love

The Dumb-Smart Love

- in Culture
One day, when Martina tells Gustav that she wants to ride the bicycle, walk in parks, read books and be with him, he asks what she is most eager to do. Martina answers that most of all she wants to ride the bike, the runner up is Gustav, and after that, the rest are the same. Illustration: Åsa Pålsson.

Spring has come and in its wake comes all kinds of passionate feelings. But we are continuously being warned still not to base a relationship purely on passion. TV-series like How I Met Your Mother and Gift vid första ögonkastet (Married at first sight) might learn something from a romantic classic dating to 1976.

I don’t know where and when it happened. But at some very convenient point in our history, I think someone with authority must’ve stood up and declared that, “You had better watch out for relationships with too large portions of passion”. This assertion must then have gained validity in some way and then spread over large areas.

I feel that wherever I go – in airports, disputation parties, or coffee with friends – I end up debating with people who try to convince me that “true love”, as they say, does not exist, and that this thing with coupling up with someone rather consists in finding someone you can cope with.

It seems my interlocutors have adopted a view where love is seen only as an effect of how good two people seem to be at living together, rather than the opposite: seeing living together as an effect of how good two people are at being in love.

An almost over-explicit example of the prevalence of the first view is the SVT-series Gift vid första ögonkastet (Married at first sight). Six people are matched in pairs by an expert committee; they marry when they see each other for the first time. Then, they have the following four weeks to find out whether they could live together, to ultimately decide if they want to stay married.

The last episode of the second season aired mid-March and when the time came for the arranged couples to decide, there was no shortage of enthusiasm from the priest and the psychologists in the expert committee.

Time and again they said they were really hoping that the couples would dare taking the chance and emphasised how much in common each couple had. Ironically, all three couples chose to split – two of the three due to lack of feelings of love.

There is something very provocative to me in the way many people seem to focus on the relationship as such, and put love on the back burner. I have a hard time seeing other correspondences between a loveless relationship than to having a smorgasbord in front of you and being too full to eat.

Sure, you could still try to stuff things down, but what’s the point if you, deep down, don’t feel the least bit peckish? These thoughts and the ensuing irritation is what makes it very hard for me to stay put when watching Gift vid första ögonkastet.

Another TV-series that has gone into investigating whether one should listen to the heart or the brain regarding love – if you should be with someone who is like you or not – is How I Met Your Mother. From start to finish, main character Ted Mosby just wants to find his true love and start a family. The whole series is, in a way, his Moby Dick-hunt in which he ponders what that perfect someone should be like.

On the one hand, he has a clear list of things he wants in his dream woman, and later, he actually finds someone who fits that list. On the other hand, from time to time his gut-feeling tells him that he wants to be with another woman who never wants to marry or have children, and who just might like him as a friend, and who would like to travel the world. In other words, someone who is quite different from himself.

When the time for the last episode arrived, I was as excited as can be. Who was he going to choose?! Would the series make a stand for gut-feeling or for someone corresponding to an imagined ideal woman? And the answer – spoilers – was both!

The uneasiness about how the script-writers chose to end the series – having Ted choosing the compatible woman, letting her die so that Ted could also choose the gut-feeling woman – is in a way a perfect illustration of how I myself find that many approach the question of passionate versus more quiet love. You’d rather not chose at all.

Åsa Lindqvist is Professor at the Department of Sociology at Lund University. She believes there are two things that have effected how we form relationships in Sweden today. First, the prevalent dualistic view that our laws bear the stamp of. Second, the fact that our laws we have that concern couple-relationships actually do not mention love.

“There is an interesting book called Inte ett ord om kärlek (Not one word about love) which analyses this. The authors think that the wording of the laws was a way to ensure equality, but that it also resulted in that something was missed out on.”

It might be, then, that the ambivalence I see in many people towards passionate love in Sweden at least springs from the fact that we see togetherness and logic as a normal relationship state. In comparison, passion becomes something unpredictable with greater demands on independence.

Still, I can’t help wondering if we are actually a bit overly afraid of having relationships end and whether we actually underestimate the possibility that passion in itself could be a perfect starting point for a long-term relationship?

“I could mobilise all atavistic moral conceptions that lie at the bottom of my soul, shrivelling, and shout in your face that I do not want to see you anymore. But I do want to see you. (By the way, I have finished a new draft that you’ve got to read).”

Just as in Gift vid första ögonkastet and How I Met Your Mother, Gun-Britt Sundström’s classic novel Maken (The Husband) from 1976 – which follows students Martina and Gustav – poses the question of what love really is. But in her book, the answer is not finding someone very similar to yourself or making the relationship itself more important than independence and the urge to see each other.

The novel rather has a feeling-perspective and experiments with what being in a relationship with someone you love actually is worth.

The quote in italics above is taken from a list made by Martina to Gustav after having been told that he has been cheating on her with someone else. Martina lets him know both that it makes her sad and that, at the same time, she would never want him to disappear from her life for real.

And is that not what true love is? Being yourself utterly and completely, as well as being completely honest, still knowing that you live with a person not because of what they do, but because of who they are?

Putting your own needs first in this way makes the relationship very natural – but also questioned. Martina and Gustav are told several times that it might be just as well for them to break up since they are so different and boisterous.

And they do break up. Multiple times. But now, forty years after the novel was published, I think that it is more the feeling of not fitting the relationship template, a feeling both had, that ended their relationship.

Thus, I would like to make a demand of our future: That we improve a bit on accepting relationships that each looks different – and have more relationships based on feelings. For if we maintain a relationship norm which obviously doesn’t fit for those who clearly love each other and want to be together, then it might be time to break and change the norm.

Translation: RICHARD HELANDER    

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