Tag Archives: love

Do People Fall in Love Out of Gratitude?

What’s going on here? A romance novel is seriously making the hero fall for a girl simply because she adored him first?

quotables button“[T]hough Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.”

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Shouldn’t there be something grander? Shouldn’t she have been the prettiest girl in the room, and he couldn’t keep his eyes off her? (But in real life, there’s always someone prettier). Shouldn’t he have somehow found her absolutely unique? (But everyone blurs together until we take the time to get to know them.) Shouldn’t she have hidden her feelings until he’d fallen good and hard for her? (But Jane Austen knew this didn’t work– “Few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.”)

Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s attempt to inject a little ‘realism’ into novels–most deliberately in her attempts to spoof Gothic novels by showing how the spooky can be very ordinary (mysterious papers turn out to be a laundry list, a mean-spirited man turns out to be driven by greed rather than remorse or guilt)–but perhaps also in her handling of the romance between the central characters, Henry and Catharine. He falls in love with her because she was in love with him! He falls in love out of gratitude!

But this is realistic! Who doesn’t find their opinion of someone improving because we know they like us? I’ve experienced it myself, when people have straight-up told me they enjoy hanging out with me, I find myself wanting to hang out with them more. Because they told me they like me, it takes the pressure off. I don’t have to wonder what they think about me being myself. I know, so I can just be myself. And focus on getting to know them more and more.

It’s a way for one person to distinguish themselves from the sea of other people in the world–this person is memorable because this person admires me. Why waste time on people who don’t like you, when you know someone does?

And gratitude? It is gratifying to hear someone thinks we’re clever–or pretty–or funny – or adventurous. It feels so good it leaves us wide open to manipulating flattery. We can be manipulated into suddenly thinking so very highly of someone who flatters us, and not admit that’s the reason why we suddenly think so well of them. (I can’t help but add a side-note: It’s almost more insidious when people flatter things we’re very proud of instead– “what a nice family you have,” “what wonderful people are your friends,” “your church is really amazing…”)

But when the admiration is genuine! It’s almost a relief to hear someone sincerely believes one of our strengths is actually a strength. And there comes the gratitude–and increased liking–and increased friendship–and maybe love…

Now, is this a sure-fire recipe for making friends, or falling in love? Sadly, no.

The terrible thing about letting someone know how much you like them is finding out your feelings don’t make them like you more. This is why we so rarely tell anyone how we feel! They don’t feel good that you like them, they feel pressured and afraid you expect something from them, and so they pull back. So despite trying to strengthen your relationship by sharing your admiration, you actually end up driving the person away.

Now, maybe this is not as common as we all believe. Maybe we truly all would have a thousand more healthy relationships if we just were honest about our admiration. In fact, we probably would, because people are far less likely to reject us than our negative brains want us to believe. However, it’s reality that people do react negatively. People you make an effort for do disappear. People you fall in love with don’t fall for you. The stronger your admiration for another person is, the more painful it is when it’s clearly not mutual.

So I’m not saying go out and tell everyone how you feel all the time. The risk is very great. The pain is nasty when everything goes wrong-side-up. You can’t predict the results of your honesty.

But honest admiration can result in something wonderful, even in this non-fictional world. So in the end it’s worth it to weigh the risks and open yourself up to this possibility.

 

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Observations on Being Single, Revisited

I wrote a post for Valentine’s Day a couple years back, and clearly felt I’d said everything I’d needed to say about it, because I never wrote another one since… and this year, I thought I’d look back on it and see if I still felt the same way.

I do. I still feel like there’s a gulf of misunderstandings between men and women that just cause frustration all around! Double-thinking what you do, and being cautious in what you say, are still so necessary… and yet they still build walls in what should just be easy, wonderful friendships. And then just – confusion all around if what you want is something more! So, without further ado, I’m going to re-post my old post below.

(I know. It’s Valentine’s Day on Friday. But I hope to post entirely new content on Friday, instead of slacking off with a re-post, so you get the re-post today!)

There are two types of Valentine’s Day posts that singles write: posts whining about how depressing Valentine’s Day is when everybody around them is in a relationships, and posts celebrating how singles get to spend the whole day spoiling no one but themselves (oh goodie). This is not one of those posts. I’m not going to rant, or write an ode to singleness here. I’d just like to point out a few things I’ve noticed, and this seems like an appropriate time to do it.

First, being single never excludes you from “the game of love.” You always get tugged into second-guessing, and misunderstanding, and awkward moments like anyone else. I can have completely normal conversations with a guy, and then hours later realize, “Oh, I hope he didn’t read too much into that…” or “Maybe he had ulterior motives for starting that seemingly innocent conversation…” When the most likely explanation is that it was an innocent conversation. And that’s the default explanation in my head, but waaaaaaaay in the back of my mind is a little voice telling me to be careful, because there’s a miniscule possibility it wasn’t.

And, of course, if you’re actually interested in whomever you’re having a conversation with, it makes things a lot more complex…

I guess I just wish interactions between guys and girls didn’t have to involve second-guessing and misunderstandings – that every friendly conversation was just a friendly conversation unless we both actually wanted something different – and additionally, that we didn’t have to eternally test the water if we actually do like someone.

Singleness shouldn’t involve playing games. No more gushing about how much we love being single if we’re actually keeping our eyes wide open for a special someone. No more “we’re just friends” when you’re secretly wishing you’re not, or insisting “we’re just friends” because you’re afraid the other person is getting the wrong idea. Don’t know why, but singleness seems to involve second-guessing, over-analyzing, and pretending to a better version of ourselves.

I don’t like fakery, and I don’t like playing games. Sometimes it seems like the process of being single involves too much of both.

Anyway, hope everyone has a good Valentine’s Day!

Note: Being in a relationship is not necessarily a solution to the above… I know it brings its own set of problems!

Did I offer a solution in the above? No, because I didn’t have one. I still don’t have one. Except – try to take every opportunity to be honest. Treat everyone with respect as a human being – every single human being deserves to be treated with respect. And… if you have anything better to add, please put it in the comments below!

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Real-life Romance: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning {PD}

Real life is better than fiction sometimes. More unbelievable than fiction too, but that’s another topic. This post will be the first of four to mesh two of my favourite blog topics: romance and history. ‘Cuz I realized, when I thought about it, that I knew at least four stories from history that were eventful enough to be a romance novel on their own. And here you thought real life was boring…

You might’ve thought real life was boring too, if you were Elizabeth Barrett. Or, at least, your life was incredibly boring. Plagued by a mysterious illness since you were fifteen, too frail and weak to go anywhere, shut up away from society in your little home, with only an addiction to morphine to dull your pain. Of course, a friend describes you as “a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on each side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, and a smile like a sunbeam,” which sounds very much like a heroine of a romantic novel, but of what use is that if no one ever sees you? The first act of any romantic novel tends to be boy-meets-girl, and that’s not too likely if you only ever see your family.

But Elizabeth Barrett had a hobby to fill all those hours stuck in the house, and this might be why you’re wracking your brains and going, ah, that name is so familiar! Elizabeth Barrett was a poet. And more than that, she was a successful poet, which is a rare thing. She’d been introduced to several of the literary figures of her day, such as William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson (more vaguely remembered names from that long-ago English class!), and she’d published a few popular volumes of poetry. (“Popular volumes of poetry” may sound a bit strange to your ears, but rest assured such things did exist once upon a time.) And her poetry was so good that when Robert Browning read it, he could not resist sending her a fan letter – gushing over the “fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought,” and then adding, “I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart—and I love you too…” Oh wow, he wasn’t a shy guy, was he?

And Elizabeth, not too worried about why this guy she’d never met was telling her he loved her, wrote back. Well, it probably was an interesting change from staying home and writing poetry.

So a meeting was arranged, he began to court her, and they fell in love. He was a poet as well, so they at least had common interests to talk about. But she was six years older than him, and an invalid, so she could hardly believe he was interested in her. Her family couldn’t believe it either, and dismissed him as a gold-digger. So the two of them secretly married and went off to live in Italy, where they were, by all accounts, very happy.  (That’s how she became Elizabeth Barrett Browning, you see?)

And she got a whole series of poems out of it! (Life inspires art, what more can a writer ask for?) Not to mention feeling stronger once she got to Italy, and being able to get out more. She even gave birth to a son, though she did have several miscarriages. Her proud husband convinced her that publishing her love sonnets was a good idea, and fortunately (since people’s love poetry all too often are not something that ought to be published), her love sonnets were genuinely good. So she became even more well-known as a poet, and though she was never exactly strong, she did have a far more active social life until she died at fifty-five.

Her love sonnets are entitled Sonnets from the Portuguese*, and the second-last one is probably the most well-known. I think it captures the wild exuberance of love really well, so in case I didn’t do Robert and Elizabeth’s story justice, you can read it below (You can actually read their whole story through the sonnets, but it’s a little more difficult since it’s poetry. It’s very beautiful though):

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

What do you think – can real life stories be more entertaining than fiction?

* The reason she called them Sonnets from the Portuguese was because she only decided to publish them as if they were translations of foreign sonnets – in order to be less obvious about the fact she was describing her whole romantic life in them. Robert Browning suggested she choose Portuguese for the language, because his nickname for her was “my little Portuguese.” And now you know.

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Filed under On Writing, Real-life Romance

Love In Friendship*

Good Friends, by Hermann Kern. Public Domain

Today is Monday, so it should be Quotables Day, but I am writing a longer post because I’ve been MIA for about three weeks now. Nice to be back, by the way!

While I was travelling, I came to the realization that friendship love doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Sure, people go on and on about ‘the power of friendship,’ or insist they love their friends, but when push comes to shove, it is romantic love that is clearly talked about more, written about more, and sung about more. Name one song about friendship (“Thank You For Being A Friend,” maybe), and you can probably come up with five hundred more gushing about how great romantic love is. Romance novels are a complete genre of their own. Friendship novels–sure, many novels are about friendship, but they don’t have a whole genre all by themselves!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. During this last trip I took, that worked both ways. I realized how much I value the friends I have in Canada, who support and encourage me, and I discovered how much I’d missed my friends in Brazil (and how much I will miss them again, until I see them again someday!) It felt weird to say that I loved any of them, conditioned as I am to think of love as referring to romance, but maybe love is the right word. Somehow the word friendship is not quite strong enough to cover this feeling by itself.  There are many people I like, and enjoy being with. But there has to be something more, something that describes this strong feeling of connection between people, and desire for the other person’s happiness. I can’t really put this into words, and I’ve always been bad at talking about emotions or letting others know when I care about them. But I know what the pull in my heart feels like.

Love is such a strong word, and almost everyone immediately jumps to the conclusion that it is romantic love you mean when they hear it. Sure, everyone will admit more than one type of love exists–love in families, love in friendship–but the focus is all on the romantic. To the point that every time a novel presents two friends of the opposite gender as friends, readers insist they HAVE to be in love. (Okay, okay, whether guys and girls truly can be just friends or not is a whole other topic, and I’m just going to say here that I think it’s possible but different than same gender friendships). Remember the outrage over the fact that Harry Potter did not fall in love with his friend Hermione by the end of the series? The possibility of romantic love overshadowed the real, genuine love of friendship they had for each other. I think sometimes when we insist on searching for the thrill of romance in everything around us, we miss out on what’s actually there (and yes, I’m guilty of this at times too).

Because friendship love is the kind of love that spills over to many people, can be shared between many people, can be enjoyed by many people. It can grow as the years go by. You can always find room in your heart for more of it. I’d never say romantic love isn’t important, or that we should ignore it completely. In fact, romantic love is probably better if the two of you share friendship love too. I just mean it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we had more books, songs, films and honest conversations about how joyful it is to have friends you love.

*Not to be confused with Jane Austen’s delightful work, Love and Freindship (intentionally misspelled)

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Skipping Dinner: Chapter 30C (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 30C, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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A Chat in the Library: Chapter 30B (Why Polly?)

Hello all! This post was previously Chapter 30B, but has now been removed. But don’t despair! Why Polly? will soon be available in its entirety on Amazon.

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