When our thoughts turn to the topic of love, many of us immediately recall William Shakespeare’s famous romance, Romeo and Juliet. As the lines penned for Romeo declare, “Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs; Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes; Being vexed a sea nourish’d with loving tears: What is it else? a madness most discreet, A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.”
However, Romeo did not actually understand the difference between love and infatuation. In fact, Romeo was so desperate to be in love, he often fell victim to debilitating heartache upon the realization that it just wouldn’t work out in his favour. This confusion between love and infatuation, as well as his obsession with falling in love, ultimately led to his tragic demise.
Although Romeo’s predicament is an extreme case of being attached to the idea of romantic love, five centuries later, Shakespeare’s words are still relevant. Despite the fact that it is a work of fiction, what is shocking is how many people today still confuse Romeo and Juliet for a star-crossed romance, rather than a tragedy. Oftentimes we confuse addictive or unhealthy behavior with romance, because we have been taught to overvalue romance to the point where we ourselves can become exemplifications of Romeo’s worst attributes: obsessive, attached, and needy.
The tendency to overvalue romantic relationships begins early on in our lives. Fairy tales, for instance, play an integral role in our development. They are often the first form of media that we are subjected to as children, when our conceptions of what relationships mean are still being formed. Most fairy tales are centered on some romantic story line, in which a dainty damsel in distress needs to be saved by her prince in order to live a fulfilling, “happily-ever-after” life
Although some forms of modern media embrace romance as a means of expression, most outlets over emphasize its significance in our lives. Somehow, romantic narratives are crammed into almost every novel, film, and television show — even if they are completely unrelated to the genre or the overall plot. As a result, these narratives make their way into our psyche by becoming the main concern within our platonic relationships. Consider the number of times a prying relative has interrogated you about your love life. There is definitely a correlation between the messages we see in the media and the interactions we have in our own networks. Furthermore, it is these messages that influence our mind-sets, particularly throughout our teenage years, when we are developing a sense of self-worth.
It is unhealthy to let these romantic misconceptions get in the way of how we feel about ourselves. When we feel unworthy because we aren’t in relationships, then it’s time to re-evaluate our mind-sets. Why are we craving something that we don’t have instead of appreciating what we do have?
In Buddhism, it is taught that craving and obsession are the ultimate causes of suffering. If we are not mindful, and attach ourselves to people and things, we are more likely to feel unsatisfied in our lives. Thus, allowing these notions of romantic love to control your self-esteem and self-concept will not only lead to depressive feelings, but also increases the likelihood of developing other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and eating disorders.
Especially in university, it may feel natural that a relationship is necessary to be worthy, happy, and complete. Yet, with a focus on the self and release of false societal standards, it will be easier genuinely embark on the personal growth that post-secondary education and youth has to offer.
Manuel Augusto is a second-year student at Woodsworth College studying sociology, Buddhist psychology and mental health.