Thursday, August 25, 2011

Article: The Death of Romance

Once upon a time there was such a thing called chivalry and romance, and it was far-reaching across many kingdoms and realms. The process of courting and seducing a woman was a slow and tedious one that required perseverance and determination to win over the heart of a particular target of affection. A man was to prove his worth and mettle by way of tasks, risks, and quests to demonstrate his longing for a particular woman, and to what end he was willing to go for the rewarding treasure of love. Quite lovely, no? Meanwhile, (what history tries to avoid) whores and women of ill-repute served as teachers or experience in the craft of sexuality, quenching the thirst for physical desire and release...but that is another story for another time...history is full of hidden and dirty little secrets!

But one doesn't even have to go so far back in time to observe the seemingly innocent act of seduction and courting...remember the term: secret admirer? For those who are too young to remember (or too old to remember because you have the senility), a secret admirer was someone who was driven by attraction, affection, and pure timidity to make him or her offer their target of desire gifts, letters, and such without revealing their identity. Kind of sweet and fanciful, no? Who doesn't like to be admired, from near or from afar? Sure...back in the 60's, 70's, and 80's! But something changed in the 1990's...and that change would alter the foundation of romance at its very core!

Even though (what is now known as) stalking probably existed many, many years prior, it wasn't until the 1990's when it creeped into the social consciousness. It was also, interestingly enough, when terms like date rape, roofies, sexual harassment, and sex offender became part of the mainstream lexicon. Before that, these terms were limited to pervert, creep, and peeping-tom. Laws against sexual harassment and attacks became harsher...and that was a good thing, although not quite perfected yet...and it was during this time that women no longer had to suffer the "she was looking for it" as a defense for rape, however, false allegations of rape and/or date rape were also soaring due to remorse or embarrassment. Suddenly relations between men and women were very tense and strained. I, myself, was witness to this conflict as I was in college in the early nineties. It got so bad that on the extreme side certain heterosexual girls sometimes adopted a lesbian lifestyle and facade as a defensive front...lots of plaid flannel back then! On both sides of the sexes everyone were left confused, frustrated, and angry. 

So, by the mid 1990's, thanks also to Hollywood films like: Fatal Attraction (1987), Misery (1990), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), Cape Fear (1991), Single White Female (1992), The Crush (1993), and Fear (1996) just to mention a few, as well as the newly popular crime drama Law & Order, added fuel to the fire which completely burnt down the traditions and boundaries of truly innocent and meaningful romance, to the point where it was dramatically redefined. Gone were the days of the secret admirer or shy suitor. Gone were the days of a long seduction or alluring mystery. Now we are left with only one question when we meet a new prospective love interest: "Will he/she turn into a psycho-crazy stalker, or not?"

What defines a stalker? According to the dictionary it is either 1) A person who stealthily hunts or pursues and animal or another person, or 2) A person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention. If you take a step back and look at this definition at a bit of a distance (figuratively), you will notice first the primal act of hunting a specific targeted prey, especially in a stealthy manner. Next, you will find that it entails lavishing that "prey" with unwanted attention at an obsessive level that is then perceived as harassment and/or persecution. Very romantic stuff, indeed, am I right? However, the one key term that really jumps out within this definition is: "Unwanted Attention." This is where the fine line exists. When it is wanted attention it is considered exquisite romance; when it is unwanted attention it is considered obsessive stalking. This is the absolute teetering point which has many gray areas on both sides of the romance/stalking line.

Now, don't get me wrong...I am not condoning stalking in any way, shape, or form! I honestly think these sick individuals should all be cast off on some deserted island somewhere to fend for themselves like the animals they are...and trust me, I've just only recently and finally have shaken off a crazy stalker girl (luckily, she wasn't in the Goth scene *Whew*) of my very own! However, I do find it very interesting that the dynamics of love and romance stems from the same place that hate and obsession comes from.

In 1977, a Psychologist by the name of Dorothy Tennov coined the term "Limerence." In short, limerence describes "an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated," and it has also been suggested that "the state of limerence is the conscious experience of sexual motivation during attraction formation." In other words, what your mind goes through when you develop a crush or infatuation with someone. You see, in a normal and healthy relationship, limerence is an integral part of the mating process in which one's mind is filled with the lightly obsessive distraction and endless thoughts of the other (for the hyper-romantics such as ourselves, this is the stage in which we ideally wish to remain in for as long as possible!), and if the feeling is mutual from the other person in the relationship, then you reach that certain romantic nirvana in which limerence on the both sides serves as a tool to further bond both individuals together...also known as the "Honeymoon Effect." Make no mistake, limerence is, in fact, obsessive behavior, and anyone truly in love will have to experience it (except maybe my long-ago ex-fiancée...that cold hearted ice-queen never showed any sign of limerence! Drove me nuts and depressed! Notice how I keep going on about acknowledgement?). But limerence isn't necessarily a bad thing...unless, of is "unwanted!"

When limerence is completely one-sided and unreciprocated by the other is when it turns from a giddy teenage-like sensation of young puppy love to an ugly and potentially dangerous obsessive behavior. Typically, the mind can not stop focusing on the "Limerant." The characteristics often involve "intrusive thinking about the limerant object, acute longing for reciprocation, fear of rejection, and unsettling shyness in the limerant object's presence." This obsessive state can and will transform, over time and if left untreated, into a deep-seeded hatred, fueled by constant rejection, that could possibly lead to physical violence and even murder/suicide. Never underestimate the ultra-powerful emotion of love and the limerence factor. However, for some that are deeply affected, there seems to be some antidepressant drugs that can help
curb and cope with the behavior (to learn more about limerence in greater detail, visit the Wikipedia listing).

So...where does that leave us? On the one hand, we all strive to perpetually swim within the ideal romantic equilibrium...on the other hand, giving maybe one too many roses, calling or texting one too many times, or showing up unexpected one too many times might very easily put you into the stalker category. It really is fascinating how fine that line is, especially in this day in age. How do we remedy this? Well, first of all, and quite simply: Guys, stop being creepy fiends! Girls, stop being overly dramatic and needy! O.k....maybe that was a bit overly simplistic. But, actually to try to remain on the romantic side of the coin rather than fall onto the stalker side, one must exercise the fundamental rule of seduction: presence and absence; give and take; push and pull. A budding relationship is like effectively build muscle after a workout you need to take a day's rest before the next workout -- in that respect you need space breathing room between you and your lover to create desire, longing, and "positive" limerence. Too much attention will only lead to a feeling of suffocation or being smothered, resentment and eventually "negative" limerence.

Again, I am not trying to trivialize stalkers, sexual predators, or any other forms of psychotic deviants by justifying their actions by any means. The world is filled with very scary and deranged people, and everyone should be cautious and careful with whom they choose to form a relationship with...granted! However, overtly romantic attention should not be immediately construed as obsessive behavior! It is, in fact, all relative. The bottom line here boils down to comfort levels and communication. If you are on the receiving end of limerence behavior and you are not willing to reciprocate, or you are starting to feel uncomfortable about it, do not remain silent or indifferent to it, hoping the problem will eventually float away -- this only fans the flames, or "eggs it on." Instead, proceed to "nip this in the bud" by openly and boldly stating to the person giving you the unwanted attention that you have no romantic feelings to offer them in return (and please, for the love of anything dark and gloomy, do not give the "just friends" speech! I heard it so many times myself during my life, and it feels direct kick to the emotional groin. It might seem kind...but it's not). Be upfront and make a clean break so that everyone involved can heal and move on. The longer things drag on, the easier negative limerence can creep in and wreak havoc! And with this new outlook, maybe...just doing so, we might see a return to romanticism and move further away from obsessive behavior and Temporary Restraining Orders!

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