In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Compromising on Passion or on Companionship

Compromising on romantic passion becomes less common

"They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?" Princess Diana

"Compromise is when one person wants to rob a bank and the other person does not, and they compromise to rob a person outside of the bank." Christopher Myers

In many instances, people are confronted by the need to decide between two major types of romantic compromises when deciding on which partner they should select. These compromises involve compromising on passion or compromising on companionship. In the first type of compromise, people decide to forgo the passionate aspect of a relationship and base their choice of a partner on the likelihood that she or he will be an excellent spouse, parent or provider. In the second type of compromise, intense passion is prioritized, while issues such as companionship, establishing a family, or supporting one's personal development is accorded less importance .

Consider the (real) case of Ariel, a married woman who is now in her fifties. When she was 27, she faced a decision that demanded a romantic compromise: Whether to marry a young man who she loved passionately or to marry a divorced 50 year old who she loved, but not passionately. She chose the older person as she thought that he would be better able to bring out the best in her and help her to realize her potential. When she looks back on her life, she has no regrets whatsoever-time has only deepened her love for her husband. Ariel says that she has never believed in Romantic Ideology, as she has never liked illusions or fantasies. She places particular importance on her personal space and freedom. In all the places they have lived, she has had a separate bedroom and an office of her own. They have mostly lived apart, but they speak on the phone several times a day and when they meet on weekends, they take great pleasure in their time together.

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The opposite (real) case is that of Veronica, a married woman with six children, who divorced her well-established husband and married her previously married lover, who had four children of his own. Now, ten years after the divorce, Veronica is still very happy with her choice and says that she cannot imagine a better romantic relationship than the one she has now. Both her life before her divorce and her current husband's life before his divorce were fine, but there was no real passion; neither of them had considered leaving their previous spouses till they met each other.

Veronica belongs to the group of romantic people who cannot be in a loving relationship that lacks passion. For these people, a lack of passion is a lack of love. Ariel, like other more realistic people, believes that love is so much more than intense passion, which often lessens in intensity as time goes by; for them, love is something more profound that should last for a long time.

Compromising on passion is sometimes expressed by men in the following terms: "This is the woman I want to be the mother of my children." The men who voice this wish do not necessarily consider this woman as the most attractive, but they do see her as the best person with whom to raise a family. Similarly, women may consider a certain man to be the best person with whom to raise a family and to provide suitable companionship, even though he might not be a great lover. The greatest lover is not necessarily the finest parent or the best provider.

The split between the ideal passionate lover and the best companion implies that choosing the latter does not necessarily demand a profound compromise, since one is choosing the optimal person in the given overall situation. Nevertheless, this does involve a compromise on romantic passion, which many people are prepared to make.

Recognizing that there is often a split between the ideal lover and the best companion helps people live with their compromise on romantic passion. Thus, no one would say to his beloved, "I love you darling, although this love is a compromise for me." Such a declaration, although it may be true, would be insulting and would make the other person feel second-rate (see here). But if one is chosen as a partner because one is the optimal choice for making a life together, then one would not be a compromise in terms of this crucial aspect. And people can live with that.

Are any changes occurring in modern society concerning the prevalence of these types of compromises? I believe that less people are ready to relinquish the chance of passionate romance.

An indication of this is present in a study undertaken in the mid-1960s found that men are more "romantically" oriented, and women, more "realistically": 64 percent of the men, but only 24 percent of the women, said that they would not marry a person possessing all other qualities they admired, but with whom they were not in love. However, when this study was revisited some twenty years later, women were found to have grown significantly more romantic and had closed the gap with men. One important explanation for this change is women's entry into the workforce: less dependent on the institution of marriage for their economic survival, women could now "afford" to marry for purely romantic reasons (see here).

Economic developments in modern society has reduced the need to choose, or to stay with ,"a good provider" and this allows for greater freedom in our choice of a partner, which means we can focus on finding a mate with whom we are passionately in love. In cases where the combination of the two aspects of passion and companionship are not to be found in one person, an increasing number of people choose to have relationships with more than one person in order to satisfy both needs.

The abundance of opportunities to engage in passionate romantic love affairs means that the number of people who are ready to live without such passion is steadily decreasing. In this sense, we are witnessing the comeback of love (see here and here). Nevertheless, although compromising on romantic passion might become less common, I doubt whether it will ever fully disappear.

 

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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