A few years ago, my friend Sarah Howell moved to New York City to start a career in stage management. She’d been working in Minneapolis for a while and building a solid reputation for herself, and when the opportunity to move east presented itself, she sold everything and jumped at the chance. And unlike some of my friends who have tried their hand at Broadway, she is doing quite well! It helps that, unlike the denizens of aspiring actors in NYC, competent stage managers are hard to come by.
So I’m incredibly proud of her and her work, and wish her continued success!
When I googled her most recent show (called Love In the Middle Ages), another page appeared in the search results that caught my notice, a University of Oxford Arts blog article by Clemency Pleming titled Did love begin in the Middle Ages? I’ve come across papers and books in the past suggesting that our modern notion of romantic love is actually a relatively recent development in human history.
Well, recent compared to 20,000 years ago.
Pleming quotes professor Laura Ashe, who says that before the Norman conquest of England,
Anglo-Saxon literature had a very different focus… The world of the Anglo-Saxon warrior, at least in poetry, was based on the bond of loyalty between fighting men. Love in this world means love for your fellow warriors, and the idea of sacrificing yourself for the group.
In the Middle Ages, however:
There was a transformation in culture, a series of church reforms in the 12th century took Christianity from a rather austere view of God the Father to a new focus on Christ’s humanity.
The spiritual lives of ordinary people were recognised, and people were encouraged to have a more emotional and personal relationship with God as individuals. And romantic love – giving yourself to another person – provides a justification, in the medieval moral compass, for the pursuit of self-fulfilment as an individual.
Even tragic love stories are based on the idea that the living individual is to be celebrated and that it might be better to stay alive after all.
Ashe identifies this as something of a turning point in how we view the importance of marriage in society. Where once it was approached more like a contract or a business transaction for the sake of convenience or practicality, people now began to view it as something to aspire to.
I’ve been thinking about that recently in relation to myself—specifically, examining why I’ve been so obsessed the past few years with finding a boyfriend and potential future husband.
It’s impossible to ignore daily reminders that I’m single. Coworkers pepper their conversations with references to spouses and kids, vacations and trips “up north” to the cabin. Adverts not-so-subtly tell me that I’m incomplete, that there’s no one to share in meaningful experiences with, to share the picture frame in tagged social media posts.
I’m a “me.” Not a “we.”
As I’ve written about in other posts, there is also the element of needing to prove wrong the voices from my past that claimed gay people don’t have relationships. I was taught that gay people were promiscuous, hedonistic, riddled with diseases contracted from hundreds of sexual partners and their deviant sexual practices, and would eventually succumb to HIV/AIDS.
But there’s another latent evangelical Christian element at play in my subconscious—the primacy of marriage and commitment in that culture.
From my earliest recollection, marriage was the holiest sacrament after communion. While sacraments aren’t really a Protestant thing, we held it in the same high regard. After becoming a missionary, marriage was the ultimate calling for Christians. It was a living parable, the means by which God shaped Christian men and women into more godly people.
And there were so many analogies that, in hindsight, are just plain fuckin’ weird. Marriage is a mirror of Christ and the Church… of the Trinity… of God’s love for us… of how we’re supposed to give of ourselves for Jesus.
But of course the real reason evangelical Christians are obsessed with getting married is so that they can finally have sex, which is likely a contributing factor to why the Christian divorce rate is comparable to that of non-Christians.
So while I don’t buy into any of that anymore, there’s still this core notion buried deep in my subconscious that marriage is somehow a benchmark of success in a person’s life. It won’t be perfect, by any means, but it’s an indicator that a person is stable, attractive, and self-actualized enough to find a partner and build a life together.
Now, I know intellectually that that’s a crock. Unstable people get married, as do aimless and irresponsible people, and those who are unattractive by conventional standards (which also doesn’t mean much).
And there’s no such thing as security. Partners sometimes cheat on or abandon you, and eventually everyone dies.
I guess what’s frustrating is that I’m not so desperate to be in a relationship that I’ll date anyone. That’s how I ended up with Jay (my ex of 2½ years) for nine months. And I’ve seen friends and acquaintances languish in unhappy marriages because they’re afraid to end it and be alone.
It’s why it goads me to see ex-boyfriends and lovers just fall so seemingly effortlessly into new relationships. The other night I foolishly looked up Seth on Facebook and found out that he has a hot boyfriend named Martin and two adorable dogs.
It renewed the mental loop of thinking that what appears to be a smörgåsbord for him and others in the Midwest is a veritable dating wasteland for me. That it appears so easy for them.
Everyone says good guys are out there.
So where are they hiding?
I need to get over this belief that I’m somehow less-than for being single, and determine if finding a partner is at the root of the anxiety, or if this is more old programming wreaking havoc on my current happiness.