Love and social dynamics

To modern couples, the idea of their union being influenced by outside forces is often a strange one…

In today’s society, love is individualised: couples are free to date and marry for love, rather than social and economic reasons. What does society have to do with it?

And yet, traditionally, society would be the point. Marriages were arranged between families, with the individuals involved often having little choice in who they married. Marriage was seen not just as a way to create a family, but also as a way to secure a favourable political and economic relationship or alliance.

This sense of obligation often meant that love was secondary to these other factors.

There are comparisons of course. In both past and present, love is typically seen as a positive emotion, something to be cherished and celebrated.

However, in previous generations, love was often viewed more as a social obligation, that an individual experience. Sure, it would be nice if you loved your partner, but it’s not entirely necessary.

The world we are born into affects us in numerous different ways; society puts pressure on individuals to adhere to certain roles and mores that change with time and place. When it comes to love that society can exert a powerful force over relationships, often structured around traditional gender roles which define how partners in a couple should behave. Who stays home with the baby, who goes to work, who gets to travel and who needs to look after wider family obligations, even how couples should publicly show their affection to each other, can depend enormously on where and when we were born. When these affect so many major aspects in our lives – who is “allowed” to take on leadership roles, make the big decisions, or be the primary breadwinner – we need to acknowledge and question these cultural norms.

We need to look at the messages we are sending to the next generation, for example, if a man is seen expressing love too openly are we giving the message that he is somehow weak. Are we telling our children that it is a mother’s “job” to stay home all day?

The great thing today is that we have more choice than ever before. We are mostly free to make our own rules and decisions and if something isn’t working we can move those boundaries and make it fairer for ourselves and better for the future generations coming up.

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