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Lovers — Are They Worth It?

Personally, I'm not so sure...

Copyright 1996 by Lynna Landstreet. This column originally appeared in Xtra magazine. Published by Pink Triangle Press, 491 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 2C6.

uring the early to mid-80s, I was quite obsessed with a British anarcho-punk band called Poisongirls. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they wrote at least as many songs dealing with personal, and particularly sexual, politics as the usual smash-the-system fare. One that's been going through my head a lot lately is a 1982 song called "Lovers Are They Worth It".

The recent break-up of two close friends of mine has gotten me thinking a lot about the idea of love in general. Specifically, whether it's really worth all the stress, depression and heartache it seems to cause. The stress isn't limited to the people falling into and out of love, either -- it affects everyone around them. During the falling-in stage, people forget their friends, and obsess on their lovers to the point where no one can stand to be around them During the falling-out stage, they remember them again, usually at 4 a.m. when they've been drinking heavily and are morbidly depressed. It really makes you question the sanity of those people who claim the couple (nucleus of "the family") is the basis of a stable society.

The beginning and ending phases of love bear a lot of resemblance to the up and down phases of manic depression. The middle, when there is one, is usually a period of relative calm and contentedness in each other's presence, punctuated by seemingly random episodes of jealousy, insecurity, miscommunication, boredom, possessiveness, guilt and emotional blackmail. All of this is what caused me to write a column a year or two ago, in Xtra's now-defunct Girl Talk column, in which I stated that I was renouncing relationships.

Now, in fact, rejecting relationships as such would be next to impossible, unless I intended to live alone on a deserted island somewhere. Every one of us, whether coupled or not, lives enmeshed in a web of relationships with other people. And most of the time, we can get to know people, spend time with them, and part with them, without manifesting the strange array of symptoms listed above. So just what is it that causes couples, in particular, to behave so oddly?

I remember a friend once wondering the same thing, and concluding that it was adding sex to the mix that screwed everything up, so to speak. "It's funny," she commented, "how your whole way of relating to another person is expected to change just because you've touched their genitals."

But is it just that? I've had sex with a number of women over the years without it necessarily changing the way I related to them. It is quite possible (though not always a good idea) to sleep with someone with the intention of becoming not lovers, but simply friends who happen to have slept together at one point. It's the expectations we bring to sex, not the sex itself, that shape how it affects us.

So is it the "L-word" that causes the problems -- love? That would be ironic, since love is so often held up as the ultimate virtue. Peace and love, love is the law, love thy neighbour, love makes the world go round... are all those clichés celebrating something that is really a destructive influence? I don't know -- ultimately, love means simply to care deeply, and try though I may, I can't convince myself that caring is wrong. You can love someone or something without needing to possess or control it.

Perhaps it's the confusion of those things -- sex equals love, love equals possession, possession equals control -- combined with a cultural mythos that tells us that we're nothing without it. We all seem to, on some level, feel that we're incomplete without a lover. And at the same time, our concept of romantic love is one that is based on ownership and control. It's a poisonous combination -- you're nothing unless someone loves you, but when someone does, they own you.

It's no wonder the initial stages of relationships often tend to be accompanied by that my-God-what-have-I-done feeling of panic. The linkage we've formed between love and possession mean that the closer we get to another person, the more we feel trapped and confined, and make shallow relationships seem more desirable by comparison. In the name of a cultural concept of love, the possibility of authentic, free loving relationships is sabotaged.

So how do we go about untangling sex and love from possession and control? How do we create some way of relating to, caring about, and being sexual with other people that doesn't lead to complete psychosis? I haven't really figured that out yet, and in the meantime, I'm doing pretty well at keeping my vow to avoid relationships until I do.

When Poisongirls played that song at their 1985 concert in Toronto, they answered the question "Lovers -- are they worth it?" with a resounding "Yes!"

Personally, I'm not so sure...


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