Is loyalty love's friend or its enemy? Does love bring us together or rip us apart?
With the likes of Weinergate and Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child ruling the news, it's not often loyalty, but her deceitful opposite—betrayal—that dominates headlines. Anthony Weiner Resigns From Congress: Was This The Right Move?
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We face what Love in the Western World author Denis De Rougemont called "the passion-fidelity dilemma." We want love that lasts, but we also want passionate intensity, and we suspect that we will at some point have to choose which love is worth having, the epic but brief romance, or the companionship that goes the distance. We suspect that passion is like ripe peaches—short-lived, but much to be preferred over fruit canned in cloying syrup. Love isn't shelf-stable.
Those who advocate passion over loyalty celebrate Eros' tendency to smash the crockery. Real love, they argue, is unconstrained by stodgy, boring old notions of fidelity; real love proves its primacy by transgressing the petty boundaries of bourgeois morality; real love demonstrates itself by transcending inhibition and propriety. The passionistas view loyalty as a wet security blanket. They are bored by loyal love, which they think makes us little burghers of the heart—trustworthy, yes, but dull and uninspired.
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And what a mistake they make.
Love that isn't inspired by the possibility of permanence is no sort of love at all. No one dreams of someday "hooking up." We aren't riveted by tales of lovers who are indifferent to the question of whether their relationship will last. The real benchmark of love isn't a matter of counting sighs but taking the measure of devotion. To say that someone is "afraid of commitment" is to say that he isn't, in any significant way, in love at all. When Meg Ryan's character in When Harry Met Sally finds out her old boyfriend is going to marry his secretary, she blubbers to Billy Crystal, "All this time I've been saying he didn't want to get married." After another sob and a gasp she gets to the heart of the matter: "The truth is he didn't want to get married to me. He didn't love me."