What’s the difference between a “modernist love” and a “romantic love”? Is it only fools who fall for the latter? Is one more destined for failure? Let me illustrate with episodes 1 and 2 from season 7 of How I Met Your Mother – which is what inspired this line of thought…

Ted compares two girls he is dating on a colour chart – ranking them on five criteria:

  1. Level of Attractiveness
  2. Intellectual stimulation
  3. Emotional connection
  4. Compatibility of life goals
  5. Whether or not she reached for the cheque

In the end (predictably… as this show is becoming) Ted realizes that none of this is what really matters.

“That,” Ted points to Barney (who has been sitting in the same diner seat for 9-hours waiting for his love), “That is what I want. The way Barney feels about Nora. I want that feeling again. I don’t want to be choosing between two girls — I want to be completely head-over-heels with one.

I think it’s when a while has passed since we’ve experienced “that” feeling, we try to define, compare, compromise and select, based on various criteria. It’s only when you feel “it” again, that business-like negotiations reveal their fickleness. When you fall in love, there are no negotiations. When you’re in love, the decision has already been made.

About a month ago in Storytelling class we spent an hour looking at the “Social Construction of Love”. That is, questioning how our ideas on love are formed.

Gergen and Gergen (in “What is this thing called love? Emotional scenarios in historical perspective.” Journal of Narrative and Life History, 1995, 5, 221-237) explored the evolution of our romantic scripts. They identified ‘two opposing discourses of love that inform our enactment and narration of courtship: romantic love and modernist love:

  • Romantic love is an intense, spiritual passion that reason cannot touch, that emanates from the lover’s innermost depths, and whose ultimate goal is unity with the beloved.
  • Modernist love is practical and sceptical, rational and self-analytical. It emphasizes the exchange value and performatives qualities of relationships. Compatible with a culture of consumerism… ” (Baddeley and Singer 2007: 188)

In HIMYM we saw Ted looking for “modernist love”, and in the end he returns to his “romantic love”. I don’t think any amount of analysis can pinpoint what causes the romantic love. If you’ve ever been truly in love, you know it. There is a distinct feeling. There are no questions.

Yet my questions continue: what causes a person to fall in love? Is love, as suggested in a previous episode of HIMYM, a function of chemistry and timing?

And this brings me to yet another question: what causes chemistry?

Is, in full circle, chemistry a result of some kind of combination of Ted’s colour chart criteria? How are chemistry and timing related? The number of times I’ve experienced chemistry when the timing is all wrong makes me think there’s a negative correlation between the two. ie the worse the timing, the better the chemistry. Or have I just been unlucky? To what extent should one go to change the latter when they find the former?

One of my favourite descriptions of “How do you know when you are in love?” comes from the movie On Gods & Men:

“There is something inside you that comes alive. The presence of someone. It is irrepressible and makes your heart beat faster, usually. It’s an attraction, a desire. It is very beautiful. No use asking too many questions. It just happens. Things are as usual, then suddenly, happiness arrives or the hope of it. It’s lots of things. But you are in turmoil. Great turmoil. Especially the first time”.

That’s what I want. But maybe I’m just a fool 🙂