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After "happily ever after": Reimagining fulfilling love

After "happily ever after": Reimagining fulfilling love
What if the road to love doesn't end with "happily ever after", but a fuller range of emotions? Here's how embracing "sad love" could improve your relationships
It’s official, we’re all romantics. Recent audience figures for books and films show the same thing—romance is on the rise.
With the world as it is, perhaps a search for light relief isn’t surprising. But with Valentine’s Day approaching, could the consumption of all these fictional stories have a negative effect on our relationships?
In her book Sad Love, Carrie Jenkins proposes a powerful alternative to “happily ever after.”

More than a feeling?

One of the first things Jenkins challenges is our assumption that love = feelings. If your passion initially shows itself through stomach flutters, it’s not surprising that you might feel let down when these are replaced by tenderness or even annoyance.
Drawing on ideas about human affection, Jenkins suggests that “love is a matter not of how you feel but of what you do.”
"Love is a matter not of how you feel but of what you do"
This gives you an active role to play in your own romantic story. It also allows for much more to be included within it, rather than just the squashy feelings we’re presented with in books and films.
What’s more, relationships can be shaped to suit everyone. She calls her theory “eudaimonic love,” and describes it as a “collaborative work of art.”
Using her ideas, you can approach your relationship as a work-in-progress. It might free you from fixed ideas about marriage or partnership and allow you to really think about what works for you.

More to life than love

Viewing your relationship as one piece in a web of relationships and environments can help you keep your "happily ever after"
Love, like happiness, is something that we’re told is free and available to anyone. However, this puts all the responsibility on the individual.
If you’re not happy or are still single (as if this equals failure), then it’s your fault. If you and your partner aren’t always delighted by the sight of each other, maybe you’re not doing enough date nights, or maybe you’re with the wrong person.
This handily eliminates all barriers to love and happiness. Poverty is a huge factor in the success of relationships, never mind the level to which you are discriminated against within society.
"In redefining romantic love, it can be one of a range of things that enrich your life"
It also places sole responsibility for your entire wellbeing on one person. Which is quite a load to carry.
Jenkins draws on the idea of “daimons” in her book—things around you that take many forms—“connections, environment, support systems.” From individuals to social groups and places, all of them contribute to your collaborative work of art.
Your “daimons” could include friends and family, projects, a place you enjoy, or even other partners. In redefining romantic love, it can be one of a range of things that enrich your life, rather than your only source of joy.

Happy ever after?

The idea of a fixed state of bliss once you’ve found “the one” is another hangover from traditional romance stories. While some modern narratives are challenging this, there’s still an over-reliance on the idea that the love story is over once the couple gets together.
But as Alain de Botton points out in his refreshing take on marriage in The Course of Love, “what we typically call love is only the start of love.”
"In redefining romantic love, it can be one of a range of things that enrich your life"
Jenkins talks about how our partnerships should be an “evolving, growing thing,” and that we should focus “not on happiness, but whatever makes life meaningful for us.”
If you’re in a relationship, you can encourage each other towards significant goals rather than sitting back and passively expecting them to make you happy.
Or, if you’re single, seeking purpose in your own life doesn’t have to be a second-place alternative to the supposed “goal” of finding a life partner.

Sad love

Embracing the full range of human emotions in your relationship can make it more fulfilling
What about being sad and in love? Even though we know Hollywood romance isn’t based on reality, it can be hard to dismiss the idea that something is wrong with your relationship if you aren’t feeling happy most of the time.
Listening to your emotions is important to assess your wellbeing, but perhaps it’s just your experiences that are getting you down rather than your lack of romance.
A full range of human emotions are what we should expect from our lives, and from our loves. Anger can be positive, suppressed sadness is damaging, and feeling down can be a natural reaction to difficult times.
If we see romantic love as something that can “encompass the full range of human emotional experience,” then a loving relationship can and should involve some sadness.
This Valentine’s Day, perhaps you should be reflecting on a life built together, or look forward to what you might co-create with others, rather than waiting for the romance to arrive.
Will it make you happier? Well, that’s hard to say. But it might just make you feel more fulfilled.
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