Love in the Time of Layoffs
Continued from previous page
Lasting love becomes constricting and banal. The bond of Ma and Pa Kettle, quietly sharing companionship on the front porch of the farm after decades of living, looks drab and uninspiring. Romantic love is not based on companionship, but on the feeling of being desired. This kind of love appears to give us the opportunity, just as money does, to constantly remake ourselves, to project new versions of our lives. It’s about longing, fleeting highs, the same stimulation we feel in buying a new car, a new wardrobe. As the married couple’s romantic attraction wanes, the need for stimulation is transferred to the next big purchase, the washing machine, the wide-screen TV. Capitalism goes humming along.
Until it doesn’t. The problem with capitalism is that it mostly pumps possibilites toward the top. The inequality it breeds results in the restriction of choices in so many areas of our lives – our work, our health, our retirement, even our love lives. We begin to see that capitalism gave our fantasy a blank check but it stole our reality.
Now, in its late stages, capitalism must offer more intense fantasies of romance to counterbalance the reality of those restrictions. As we become more insecure and uncertain, we reach more desperately to proof of the meaning of our existence. We want things we can touch and feel. The blockbuster pop romance, the Twilight series, starts out as a shy-girl-meets-boy story but builds toward a climactic orgy of material abundance as Bella and Edward frolic in the fantasy of endless supplies of helicopters, fancy homes, luxurious clothes, and exotic vacations (where do vampires invest?). This was carried even further by E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, who renamed the Twilight characters and set them down in high-tech Seattle, where Edward becomes the billionaire Christian Grey, whose quest for novel sensations captures the imagination of ingénue Anastasia. The dream of this diamond-studded romantic fulfillment promises to relieve us of our anxiety as we push aside the horror of our depleted savings, our pinkslip.
Capitalism and romantic love offer the ceaseless promise of escape to a better world over the rainbow. But a general sense of the lie inherent in that promise is growing. The system of promised rewards has broken down, and left us with too many broken hearts.