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Relationships • Romanticism • Perfectionism, Expectations & Messing up

How the Wrong Images of Love Can Ruin Our Lives

This is a picture that squarely shows how the wrong images of love might ruin our lives. 

Abraham Solomon, The Meeting, and at First Meeting Loved, 1854

Abraham Solomon was one of nineteenth century Europe’s most acclaimed painters, far more admired – in his time – than relative unknowns like Van Gogh, Gauguin or Cezanne. Nowadays, we’d be more likely to dismiss him as a chocolate box painter. But this art historical neglect shouldn’t lead us to underestimate how much Solomon and his silk have in fact won the battle when it comes to influencing our contemporary ideals of love. We are, without quite knowing it, all of us his emotional heirs and disciples.

Solomon follows to the letter the script of the Romantic ideal of love: two people who barely know one another will, on the basis of a few delicate glances, ‘fall in love.’ At enormous speed, they will decide that they are each other’s soul mates – and we are meant to respect their judgement entirely. Without any discussion or exploration of their inevitably monstrously-complex psyches, the couple will decide that they belong together, not just for a while, but forever and ever. This love will brook no opposition (the woman’s father, who might have had a few objections, has handily fallen asleep). Love is never more to be trusted than when it surges up inside us unbidden and makes us lose our minds. It is a force beyond question or analysis. Unsurprisingly, Solomon’s favourite work of literature was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which is – depending on how one considers these things – either the story of two mentally ill adolescents who came to a sticky end or the apotheosis of love.

The Romantic view of relationships isn’t merely bad art, it’s extremely dangerous as a guide to life. It will force us together in an instant with people whom we don’t properly belong with. It will be powered by sex and yet not necessarily recognise that it is so. It will neglect psychology and psychotherapy. It will make us impatient with humdrum practicalities of marriage and force us to keep getting divorced in a search for further addictive highs. 

Solomon was a truly bad painter. But not principally because of how he painted; more significantly, because of how he suggested we might live.

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