At what point does love become obsession?
At what point does infatuation become unhealthy?
At what point does a romantic gesture become creepy?
These are all relevant questions that don’t have clear answers. Those who unlucky enough to have dealt with a stalker probably have different answers compared to those who’ve never had that experience. I haven’t, so I won’t try to speak for those who have.
Even without that experience, I think those questions are still worth contemplating. They help put our understanding of love, romance, and relationships into perspective. We may think we know what it means to be romantic, in love, and in a relationship, but tend to forget that this entire perspective has been shaped by our circumstances.
What constitutes romance today is not the same as it was 50, 100, or 500 years ago. It’s easy to forget that the concept of marrying for love is relatively new, historically speaking. The idea that you seek a partner, go out on dates with multiple individuals, and eventually settle on the one you fall in love with is downright radical compared to how society went about sanctioning intimate relationships.
It’s something I’ve mentioned before, but now I’d like to take it a step further. Take a moment to think about all the ways you were romantic with a current or previous partner. Then, try to take a step back and ask whether this same gesture could be done by a stalker for the same reason. How does that affect your perception of the gesture? What does it reveal about your concept of romance?
As an example, consider the following romantic gesture, but through the eyes of a stalker.
I love you. I love you so much that I want to spend the rest of my life being with you. My love for you is so intense that I want the law to sanction it in a contract that will legally bind our love. I also want to put this ring with a shiny stone on your finger and have you wear it every day to let the world that you love only me. Nobody else is allowed to love you. Only I can love you.
What I just described is a gross perversion of a marriage proposal. In one context, it’s the ultimate romantic gesture. In another, it’s an incredibly disturbing rambling by a stalker who desperately wants to secure the love of another.
Here’s another example, but from the eyes of a romantic.
I love you. I love you so much that I want to live with you, share my life with you, and bear part of your burdens. I want to be close to you constantly. I want us to be under the same roof and share the same responsibilities. I want our love to be the basis with which to share our lives.
It’s another sweet gesture. It highlights that critical step when a romance goes from just sharing affection and intimacy to sharing lives and building something together. At the same time, it also sounds like something a stalker would suggest.
With those two examples in mind, take a moment to contemplate the implications.
What is it about these actions make them romantic?
Why do we go about romance in this particular manner?
What do these gestures and rituals imply about our perspectives on romance?
I don’t present this experiment as a way to undermine the way we go about romance. I’m a genuine fan of romance, in general. The novels I write and the sexy short stories I tell reflect that. However, I think it’s helpful and somewhat necessary to scrutinize certain concepts, especially if they’re important to you. You may be surprised by what they reveal.
Please try this thought experiment on your own time when you get a chance. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.