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What Instagram Teaches Us About Idealized Love

There was once a distinct difference between the act of consuming art and the act of living everyday life. Of course, creatives who have lived their entire lives as if life itself is a canvas would disagree, but largely, if one wanted to consume depictions of romantic love, for example, there was a deliberate act in walking into a gallery, picking up a poetry book, reading a romance novel or watching a film. The predisposition was clear from the outset: what you are about to consume is a dramatized, romanticized, poeticized depiction of love, intended to be enjoyed as a form of entertainment, not replicated or sought after.

Now, we have a 24/7 Insta-art gallery in our pocket. These mediums blend depictions of love and real life without any kind of indication to the consumer of which is which. So, what happens when it’s the wrong side of midnight, we are lonely, and we’re getting image after image of thin, chain-smoking models staring vacantly out of windows accompanying a beautifully worded quote about lost, painful or unrequited love? As Taylor Swift sings, “You called me up again just to break me like a promise.” Or an image of two lovers spinning on a beach amid a swarm of fireflies with a quote about crazy, addictive, passionate love? “The things we love destroy us every time… remember that,” in George RR Martin’s words.

 I refuse to believe good love is only good if we wind up destroyed or broken. “Many of the futile attempts of partners to get the love they want in their couple relationships today have to do with ‘romanticized love’ ideals,” says relationship consultant, author, educator and licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Athena Staik, Ph.D., in her article titled, “The Neuroscience of Romanticized Love.”

 I refuse to believe good love is only good if we wind up destroyed or broken.

“Romanticized ideals for love, and romantic love that leads to long-term healthy companionship love with all the trimmings, produce two dramatically different outcomes,” says Athena. She defines romanticized love as placing the responsibility in the other person’s hands for fulfillment, which sparks an “obsessive, watchful focus on the other as a love object,” ultimately having the same physiological effects as an addiction to cocaine.

Furthermore, Insta-art depictions of love are problematic as they reduce the subjects to a one-dimensional model — you are either the loved or the unloved, the savior or the saved. Your vast, beautiful being is reduced to those menial pea-sized, boxed-in characteristics. These idealizations don’t take into account that humans are whole, complex beings with identities, desires, goals and personalities separate to the romantic aspect of ourselves. Never mind that we have other roles on this earth such as daughter, sister, mother, aunt, student, teacher or friend. And why should they? Their purpose is to be beautiful, striking and dramatic. Their job is to evoke strong emotion, to impact, to entertain. It’s our responsibility to regulate how we receive these messages and accept these messages for what they are: beautiful eye-candy, not instructions for our hearts.

As women, we can’t afford to see ourselves this way. As poet Sarah Kay words it,

Some men will want to hold you like The Answer. You are not The Answer. You are not the problem. You are not the poem, or the punchline, or the riddle, or the joke. Do not mistake yourself for a guardian. Or a muse. Or a victim. Or a snack. You are a woman. Skin and bones. Veins and nerves. Hair and sweat. You are not made of metaphors. You are a woman who can build it yourself.

Art and love are beautiful, yes. It is beautiful to explore the emotional depths of yourself and those you love, and boldly stand in the light of the full spectrum of your emotions. But it is not beautiful nor sustainable to build a home on pain or live purely for those singular moments of Instagram-style euphoric, crazy, obsessive, intense love. It is not beautiful to emotionally abuse yourself for the sake of an idealized aesthetic. Enjoy those romanticized images of love for what they are. But we must remember that we are whole, complex beings and worth a whole lot more than reducing ourselves to two lines on an Instagram feed. We’re not promises. We don’t break. We are women born to build.

By Caitlin Creeper