Lovesick: Unlearning Romantic Love
by Oliver Haug
Welcome to romantic love: a thrilling fantasy you’ve probably been taught — by movies, by your parents or other adults in your life, by the world around you and its accompanying structures — is the source of all of life’s meaning. Romantic love (or rather, a very specific version of romantic love: monogamous, long-term, ideally heterosexual) is more than a feeling. It’s an institution that governs access to resources; a site of assimilation for those of us who can’t or won’t conform to societal expectations in other ways; and ultimately, it’s assumed to be the focal point of our lives. But what if it didn’t have to be? What or who taught us to center this one form of love above all else, at least in modern U.S. society?
In this class, we’ll investigate this fundamental question and dive deep into the mythology of romantic love, with the goal of surfacing with a greater understanding of the role it serves in our culture and the ways it has been weaponized. In investigating and interrogating our preexisting conceptions of love, we can learn to see the world around us in a different light.
And who knows — maybe along the way we’ll come to realize that we all feel like we’re doing love wrong. And that sensation of wrongness is not due to individual failings, but rather stems from a system that was set up to fail us, particularly those of us who can’t conform to the hegemonic power structures that have profited from our exclusion from the get-go.
This isn’t a class to teach you what love is or how to love better — I can’t do that, and neither can your partner (or your therapist, I suspect). The goal of this class is merely to start a conversation — to push ourselves to think a little deeper about the role love plays in our lives, to reckon with the ways it has hurt us and our loved ones, and to reframe our understanding of family and relationships — that is, if we dare.
For each text assigned, you have two options:
1. Find a friend — someone you trust, whether you’ve known them for a long or short amount of time — and discuss the reading’s themes, assumptions, and conclusions, as well as your own take on the author’s idea. (Be sure to come into these conversations with an open heart — many people, most likely you included, have a lot of strong feelings about the role romantic love should or shouldn’t play in our lives.)
2. Alternatively, you can journal about the content on your own. Entries can be free form, but I suggest approaching each topic from both a theoretical perspective, and a personal perspective.
Unit 1: The Love Crisis
Guiding question: In what ways is our current conception of love failing us, and who is most impacted by these failings?
- What’s wrong with romantic love?
- “Romantic Love is Killing Us,” Caleb Luna, The Body is Not An Apology, Sept. 18 2018.
- The problem of single people (or, the problem with single women)
- “When Newsweek ‘Struck Terror in the Hearts of Single Women’,” Megan Garber, The Atlantic, Jun, 2, 2016.
- “The escalating costs of being single in America,” Anne Helen Petersen, Vox, Dec. 2, 2021.
- Love and care work
- “Love’s Labour’s Cost: The Political Economy of Intimacy,” Emma Dowling, Verso Blog, Feb. 13, 2016.
Unit 2: Where did this all come from?
Guiding question: What created our systems of romantic love, and how do our own identities and histories influence our experience of love?
- The usual suspects
- “The Problem with Sex is Capitalism” — Rebecca Solnit, from Whose Story Is This? Haymarket, 2019 (also published as “A broken idea of sex is flourishing. Blame capitalism” in the Guardian, 2018).
- “Greed: Simply Love,” from All about love: New visions, bell hooks, Harper Perennial, 2001.
- What’s wrong with desire?
- “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability,” Mia Mingus, Leaving Evidence, Aug. 22, 2011.
- The politics of desire
- “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly, and Unloveable,” Caleb Luna, Black Girl Dangerous, Jul. 21 2014.
Unit 3: Where do we go from here?
Guiding question: What do we want love to look like in our future?
- “Making space accessible is an act of love for our communities,” from Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018.
- If you want to read the classics: All about love: New visions, bell hooks, Harper Perennial, 2001.
- If you want to delve into the disability justice side of this syllabus: First read “What is Disability Justice?” by Sins Invalid, then read Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018.
- If you like case studies: “Just Break Up,” podcast with Sierra DeMulder and Sam Blackwell
- If you enjoy thinking about resisting systems you exist inside of: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell, Melville House, 2019.