The Madame Bovary Effect

Madame Bovary.  You know her, yes?

If not, here's a quick summary:  Charles Bovary falls in love with Emma and the two decide to marry. After an elaborate wedding, marriage doesn’t live up to Emma’s romantic expectations. Ever since she lived in a convent as a young girl, she has dreamed of love and marriage as a solution to all her problems. After she attends an extravagant ball at the home of a wealthy nobleman, she begins to dream constantly of a more sophisticated life. She grows bored and depressed when she compares her fantasies to the humdrum reality of village life, and eventually her listlessness makes her ill.  Madame Bovary begins an affair with Leon, which ends with him losing interest and subsequently moving to Paris. Enter Rodolphe.  Rodolphe plays into Madame Bovary's desires for passionate romance; soon enough, the jaded and worldly Rodolphe has grown bored of Emma’s demanding affections.  He leaves her.

I read Madame Bovary when visiting Chicago in 2008.  Every moment of the novel made me disproportionately, passionately uncomfortable.  Madame Bovary was so hateful a character I almost did not finish the book. 

In hindsight, the book has had, perhaps, the most impact on me and my perspective than any other that I have ever read.  In hindsight, I realize that I was a bit of a modern-day Madame Bovary.  In hindsight, I think that the book was so uncomfortable because it hit just a little too close to home.  You see, Madame Bovary became the person she was–and developed the expectations she did–through reading romantic novels day after day.  She wrapped herself tightly in the narratives of the romances she read, and they formed the foundation for her expectations of romantic love.

So there I was, hating Madame Bovary for her folly, but then at the same time loving romantic comedies.  Romantic comedies, which, by the way, totally skewed my own expectations for romantic love.

It starts early in the West.  Think of Disney movies!  Think of fairy tales!  I was talking with a friend this past weekend and I happened to mention why I don't really have a desire to see Tangled.  He asked why and I started talking to him about my values within the confines of romantic relationships.  I'm not a huge fan of Disney movies–past or present–because they tend to favor the grand gestures of romance, especially at the beginning of the relationship, over healthy models of romantic relationships.

Let's take a little detour here for a second because I think that this gets at the crux of how I feel about this subject matter.  I have been told, often, that I am far too practical when it comes to matters of the heart; that I need to let go and let myself be wooed.  I think that people think that I'm either jaded or cynical (or both).  In reality, I do get wooed!  I am!  It is just that what really strikes me to my core and makes me knees weak is consistency and stability.  Trust.  Give me those qualities, and I will be yours forever as I try to give you the same.

In the end, at my very core, I believe that it is easy to make a grand gesture.  It takes far more dedication to prove yourself consistent.

Okay.  Back to the point.  The point.  The point....what was the point again?  Oh, right!  Alright, here we go:

So there's this wonderful word that so wholly encapsulates my problem with how we "do" romance in the West that I am just totally bowled over by the English language.

limerencen.  The state of being romantically infatuated or obsessed with another person, typically experienced involuntarily and characterized by a strong desire for reciprocation of one's feelings but not primarily for a sexual relationship.

Thanks, OED!  By the way, did you know that this word has no known etymology prior to 1977?  Amazing!

Knowing what we know about eternity, marriage and the like, I have to wonder why we Latter-day Saints are so compelled to be limerent in our most important, most far-reaching decision:  that of selecting a spouse.  Are we, in doing so, looking for that person that will be at the most basic level consistent enough throughout the eternities that their efforts in love and in the Gospel will continue on an upward path?

More importantly–because in this life and this creation the only people that we can control are ourselves–I wonder if our goals–yours, mine and everyone's–are to be as consistent, as stable, as rational, as kind, we possibly can be.  And if that takes some time, I'm okay with it.

I'm not calling for a lack of passion in my life (or yours).  The line I draw is in the definition of where I am willing to place my passionate energy.  Perhaps I have redefined 'romance' in my eyes.  It is interesting:  the entry in the OED for 'romance' reads (in part) as follows:
A medieval narrative (originally in verse, later also in prose) relating the legendary or extraordinary adventures of some hero of chivalry.
The character or quality that makes something appeal strongly to the imagination, and sets it apart from the mundane; an air, feeling, or sense of wonder, mystery, and remoteness from everyday life; redolence or suggestion of, or association with, adventure, heroism, chivalry, etc.; mystique, glamour. 

For me, I think that the idea of romance as including some grand exposition of chivalric gesture or as something glamorous and remote from my real life has the potential to be very harmful.  In my loving relationships, I am not looking for an escape from my life and my reality.  I am looking for a partner who has a similar reality as I do; namely one that places the Lord first and foremost.  Perhaps that's the punchline here:  I believe I equate consistency in romantic relationships with consistency in all relationships;  family, friends and–that of absolute import–the relationship with Deity.


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Lauren Kay House © 2011