Maybe it is because I am female, but I would like to think that it is because I am human that relationships mean so much to me. Personally, I believe that our ability to form relationships that connect us intellectually and emotionally is what really separates us from other animals. We are motivated by instincts, but not limited by them. We choose to give in or resist our desires. We do more than survive. We are both at once thinking creatures and feeling creatures.
I devote extensive thought to relationships. I think about my own, those of my friends, as well as relationships in general. What makes healthy relationships versus unhealthy relationships? Why do some relationships last, while others do not? How do we build deep, meaningful relationships? How do we sustain our relationships?
Reading of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, she advocates for the proper education of women so that they can better fulfill the roles of educators to their children and to be companions to their husbands rather than mere property and playthings of men. She would have the roles of mother and wife mean more than baring young and pleasing man, and I find myself coming back to her comments on relationships, particularly those between men and women. She emphasizes the value of esteemed friendship over the superficial love of beauty that is only adored to feed a man’s lust, leaving a woman to wither into nothing once it fades.
Wollstonecraft says, “Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time.” As I have matured I have come to agree wholeheartedly. I have been married for over ten years, and while my marriage is not devoid of passion, what really binds us is our friendship. For us friendship and marriage go hand in hand.
It is funny to me now remembering when I was with my girlfriends in school and we would talk about how love may come and go, but friendship lasts. We talked as if relationships between men and women could only be called love, and relationships between women were the only ones that could be called friendship. It seemed to set up the mental dictate that love would not, could not last. And so it does not if love be made only of passion.
This is a point that Wollstonecraft also makes, that the foolish love that adores only beauty, exciting passion is only perpetuated to make mistresses of wives to constantly satisfy a man’s lust. I once heard this concept put another way, that men give love to get sex, while women give sex to get love. This is the kind of love that degrades women and men alike because only vanity is appeased, and there is nothing lasting once satisfied.
“A man, or a woman, of any feeling, must always wish to convince a beloved object that it is the caresses of the individual, not the sex, that are received and returned with pleasure; and, that the heart, rather than the senses, is moved. Without this natural delicacy, love becomes a selfish personal gratification that soon degrades the character.”
Here Wollstonecraft gets at the true heart of a meaningful relationship. This is what makes a marriage something to be cherished. It is not the vain desire to be wanted as a sexual object, but the deep desire to be wanted by the one you want, taking comfort in the touch of the one you comfort in return. It is not merely to use one body to please another, but to value the person you are with because of who they are–a companion, a friend, a partner.
What are your thoughts on marriage? Do you think the role of wife and mother has changed since Wollstonecraft’s time? How do our thoughts of love help or hurt our relationships?
*Photo: Heart by mozzercork, obtained through Flickr.