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The Australian love story

  • 15 February 2022
Did you make the annual obeisance to St Valentine’s Day traditions [read purchases] on the 14th? Last year, Australians were projected to spend $1.1 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts as St Valentine’s Day was lauded and backed by marketers, glamorising Romantic ardour and infatuation, glorious, all-consuming passion, and a thirst for intimacy and transcendence.

But we are not renowned for our Great Love Stories, we Australians. CJ Dennis’ Bill the Sentimental Bloke and Doreen come to mind, perhaps, or Ramsay Street’s Scott and Charlene. But the ballad of Bob and Hazel, then Bob and Blanche, or the saga of Paul Hogan and Noelene, closely followed by Hoges and Linda, can serve to remind us the path of true love ne’er does run smooth.

We want to be part of a couple, and that is possible. But it has not always been thus. Think of poor Abelard, castrated for wooing Heloise. Mourn the wit and joy that was Oscar Wilde, monstered when his romance with Lord Alfred Douglas came to light. Lament the loneliness, shame and criminal abuse endured by code-cracking genius Alan Turing, who was chemically rendered inert sexually and driven to a sad death.

Our understanding of intimacy has deepened, as we’ve recognised that gender and orientation are more complex and fraught than various traditions and dogma allowed. Today’s famous lovers, be they Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi, or George Clooney and Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin), demonstrate that Western culture is now more inclusive and accepting of difference, more generous of spirit, than in previous eras.

And yet rather than our loves being free to soar, I think most of us waddle, weighed down by the amassed sum of expectations we feel and place on our lover. We have never before put so much pressure on a solitary human relationship to be our all in all. Our monogamous ideal and our projected ideal relationship — our demanding love of love — means we expect our soulmate / best friend to bring us emotional, sexual, social, psychological and spiritual fulfillment.

'But the bulk of humanity are looking to belong to someone who values them and will cherish them. Someone who is ‘their’ mate; who wants them, needs them and will treasure them.'

This is not as it has always been. The 17th/18th century gurus of Enlightenment thinkers are said to have ‘pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. They