I Can't Live Without You: When Unrequited Love Turns Deadly

Posted on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 @ 12:07 PM




We can either accept romantic rejection with dignity or we can deny the loss of a dream and obsess over the love object (and I do mean "object"), becoming a thorn in their side, their stalker or even worse.

It's the "even worse" that was the focus of research by Aaron Ben-Ze'ev and Ruhama Goussinsky, both of the University of Haifa in Israel. Their findings were published in 2008 as In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims. Why, the book asks, does one man react to unrequited love by murdering his wife or girlfriend, while another walks away and rebuilds his life?

After reviewing existing research and interviewing 18 men convicted of murdering their wives or girlfriends, Ben-Ze'ev and Goussinsky argue that it isn't simply a possessive personality that leads to murder, nor is it accurate to suggest these are merely "crimes of passion." Rather, they write, "what is perceived to be the ultimate expression of romantic love—'I can't live, if living is without you'—is in fact a state of mind that turns the partner, who is perceived to be the sole supplier of meaning, into a hostage." Romantic Ideology, in other words, can carry dangerous undertones for those who swallow it hook, line and sinker.

"You are all that I am living for," sang Elvis Presley in a song titled "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You." The murderers, who insist they still love their partners and always had, echo the words of the bards. "Only she was on my mind," insisted one. "People might say, there's happiness, and I'd tell them, it's her. People might say there's enjoyment, and I'd tell them, it's her. People might say there's a world, and I'd tell them it's her. My life was a black curtain. Just her."

What a heavy burden to place on a person one claims to love. A romantic ideal that paints the partner as a god, responsible for providing us with the sum total of life meaning and happiness is, in reality, an ideal that imprisons them in our selfish expectations. "Genuine romantic love," say the researchers, "should involve first of all profound reciprocity, which is indicative of the crucial caring aspect," They define "profound reciprocity" as an interest in the profound happiness and well-being of the other. "When I do something for my beloved, I do not do it because I expect to get something in return, but because I care so much for her that I want to do it."

Although the murderers in this study claimed they did love their victim and still do, the burden they placed on their beloved contradicts any such claim.

Ben-Ze'ev and Goussinsky argue that their findings pull the rug out from under legal defenses that reduce charges for crimes of passion. The murderer, they insist, considers the consequences and makes the decision to act despite what it will mean to him personally. His choice may be "colored by depression and despair and by his inability to cope with the impending separation." And perhaps it is even helped along by cultural romantic ideals. But it is still a choice.

Extreme examples like these aside, however, Ben Ze'ev and Goussinsky don't completely discount the value of ideals. Ideals are essential, they insist. "They inspire us to improve and approach a standard that we esteem." But the authors also stress the importance of boundaries, and an understanding of human limitations so we can be content with what we have. "In love, as in life," they write, "a measure of positive illusions, accompanied by some awareness of reality as well as compromises and accommodations, is of great survival value."


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Tags: social relationships, romantic love, unrequited love, love and relationships, what is love