What I Mean by Love Story
The first thing we need to define before we get too deep into the mechanics of the conventions and obligatory scenes of the Love Story is to clearly understand what kind of love we’re talking about.
There’s the love between mother and child.
There’s the love between brother and brother.
There’s the love between friends.
There’s the love of country.
There’s the love between business colleagues.
There’s the love of Apple computer products.
There’s the love of pizza.
None of the above is our concern. Other story genres explore those kinds of love either directly (the domestic drama for family, the performance genre for friends and/or business colleagues etc.) or indirectly as one of a slew of characteristics of a particular player in the story.
What we’re talking about when we’re talking about the Love Story Genre is the love between two people that involves the possibility of sexual congress.
The story does not have to be traditional male/female love story, like Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice. It can be male/male (Brokeback Mountain) or female/female (Carol) or male/transgender person (The Crying Game).
So that’s the very first thing. The Love Story Genre concerns stories about people (or anthropomorphic beings) that fall into a romantic relationship, which includes the possibility of sex.
You’ll notice I stuck in the word romantic in there.
What’s that all about?
Now before I dive into the three sub-genres of Love Story and the emotional needs that each examine (desire, commitment and intimacy), we should take a stroll down memory lane.
Our understanding of what love is…isn’t all that old.
It was the age of Chivalry (12th century) that put forth a set of romantic ideals that to this day retain tremendous power. A French writer of the era, Chretien de Troyes, was perhaps most responsible for planting the flag for the modern romantic ethos.
Like many of his contemporaries, Chretien wrote narrative poems that featured the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But he was the first to introduce the exciting idea that Lancelot and Arthur’s wife Guinevere had a deeper form of attachment than the traditional King/Queen kind of partnership. Forbidden attraction!
He innovated the age-old epic action adventure story (who will pull the sword out of the rock?) by moving away from action tropes and throwing in something subversive…an attraction between a queen and one of the King’s most trusted brothers-in-arms.
In Chretien’s popular story, Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart, the pivotal love story notion of a “proof of love” comes to the fore. And that proof of love element proved so cathartic for his audience that it became the must-have for every love story that followed…yes even for that cheesy movie of the week re-run you saw on Lifetime last night had a proof of love scene.
Guinevere, ashamed of her attachment to Lancelot after he rescues her from being held hostage in another kingdom (Lancelot cuts himself as he breaks through the castle’s door and spills blood on Guinevere’s bed sheets…subtle Monsieur Chretien was not!), asks him to lose in an upcoming knight tournament so that their alliance remain undiscovered. He agrees even though it will mean certain death.
Lancelot’s chivalrous act (to die in order to protect his beloved’s reputation) of self-sacrifice moves Guinevere all the more. Which leads her to renounce her request when it becomes clear that he will surely die in the fight. She goes on to root him on to victory.
At the end of the tournament, they share a chaste embrace.
And from thereon the love story evolves.
Great debts are owed to the unknown poets, minstrels and songwriters of the age too. In addition to Chretien’s “proof of love” obligatory love scene, traveling performers told stories and sang songs that put forth five general love principles that make up the foundation for our deeply ingrained ideas about romance.
- The first is the notion that one plus one doesn’t equal two. Love between two people is actually a third thing in and of itself. Once two people fall in love, the two come together to form a third mystical union, often called “our love” or “us.”
They say our love won’t pay the rent… Sonny and Cher
Our love is here to stay… George Gershwin
Don’t give up on us baby… David Soul
Two hearts beat as one… U2
- When we fall in love, we become better people than the slobs we were before. To be in a relationship is to live on a higher moral plane.
“You make me want to be a better man”—Jack Nicholson to Helen Hunt in As Good As it Gets
- There’s a rule book. You can’t break the rules or you’ll betray the love contract. No Flirting!
- Love has rituals. You better follow the procedures that were established early on when one plus one first equaled three…or you’re in danger of violating principle three.
- Love is a powerful drug, filled with longing and desire, but it’s best not to ruin it with sex. If you indulge in the physical act, chances are you’ll end up destroying the mystical and unsullied union that keeps you enraptured.
From this fertile ground do all love stories grow.
Next up are the big three sub-genres of Love Story.
The Warrior Archetype
A New Video Series from Steven Pressfield
Subscribe here for the full series.