It’s always been this way: a brief history of love.

Love is one of those tricky things that everybody has an opinion about, it seems. It’s something that seems to change every other day. The definition varies from person to person. It’s never something concrete. It’s something that has become completely subjective. It used to be objective, didn’t it? Back when everybody believed in God, and the world was rosy and peaceful, and the Church held power and everybody flocked into buildings with crosses on top of them every Sunday. Why has “love” changed so much since then? Why isn’t it this clear-cut concept anymore involving one man, one woman, and God? When did all of these redefinitions occur? Why is it so complicated now? Why do people have to keep trying to sabotage it?

The truth is, we blame modern societal trends for so much of how the concept of love has evolved. We blame modern society on how pretty much everything has evolved. We seem to think that societal and historical shifts in people’s philosophies have only occurred within recent decades, with the philosophy of moral relativity being central to it all. But when you look at the history of anything that people say has changed in recent years, it may shock you to see how similar things were then to the way they are now.

While it may appear that things have only drastically changed within the past couple of decades, the truth is that any perceived societal shift is either 1) the result of something that occurred long ago and is only now being addressed or noticed, or 2) it is something that has always been, throughout history, and people just happen to comment on it now, which of course draws attention to something that was previously unrealized and so it appears new and controversial. This is especially true in the age of digitalization, where everyone with an opinion can put it on the internet and so it makes old issues appear new because this is the first time that widespread access has been had to someone’s opinion on it (whatever “it” is).

When we look at the way that people see love now, and we see that people seem to care more about “love” than about their marriages, and that people are in love with love instead of with other people, and when we see high divorce rates, and so many different definitions and ideas about what love is and how it should be thought of, it seems like all of these ideas just came out of the blue. Of course, as soon as anybody begins talking about the subjectivity of Truth with a capital T, and how everybody has to define things like love for themselves, we immediately want to blame the fact that there’s been a shift in modern thinking to embrace this “moral subjectivity” thought process, and that this is now what is being taught in schools and it’s just what people believe now, and it’s so frustrating that nobody agrees with me! Ugh. (You have no idea how often I hear that from people who think they’re “old fashioned” or “conservative” in their way of thinking). But this theory of subjectivity can be traced back literally hundreds of years to philosophers like Kant. Though Kant never actually stated that our minds create the phenomena that we cognize and did not believe this to be true, some of the other philosophers who studied him did say this and they gave him credit for these ideas.

So, it is safe to say that this ideology has been around for a very long time, and is not truly a modern invention. It’s not that we’ve shifted from conservative to liberal, or that the hippies started running things, or that we’re suddenly some godless culture that has no idea what Love or Truth really is. We have always been that way. Exhibit A: take a quick look at Genesis.

Secondly, ideas such as “love” being more important than marriage is something that’s been perpetuated since the 13th century, and even possibly before that. Love poems like Chevrefoil by Marie de France, which is a short narration based on the stories of Tristan and Isolde, clearly portray these values through adulterous love affairs which completely disregard the marriage of one or both of said lovers. And this is stuff that was written several centuries ago. This is not new. Even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales include stories such as “The Miller’s Tale” which includes a love triangle in which the woman’s husband isn’t a part. The triangle is composed of this married woman, Alison, and the two men who are interested in her, Absolon and Nicholas. The husband, John, is merely incidental, and is portrayed as a fool for having loved and married such a young woman (Alison is only 18, and we do not know the Miller’s age but he is certainly older than 18).

These sorts of themes are evident throughout literature as far back as literature can go. Themes of sex outside of marriage, lude behavior toward men or even lecherous women (such as in the French “Fabliaux,” which is a type of dirty love story from early French literature), and love as an emotion rather than a choice is something that has been part of the human experience forever (Exhibit B: go back to Tristan and Isolde). It’s not new. It’s not something that our generation, or even the generation before us simply came up with and perpetuated as truth. This is something that human beings have been feeling and writing and creating art about since forever. There are even adulterous people in the Bible, the most famous of which is probably King David, who even went so far as to have the woman’s husband, one of his close friends, killed in battle so that he would never find out about the adulterous affair had between David and the man’s wife.

Basically, Generation Y and we Millennials are not original, people. We didn’t come up with this stuff on our own. It’s something that has been a part of humankind for our entire history on this planet, and it’s not going away.

Alena Rivas is a college student from Tucson, Arizona. She has been married since August, 2013. She and her husband don’t have kids yet, but they hope to once she graduates! Alena writes about life, love, loss, and God. She works to incorporate her own experiences in such a way as to inspire others and encourage people to think about things in new ways. If you like her writing and want to keep up with it better or just want to have access to her awesome witticisms that may not always end up in blog posts, you can find her on Facebook (, Twitter (@MrsAlenaeous), and Google+ (Alena Rivas).


One thought on “It’s always been this way: a brief history of love.

  1. It’s so true! There is, as Ecclesiastes puts it, nothing new under the sun.
    I love all of the literary references you included, keep up the good writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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