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Ambivalence In Love

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The subject of ambivalence is one which has long been discussed within the individual centered aspects of sociology and social psychology. While the perspective of conflict theories are often caught up in the collectivized or group-think attitudes that create tension in stratas or across whole societies, the application of ambivalence, however, takes a different turn. Ambivalence creates conflicts within ourselves as individuals. It applies the internalized experiences and cultural norms within us and put them up against the new experiences we collect during our trips through this thing we call life. It shapes and molds the way we think, but when ambivalence occurs, it is often a great source of personal turmoil. What was once a happy and stable life that could easily be made sense of, will now rip us apart and pull ourselves in opposite directions. We don’t know what to do or what to think. Some can think of this as just the need to make a tough decision, but it could also be a make or break situation for happiness and success or self-destruction, and the problem of ambivalence occurs when neither choice immediately has an obvious outcome.

One way of understanding ambivalence could be on the topic of love. Our search for ‘romantic love’ and happiness is one that is a norm, and even a personal obligation, in most (especially western) cultures. In this search for love there are many traps to fall in. Also, each and every experience we make will in some way affect the way we approach our quest for love. Some people may have the ability to treat every single instance as isolated instances, where old experiences do not rise up as notable variables that affect what they decide upon through their new experiences, yet, for most people, what we bring with us guides us and sets us up for tricky decisions. At some points in life, the choices aren’t merely those between different lanes in the same direction. Sometimes we come to a fork in the road, with different paths to take. Often, the choices are simple. We do what we must or we do what we want. Some choices are simply not up for discussion. It’s where each choice (at least initially) appears to us as equally good or bad that ambivalence sets in. We cannot take two different paths at the same time. In love, this could mean either to seek out a relationship in a chance to obtain happiness, even if the circumstances are less than ideal and could lead to disaster, or to postpone or abandon the quest, because experience says that to take the chance will likely lead to failure, and that you might rather keep up the hope for another chance to occur in the future – one which will fulfill all your needs, or you simply let it slide in order to save yourself from much distress. These are, however, just some examples of how it could unfold.

The topic of ambivalence in love has become very clear to me over the past year. I have, perhaps naively, although with nothing but the best intentions for my own happiness in mind, made the attempts at long-distance relationships – one of which was actually cross-continental and hard to uphold, yet still very dear and strong, but retrospectively I see it was set up to fail miserably, which it also did. These were plagued by miscommunication and perhaps youthful desire clouding one’s mind of what is the best choice to make, which needlessly sets oneself up for a likely doom rather than success. This, in my own opinion, wasn’t all my own fault, as it takes two to tango, yet it has become part of my experiences and it’s written into my guide book for future endeavors into the world of love. This guide book is now characterized by a roller coaster ride of short term happiness and states of personal distress; stability and turmoil; realistic optimism and a state of surrender and apathy. These are my experiences, which are characterized by the difficulties of long-distance relationships and a failure to communicate thoughts and worries at an early stage, and an inability to work said worries out in a cooperative way.

This leads me to this very day. When my latest endeavor at achieving love felt like the planets aligning, it was actually the lessons I had learned from my past experiences of worries, troubles and toils, that fell perfectly together with the situation I now found myself in: A short distance relationship and a chance for romance in my daily life, and an ability to bond a relationship based initially in more than just love and desire, but also in a strong friendship and a capability to be a moral and emotional support, whenever the situation deemed it necessary. I wanted all of that. I wanted it all or nothing, and it seemed to be within my reach, which became a huge source of happiness for me. There were no feeling of ambivalence here.

That changed drastically today. The person who I had set my eyes on; the one who I would spellbind and woo with my wit and charming demeanor, could suddenly no longer meet up to my criteria for short distance. For personal reasons not controlled by herself, she had been met with a dilemma, and while this indeed made her feel very ambivalent towards her own desires, this all sparked a feeling of ambivalence in me as well. My hope for a short distance relationship fell short, so to speak. Several questions came up during the day: Should I make the same risky choices as before, when this could lead to problems that are hard to overcome, or should I hold off and leave my chances alone for now, with a hope that it could rekindle in the future, if fate would have it so? Neither choice seemed to satisfy me completely, and this lead me to search for other alternatives, none of which could fulfill all my desires. I needed to prioritize and sketch out a new plan for myself.

To many, it might seem trivial, but because of several personal tragedies over the past year, and because of the decent amount of effort I had put into this being what I had been waiting for this whole time; the planets aligning, the fact that it all fell apart now made me almost split into two different personalities in an instant. The feeling of ambivalence to the whole notion of love became very real within me. One part of me said: “This is gonna fail now. Would you risk destroying your chances with this girl forever, with an attempt to something that never worked before? Are you gonna take another knock to your persona like that? You should put things on hold and see what chances appear further down the road.” The other part of me, however, was shouting: “Seize the day! Just because your other attempts didn’t work out, doesn’t mean this one will follow the same pattern. It’s a different person and a different situation, and if she wants the same there’s nothing to debate! This time, you have a chance to communicate and avoid all the traps and wrong turns you have made in the past. You know from other people’s experiences that it can work out, as long as you both know what you want and cooperate to make it happen.” I wanted it. I wanted her! Yet I was afraid.

The state of surrender and apathy spoke very heavily to me at one point. I didn’t want to go through with it again. I didn’t want to experience another sad turn of events on top of all the others, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t want to be a cause for distress in her dilemma. Yet, somewhere in my mind spoke my inner optimist – the one who has been my greatest source for success and happiness throughout my whole life, who told me to keep looking for alternatives and possibilities; to keep up the effort of making things work out. My values and experiences were battling it out within me. I believe I know who won the battle, although the war isn’t over. In all of this, this very experience of ambivalence had enlightened me. This is how ambivalence unfolds itself in every person. This is the inner conflict that pulls Man apart and reassembles Him in new ways. This is the psychological force within the individual that eventually leads it to reflect over past experiences and newfound wants, needs and opportunities. This is where structural explanations fall short of explaining human behavior. Within the institution of love, ambivalence showed itself to me in its most profound way. Whether or not I have set myself up for another failure and another situation where I’ll feel an even stronger situation of ambivalence in the future is hard to say, but I guess one cannot help but hope for the opposite and much more pleasant outcome. So what will be the best route forward? To take the chance or leave it? Both choices are pulling on me, as there is an inherit problem with both choices. Should I let the state of surrender have me avoid possible long term emotional turmoil, or should I let the optimist take control and have me play this game, where all I stand to lose is simply to achieve nothing at all, yet where victory let’s me walk home with everything?

The latter voice within me, whom I have learned to embrace, achieved victory in the final argument. My optimism wins once again, and for good reasons too, yet the outcome is still to be seen. If nothing else, I have at least achieved personal enlightenment around how ambivalence works and how it leads us to try and rationally explore possibilities and make us come to terms with the feelings and experiences we have, in order to make sense of the world around us. We can’t be all social or cultural dopes. There must be something within us that let’s us overcome the structural and external influences.

Written by Morten Rolland

September 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm

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