We’re all feeling it. With each click, each swipe, each like, each delete, profile view after profile view the longing to connect becomes stronger, the disconnect grows deeper. Though the number of potential partners increase, marriage rates decrease. If we’re bored with our partner or find the slightest fault, the “next” button is just one click away. We’re so used to being able to cut & paste, edit before sending, bleep out the blooper or choose the photo that portrays the perfect portrait. If it’s not a perfect run then we just hit “reset” which when applied to our romantic love relationships, means having a fresh start filled with all the excitement that comes with new love—being distracted for days thinking about that someone special, sparks ignited, the air filled with magic again . . . sounds great—but we all know something’s missing.
Most magic isn't real and doesn't last. Smoke and mirrors merely create illusions that deceive the senses. One can trick the eye into perceiving that a stick under water is bent or broken, but when we reach to feel, to touch, the proximity of our experience informs us of the truth behind the illusion. The feel informs us of something that is unbroken, unified and strong. How then can we reach deeper into romantic love? To feel something real again. To make that which is fractured into something whole and healthy again. How are we to see through the illusion created by the elusiveness of our current state of love in a postmodern hook-up/serial monogamy culture? A possible answer I’d like to explore here is a new concept of profound romantic love called “Pomoro”, pronounced Poe-Moe-Row, short for Postmodern Romance. Can Pomoro be the real magic we all seek? First, lets do a quick survey of the culture of love to see how it is we came to arrive at the current state of affairs.
The Birth of Love
Ideas, concepts and themes of romance and love such as “the soulmate”, “twin flame”, “the one”, “true love”, “till death do us part”, have been circulating on repeat through our culture for centuries. From Shakespeare to Britney Spears we are constantly being reminded of all the good and bad things love brings. These concepts inform us of what to expect and what is ideal for our romantic relationships and together as a whole, they form an abstract ideology of love. As such our ideology of love is embedded as deep into our psyche and our instincts as it is our favorite novels, poems, movies, songs, TV shows and social media. We believe in this ideology usually without question, believe in its goodness and beauty. We believe because it makes us feel, dream, cry and know we are alive. We believe because we want to. We believe that our ideology of love is true, eternal and originating from some divine source, e.g., God, a Higher Power or the Universe. But is it?
While it might in itself be romantic to believe the ideology of love to be absolute, a deeper look at the different concepts and conventions of love across different times and cultures reveals another story about the origins of love. We can gain insight from looking at love from an evolutionary, survival based perspective. The argument I want to make is that the socio-economic material conditions of the world, not some divine entity, give rise to the values and sentiments associated with our concepts of romance and love (or rather that you and me in dealing with the world become the divine entities that dictate our sentiments).
The survival mechanism works in a simple way that in doing more of the actions that help us survive or thrive induce a positive “reward” response while avoiding acts that threaten us or our survival actions elicits a negative “avoidance” response. So food taste good because it nourishes, sex feels good because it enables us to procreate. In the same way, love feels good because it helps us bond and trust one another to ensure survival. In the same way that there are a variety of different foods yielded by the earth in different areas that humans can adapt to over time, so to have different material conditions of the world created many varieties of love.
The idea of love most of us (Westerners, especially Americans) are most familiar with and fond of says that love is something profound, sacred, passionate, intimate, involves commitment and is intended for one man and one woman. This idea is not something that’s absolute but rather just one of the many varieties of love—in particular we can label it Modern Love. In contrast, we also may have heard of a variety of love that was similarly very profound, passionate and intimate, but practiced between an older man and a young boy (called pederasty or paiderastia), as was the custom in the ancient Greek world. Greek Love was not stigmatized in the same way Modern Love treats homosexuality and pederasty but rather was viewed as a normal, healthy and an admirable activity. Greek culture was highly praised, respected and imitated by many other cultures as an ideal standard for civilized living so why the shift in sentiments?
We can begin to better understand this shift as a shift and adaptation to different socio-economic material conditions. Basically, Modern Love evolved from the conditions of rural farmland living. People lived far apart from one another and therefore formed bonds with one single, opposite sex, mate and had many children to ensure overcoming the odds of childhood mortality and have enough extra hands to help with the labours of rural life. This situation promoted survival and so positive sentiments were coupled with its qualities—i.e., long term commitment between one man and one woman felt good. The Greek sentiments of love however were formed in one of the most complex and diverse city-states of all times, ancient Athens. One of the major factors that helped one navigate, survive and thrive in such a complex city was knowledge. Therefore, the bond that needed to be well established was that between mentor and pupil—good feelings and positive sentiments were then associated with male to male pederasty.
The Greek sentiments were passed to other nearby cultures with a similar city-state structure (e.g. Roman culture), but as time went on and peoples delved into new isolated frontiers the Modern sentiments were able to evolve ever stronger. Religion, at the time, being a primary source of communication of values, equivalent to today's TV and internet media, picked up on the sentiments of these isolated individuals (or Moderners picked up on the religions that already favored their sentiments) and once in that culture, they took on a more divine nature. Nowadays even though the concepts of soulmate, or holy matrimony can elicit a divine response, it is out of the socio-economic state of affairs, not higher powers, that different sentiments and ideas we have about love are born.
The Lag, Disharmony Between Values and Reality
As absolute as we want our ideas of love to be, the fact is, love is culturally relative. It is malleable, it is what we make of it—as deep or superficial as we want it to go and applying to whatever genders, ages and racial combinations we want it to apply to. In the context of our evolutionary model we hopefully have gained some insight into the issues we now face with our troubles with love in the 21st century—we are in a transitional period, going from rural living and it’s values to city and even "online" living conditions. Old values are mixing with material conditions they weren't meant to serve. The problem is there’s a lag in our adaptation process and this lag is painful. How can the Modern qualities of being profound, solid, sacred, passionate, intimate and everlasting find a home in a Postmodern world that’s superficial, interchangeable, public and fleeting?
Modern Love and its values are the equivalent of a square peg trying to fit its way into a Postmodern round hole—an obsolete VCR tape incompatible with a USB drive—a soldier returning home to find the deeply conditioned impulses that helped them survive the battlefield no longer serve and even may hinder them in civilian life. What we ought to seek is harmony between our abstract ideology of love and the material conditions we live in. There are two ways to do this: one, change the conditions under which we live, i.e., move to the country, or two, change the way we think of love. If the country life isn't for you then I’d like to introduce you to a creative idea called Pomoro (Postmodern Romance).
The best way to understand what Pomoro is, is by comparing and contrasting it with other forms of love and romance. For this purpose I’d like to use as our model the Triangular theory of love developed by Robert Sternberg. The theory states that there are three primary qualities—intimacy, passion and commitment—associated with love and different combinations of these qualities result in different forms of love. The ideal form of love called “Consummate Love” has all three qualities and can be equated with the previously mentioned Modern Love we’ve all been conditioned to seek. If we lose passion and intimacy but remain committed we end up with “Empty Love”—much like we’d find in a couple staying together for the sake of the children. Intimacy plus commitment but minus the passion results in “Companionate Love”, like between "bff’s" or platonic friends, while having intimacy simply on it’s own results in basic “Liking/Friendship”. If we’re really passionate with someone and decide to run off to Vegas and elope therefore adding commitment to passion without establishing intimacy, we end up in a form of love called “Fatuous Love”. Passion simply on it’s own is called “Infatuation” and it gives rise to lust and is the driving force behind our Tinder powered hook-up culture and player/playboy mentality. The last possible combination of qualities is when we have intimacy and passion but no commitment, this form of love is called “Romantic Love” and is the base from which Pomoro is to launch.
The problem with Modern Love and any other form that involves commitment is as stated before, we live in a culture that is out of harmony with commitment (other than for necessary practical purposes, e.g., children, family, maybe jobs?). So instead we naturally see people shift toward the hook-up culture which although it harmonizes better with postmodern society, it leaves us feeling disconnected (without intimacy). The best viable option to feel connected and still be in harmony with the postmodern conditions then becomes Romance (intimacy + passion w/o commitment). We see something like this at work with serial monogamy, going from one 3-4 year intimate and passionate relationship to another. Is serial monogamy then our best solution and all we can hope for under the current circumstances we face? I think there’s a better solution and it lies in how we approach commitment. I think we can get commitment back and in harmony with the postmodern world, oddly enough—through non-commitment. In order to get there though, we’re going to have to take a leap of faith.
The biblical story of Abraham best illustrates the approach Pomoro uses with regard to commitment. Abraham waited years and years to get what he loved more than any other earthly possession, his son Isaac, whom God promised would pass on his legacy. Soon after, God then commanded Abraham to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. He undertook this task without hesitation taking a leap of faith in believing that God would somehow keep his original promise. Sure enough in sacrificing Isaac he ended up getting him back after all. With Pomoro if we are to get commitment back we must first sacrifice it. The idea is to love someone so deeply not because you’ll be committed to them forever or till death do you part, but rather because of the fact that you most likely won’t. The emphasis is not placed on some distant projection of your future together—the house you’ll buy, the children you’ll have together—but is instead placed on what one has at the current moment. Enjoy what you have right now because the future, for so many reasons, may never come. It’s in sacrificing this long term version of commitment and living in the passion of the moment that we’ll get back a stronger kind of commitment.
When we view commitment as a future projection as we do with Modern Love and serial monogamy, it becomes problematic. With future expectations in place we get relaxed about our relationship. Knowing our partner is committed to us we get lazy with our passion. We no longer do the creative and fun things we did when we were trying to “win them over” and in a year or two, the romance is dead. Maybe the relationship lingers on for another year or so out of attachment or for the fear or inconvenience of change.
Postmodern Romance is an attempt to be honest about the material conditions of the 21st Century and say “hey, we might not be together long” so lets put all our effort into right here and now. The uncertainty of the future keeps the romantic passion alive, and this romance in turn drives the duration of the relationship further and further into the future. Constant mutual non-commitment not only harmonizes with the fleeting conditions of the postmodern world, but in itself constantly renews romance which as a corollary creates a state of ongoing commitment. With Pomoro we commit to romance, passion and intimacy in the now—not some idealize version of it down the road. We commit to real, not illusory romance. We stay committed because we genuinely want to and not for some extrinsic purpose.
A Pomoro experience can be just one moment once, or stringing together many moments over many years and years. Maybe you have a Pomoro moment on the street when you meet someone new that you probably could have a really great relationship with, but for whatever reason it just isn’t practical. In this case you just try and enjoy it while you can. Pomoro is not a relationship so much as it is a moment, which leads to another moment. It’s after building up many passion filled moments that we can look back and say we’ve had a great relationship, not by looking forward to that which may never exist. The complexity of our postmodern world makes Pomoro a diverse kind of love. It can cross gender, race, age, or number of partners. Overall though what defines if you’re in a Pomoro moment or not, is having a deep, intimate love coupled with a realistic attitude towards future planning, expectations and commitment, congruent with 21st century life.
If you’re in a relationship that due to lack of commitment you don’t take your partner serious (e.g., lighthearted relationships or flings), then you’re not Pomoro. If you like to love deeply and intimately but that means projecting and planning some grand future for the two of you, then you’re not Pomoro. To not expect anything and just live in the moment and love deeply and intimately—that’s Pomoro. Now this doesn't mean that marriage, children and other future projections are excluded from the Pomoro lifestyle. It’s just that instead of planning from the beginning of your relationship that you’ll be married and such, it just happens when the moment is right (excluding the fact that the typical expectations attached to marriage itself make it mostly a non-pomoro convention, but you get the point).
Is Pomoro the direction love is headed in the future? Is it a way to find real love, real magic that lasts despite our constantly shifting culture? Or is Pomoro just another excuse for men who are afraid of commitment? Does the concept destroy the dream of a perfect white wedding? As women continue to establish careers and self-sufficiency independent from men, do they still primarily seek security from men via long term commitment?
For now, Pomoro is just an idea, an experiment but if it is the way we’ll be loving one another in the future, it’s going to take some time to embed the concept in our culture so that we can realize and act upon its ideals. While this article is one attempt to do so, there would need to be more variant expressions for more people to have actual pomoro moments.