I had a pleasant visit with Marilyn Yalom the other day, on the sun-drenched patio of her Palo Alto home. According to the Publishers Weekly, the “avowed feminist, confessed Proustian, admitted Simone de Beauvoir groupie, the erudite and charming Yalom is the perfect companion.” And so she is. She talked about French literature, she talked about her time as a doctoral student under René Girard, and she talked about love.
Her new book, How the French Invented Love, will be out this fall. From a June Q&A interview in Publishers Weekly: “The French believe that love is embedded in the flesh. They have little tolerance for ethereal ideas of nonconsummated love.” But… but… but… what about all those troubadours? Isn’t France the home of amour lointain?
She talks about that, too. From her book:
In the north, minstrels known as trouvères took up troubadour themes, though the music itself was heavily influenced by the Parisian school of Notre Dame, which was devoted to the cult of the Virgin Mary. When you listen to this music from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, you discover that sacred and profane songs sound much alike, even if the words are different. Enough manuscripts still exist to give us a sense of the music, which was sung to the accompaniment of a small harp. Love in the north of France appears to have become more and more idealized, and the beloved lady more and more inaccessible, with the poet-minstrel downplaying his expectation of a physical reward. Unlike their southern counterparts, northern minstrels emphasized a love of longing rather than fulfillment.
Clearly, however, consummated love is more to her liking. In a frivolous mood, I recently sent her a link to an article on “How to Love Like a French Woman.” Did she agree with statements like this?
American women (and Americans in general) tend to be very goal-oriented when it comes to love, sex, and dating. Rather than setting things in motion and embracing the unknown, Americans generally prefer to set things in stone with a list of clear objectives, goals and outcomes: Is he/she my soul mate or my future spouse? Where, exactly, is this relationship going? Does he/she love me, or not? From the time we’re little girls, we grow up thinking about love in terms of total love or absolute rejection — unlike the French. …
When relationships don’t pan out, we tend to interpret that as the failure of the whole experience instead of doing what the French do — which is to say, they consider that the emotional integrity of a relationship might lie solely in the experience of it and not necessarily in its outcome or ultimate resolution.
The American woman’s approach to dating is heavily influenced by the extent to which sex has either been sensationalized or pathologized in her mind. People are either having mind-blowing encounters — and women’s magazines are cluttered with tips/techniques on how to achieve it — or their libidos have gone into permanent retirement and need to be “fixed.” There’s always a notion that things can be bigger or better. Ditto for whom we are in general, given our culture that expects constant self-improvement and self-transformation.
” I agree with her on almost everything she says,” Marilyn dashed back in a emailed note. Almost? I forgot to ask her about her reservations.
Here’s mine: Why are these columns almost always directed to women? I don’t see men curling themselves into pretzels trying to analyze their women or shopping for exotic underwear.
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