The Danger of Being Too Polite in Love


It’s natural to imagine that the highest virtue in love would be kindness and, a close

second, politeness. But there is an odd danger lurking here: a relationship where we are

overly polite, where there is not enough directness, where things go wrong not because of a lack

of tenderness or serenity but because of a stifling excess of manners, because there

aren’t enough raised voices, insults, legitimate furies and moments where both partners feel

free to call each other idiots and much worse.

When we hear arguments between lovers, perhaps through a hotel bedroom wall, it is easy to

fear for them and their union.

We have most of us been deeply and rightly sensitized to the horrors of abusive relationships.

But there is, within reason, and we stress within reason with great seriousness, something extremely vital and

redemptive that can unfold within the occasional heated discussion. Living around someone is

bound to be, at points, extremely disappointing. For love to remain vital, we need the freedom

to give this disappointment expression. It seems we cannot love if love is all we are

allowed to do. Many of us have implicitly been taught in childhood that disappointments

are best swallowed quietly. Perhaps a parent was very fragile or they were very volatile,

so that we feared either annihilating them or provoking them unbearably by giving vent

to our more honest feelings. We grew up polite and good but also in danger of feeling inwardly

dead and convinced that no one could witness us as we are and still love us. A certain

kind of politeness is the enemy of love. We cannot love, or be properly in a relationship

that feels alive, and simply lock away too many of our reservations. We need for love

to be first and foremost, realand this will involve giving expression to all kinds

of more ambivalent feelings. In most arenas of life, mere politeness will do; there should

be little else around friends and colleagues. But love needs something riskier: we have

to be able to say that we hate when we hateso that later we can properly love when

it’s time to love. This is why, in the interests of the relationship, we might need to tell

the partner that they have ruined our life, that they are selfish and infuriating and

that we have had more than enoughand the partner, far from getting simply offended

(though that has its role too) should take it, and read the explosion for what it is:

a homage to the trust and bond between us. That a red faced accuser would never speak

like this to anyone else on earth should be interpreted as the greatest privilege. They

don’t just hate you, though they do at the moment, they have a lot of hope in you, and

a lot of faith that you love them enough to take their realityand when it’s blown

over, their love will be as sincere as their anger once was. We should get angry when the

occasion fairly demands it; we, the overly meak and cowed ones, should experience how

good and necessary it feels to dare to let go and vent our annoyance and irritation without

the usual huge (and valuable) inhibitions. We should not be overly scared of the odd

loud argument, we should form our irritations into some beautifully creative insults; it

is not a sign that everything is coming to an end and love has died, it’s a sign that

our relationship still has a lot of kindness, sincerity and tolerance left within it.

Love is a skill you can learn. Our relationships book calmly guides us with calm and charm

through the key issues of relationships to ensure that success in love need not be a matter of luck.