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Love will tear us apart … again (… and repeat)

By Nicholas Hookway - posted Friday, 23 May 2008

When Joy Division’s Ian Curtis penned the words to what would become the post-punk anthem “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, little did he realise the sociological profundity of his words. While Curtis’ lyrics reflect the intensely personal problems he was experiencing at the time in his marriage to Deborah Curtis, I argue that the thumping repetition of that chorus captures something about what’s going on in our contemporary world(s) of love and intimacy.

It would seem (a “seem” based on my PhD research) that love, possibly more than ever, is “tearing us apart” as “postmodern” men and women are forced to keep up with a culture that can’t keep still or hold its shape, a culture which - as Zygmunt Bauman, the poster boy of contemporary social theory, might say - is preoccupied with “moving on” and “letting go”.

I want to share a fragment of this story about love and “moving on” culture, based on my own voyeuristic peering into people’s online diaries (or blogs as they’re known) and follow-up interviews I did with them.


First, we meet Dolly, 27-year-old female lawyer from Sydney; second AmberFire, a 25-year-old female student from Melbourne; and lastly Supergirl, a 26-year-old female supermarket attendant.

AmberFire, talking about her current problems in love, kick-starts the story:

I have my doubts about my ability to commit to this relationship sometimes, but I know it's only me being weak. In actuality, I KNOW I can commit to this, but sometimes, like I quite often have in the past, I yearn for what will not be mine. You never know what’s around the corner.

While AmberFire attributes her inability to commit to a psychological failing - to being “weak” - she inadvertently reveals how much of her inability to commit is linked to the ambient fear of missing out on something better in the future. She yearns for what’s not hers due to an apparent preoccupation with the idea that there might be something better “around the corner”.

Dolly, writing on some of the anxieties she has regarding her current intimate relationship adds another thread to this narrative:

I have a great relationship right in front of me and I’m freaking out because I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Is this the last person I’ll ever have sex with? How can I know this so soon? What if I’m wrong, and I’m missing out on years of youth and f*cking and experience out on my own.


Dolly explains, in the typical self-conversation style of the blog genre, how she is “strange” because just at the moment she thinks she’s ready for a “meaningful” and “sustainable” relationship her head “becomes full of thoughts about the things I have yet to do with my life on my own”.

While AmberFire and Dolly’s orientation could be rightfully theorised as part of the general consumer push to be always “upgrading”, this is not solely about “upgrading for the sake of upgrading”, but also upgrading due to a fear that the current “product” might be inferior, faulty or soon to be superseded.

Psychologically this plays out as a temptation: until you try another product - maybe a more feature packed model - you’re bound to the anxiety provoking position “of never knowing”. AmberFire’s “around the corner” aptly represents how the future bomb of experience, pleasure and excitement can be a compelling pull in contemporary love.

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About the Author

Nicholas Hookway is a lecturer in the School of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Tasmania. His interests lie in social theory and cultural sociology.

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