(Originally written in December 2009, in the wake of a dying love.)
The “Romeo complex” is a phenomenon you’re probably familiar with. I was guilty of a mild form of it myself in my teenaged years, though this is arguably commonplace.
Romeo is regarded in popular culture as a definitive romantic figure, dying tragically for his doomed, forbidden love. But what was Romeo really?
Romeo was a fool. He was a very young man – an early teenager – infatuated with an equally young woman. Indeed, were the play to be written now, Mr. Shakespeare would have been immediately hunted down and lynched by the Daily Mail for writing paedo-filth. Romeo’s character is one of youthful fickleness, obsession, and utterly absent self-awareness. His ‘love’ for Juliet is nothing more than a childish crush taken to extremes by both parties, partly due to their own daft-headed nature, and partly due to the drama inherent to their situation – forbidden love, urgency, parental disapproval – even murder; romeo’s hot headed killing over another pointless murder, which in turn was utterly pointless and the result of juvenile idiocy.
Consider the way Romeo is introduced in the play – he is pining and stroking his ego over how sensitive and tortured he is because of his ‘love’ for Rosaline – a woman whom he forgets entirely on the same day that he professes his love for her, because he sees (note that he doesn’t even meet her before deciding he loves her) Juliet, and decides instantly that he loves her, truly and forever, instead.
It’s a sham. Chances are neither party realises it, but what they’re going through is a simple crush, infatuation, animal chemistry, whatever you want to call it. It’s two kids thinking their fancying each other is the greatest love of all time, and with nobody to tell about it but a sentimental fool of a nursemaid and a kindly, yet foolish friar (in whose defence it can be argued: Friar Lawrence saw the union of the two as a way to end the pointless feud between their families. How far he was influenced by kindness for the lovers, and how far by the wider picture, is another matter). Their situation is made all the more dramatic – and what teenager doesn’t love a bit of drama? – by their parents’ assumed refusal, and by Juliet’s imminent marriage to Paris – a rival to stir up Romeo’s blood and protective instinct, and to give Juliet a foil to compare Romeo with (favourably, of course).
Had the two been able to talk to their parents, or simply found a way to continue without being forced to drastic measures by Romeo’s exile and Paris’ proposal, the two would almost certainly have had a fling and grown bored of each other, found that there wasn’t much keeping them together without the drama, or simply grown apart.
Hence, the Romeo complex. An individual so obsessed with love, so enamoured of drama, so egotistical or sexually repressed as to think that they couldn’t possibly just want to fuck someone, that they paint every passing fancy as the greatest love of all, and wallow and mire in their poor tragic state (because in the vast majority of cases, the object of their lust will be somehow out of reach, or forbidden – married, taken, gay/straight, a boss or employee, even a relative. And in those cases where they’re not, chances are that the individual will detect some incompatibility with their crush, and instead of dealing with it or ending the relationship, will make their situation a terrible drama with the incompatibility playing the part of the Capulet/Montague parents’ disapproval. Their Paris, if you will).
People with this complex can generally go one of two ways:
1) They grow out of it, and accept that sometimes they just like someone. Nobody is above fancying someone they don’t love or want to move mountains for, and there’s nothing wrong with simply going out with someone for a while, enjoying each other’s company and sex, and parting amicably, or at least civilly, if it no longer works.
2) They spend their whole lives convincing a string of innocent people that they are in love – the attraction of someone apparently madly in love with you is enormously powerful, and can sway even very strong individuals – and in so doing, they open these people up, dig around inside them, then get bored and abandon them, typically turning on them in the process (a very common pattern is the sublimation of their affections and pretences to hatred and comtempt the moment Romeo gets bored, or their Rosaline challenges them too much. Romeo will then run to their next victim, and use insulting and lying about their previous victim – their Rosaline – as a device to bond with the new one).
In short, they become serial manipulators, users, and betrayers.
It’s not necessarily that they’re a bad person (although some are, of course. Some are truly repulsive human beings, and revel in manipulating people into wanting them, just because the power gets them off, because they hate women/men, or any number of reasons) – many are simply lacking the self-awareness to realise what they’re doing, or the moral courage to admit and face it, and there’s nothing to say that there isn’t a genuine affection for at least some of their victims. But the end result is the same: They hurt innocent people, and very often damn themselves to a miserable, lonely life – after years of acting out being madly in love with anyone who crosses their path, they simply lose the ability to discern their own invented drama from real feelings. They have cried wolf.
Perhaps the saddest part – the real tragedy, as opposed to their invented ones – is that there is almost nothing that can be done for someone with a Romeo complex. I am prepared to accept objections to this last point – indeed, I hope I am wrong. But it certainly appears from experience, and seems to stand to reason from logical and intuitive deduction, that the fate of the Romeo is entirely in their own hands. All one can do is say one’s piece, hoping they learn in time, then leave them to their machinations.