A short rant about why I don’t think love should be painful

A couple of weeks ago this picture popped up on my Instagram feed:

A post shared by Madelaine (@fromxthextower) on

I looked at it, scrolled on a bit, and then went back and looked at it some more. (It’s from a woman called Maddie by the way, who writes a really thought provoking blog here.)

I thought about it for a little while and started to feel a bit sad and cross all at once. Why it is that we have come to equate love with pain? Why do so many people feel that love without turbulence is somehow less worthy, less REAL?

It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone a few months ago. We were talking about love and what it feels like. I was arguing the case for love as just two people actually caring about each other and being NICE. He seemed to think this was a little tame, naive maybe.  He said that love needed to have passion – absolutely, you can have passion – but in his mind passion seemed to be to do with fiery disagreements, as though you couldn’t have real intimacy without hating each other on some level.

‘I’m an angry person,’ he said, like that might be a good thing.


Whilst I agree than some amount of anguish is natural in the beginning of a relationship, while you come to terms with the surge of new feelings and spend hours trying to decide exactly how someone feels about you, it shouldn’t be PAINFUL surely? Stressful sometimes, yes, but in a kind of ‘the excitement of the unknown’ way.

I had a boyfriend once who I tried to break up with several times over the course of many years. Every time I told him I was unhappy, he told me that was normal. I was being unreasonable, he said, to expect to be happy in a relationship all the time.


I wasn’t expecting to be blissfully in love 24/7, but still. I couldn’t quite believe that it was ‘normal’ for me to feel that super fun mix of hurt, confusion and anger on MOST DAYS OF MY LIFE. Was it unrealistic to think that love might normally feel reassuring, comfortable and just basically PLEASANT?


I was young(er) then of course. And he was a pretty smooth talker. (Was he? Or was I just feeble?) He took advantage of my nature, my eagerness to please, my disinclination to rock the boat.

I had another boyfriend who used to call me horrible names when he was upset. He didn’t know what to do with HIS hurt, so the only thing he could apparently think to do was to try to make me feel just as bad.

It didn’t work, because I knew the things he was saying were nonsense, but it COULD have worked, and how can that be love? How can you say that you love someone in one breath, and then deliberately go all out to cause them pain in the next?

On a different level, I feel like perhaps we have romanticised the link between love and pain when it comes to sexual relationships too. I’ve not read Fifty Shades of Grey, because I’ve seen extracts and the writing is atrocious, but I get the gist. While I’m totally open to people pursuing whatever they want to in the privacy of their own hotel rooms, I can’t help but wonder if this in turns influences how we believe we ‘should’ feel about intimacy.

Are we boring if we don’t want to be bound and gagged? Are we just plain dull unless we want to be belittled and controlled in the name of passion?

It’s a bit like pornography. (I wrote something about that here.) It feels sometimes like it has become uncool to object to pornography as a woman.

‘Oh but there are women directors now!’ people tell me.

I don’t care how many women directors there are, it doesn’t mean I have to get turned on by the general exploitation and abuse of women by a male led, violent, corrupt, profit driven industry.


There is so much to say on this that I’m waffling.

The point I wanted to make is just that love does NOT have to equal pain and don’t let anyone tell you it does. Love should be about respect and trust and tenderness and compromise and intimacy and so many other things, but not pain.

Or perhaps you disagree?

Leave a comment and let me know.

what does love feel like?

Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash



  1. 28 February, 2018 / 12:05 am

    On point. I find this symbiosis which has been created by the mainstream media for years of Love and Pain, deeply sad. It is a new and more sophisticated layer of outright misogyny. As a mother of girls and boys I feel I have to work so hard to inoculate them against all of these pernicious and degrading attitudes towards women that pervade most aspects of their lives. We are meant to internalize these dehumanizing ideas of femininity and sexuality and accept them and then get turned on by them. It all makes me want to homeschool my tribe in a commune of Healing women where we can plan how to completely subvert the patriarchy as we eat sprouted mung beans. Great article, thanks for sharing❤️

    • Jo Middleton
      28 February, 2018 / 2:20 pm

      I had a very well timed incident this afternoon, where I had messaged someone on a dating app, asking them to tell me something interesting about themselves that they wouldn’t normally share. Bit cheesy, but just a conversation starter. I was thinking ‘fear of pineapples’ or something like that. This guy, who I had never previously spoken to, decided to tell me all about his ‘kinky’ side – ‘Think Fifty Shades but without the helicopter!’ he said. Apparently he ‘thinks about it a lot’. Jeez. What a thing to lead with?! And yet the rest of his message was totally normal, as though I should just laugh or find it fun that a stranger would choose to share that with me straight off the bat. And you just know that if I were to call him out on it (which I will) that he’d probably think it was ME with the problem…

    • Wayne Newton
      7 March, 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Patriarchy to blame for the oldest dilemma known to mankind?
      Can we please stop the “victim” posturing, blaming everything on men.
      It’s wearing incredibly thin.
      To what extent have women actually created this dilemma/conflict themselves?
      The Brontes perpetuated the “wild untameable man” archetype that persists today (Pol;dark/Bond/Darcey etc) and Ms Austen the conflicted ingenue
      Barbara Cartland was and may still be the highest grossing writer in the UK, Completely formulaic trash.
      Mills & Boone used to sell their formula on courses (dusky blacksmith/gypsy ravages the peaches n cream heiress etc) yet sold billions of books and the 50 shades books Jo rightfully destroys with feint praise were famously written by a middle-aged woman. Why do they sell so well and who buys them? I was bullied into attending one of the films and was one of only 5 or so men in a packed cinema.
      QED – stop blaming men for being conflicted about the subject. We all need to make up our own minds what blend of Heathcliff, Byron, Orlando Bloom and Sheldon the geek we want. That may well change over time and we make mistakes or don’t try hard enough to change when circumstances alter,
      But one thing I can assure you is that our sons, and daughters, are pretty confused right now…and given the conflicting messages, I’m not at all surprised.

      • Jo Middleton
        7 March, 2018 / 5:09 pm

        I don’t feel like we are laying all the blame at men? Although when it comes to more serious issues of sex or violence then it IS historically women who are more often the ‘victim’, I don’t think there is any getting away from that bit.

        I say ‘we’ a lot in my original post as I know it’s much more complex an issue than just saying ‘men bad, women good.’ I definitely would not want to be a man dealing with all of the conflicting ideas of how ‘real men’ are meant to behave. I was at a workshop lately and got chatting to a guy there in his 20s who told me that most of his friends take steroids as a standard thing because they feel like women want to see men as being ‘built’. It was absolutely shocking. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for young boys who are exposed to porn and led to believe that that’s what they are meant to enjoy, or that’s how they are meant to act. I think it’s a really tough time for men and women and we need to work together.

        • Wayne Newton
          7 March, 2018 / 11:01 pm

          My generation of men went to Uni and worked side by side with female colleagues and I’m incredibly proud of the way we all turned around the sexism and stereotypes we observed from our parents and grand parents.
          Replacing one form of abuse with another, however, is ridiculous and some of the recent poison being thrown at men generally is wearing thin.

          A business contact today, who has twin boys, proudly showed me a gift, a set of stationary printed with slogans like “fierce women” and “the future is female”! Could be funny, but wouldn’t be tolerated if they were blue with male slogans on them. Yet she has twin boys!

          I’m glad you’ve mentioned the body image and porn issue because we seem to be fast approaching such a state of licentiousness that any form of “nay saying” is considered uncool or authoritarian. The stuff children are exposed to now at pretty early ages is pretty worrying, not just for the exposure to sex at a vulnerable age but the precedent it sets in terms of body image for men and women and some of the abusive/extreme scenarios it exposes them too.

          So getting back to the core of your post, love is probably more important now than ever.
          Because when people have access to such extremes, it’s important to cherish what is really important, the small things like companionship, kindness, consideration, empathy, caring and treating other people as we would like to be treated ourselves.

          That is one of the reasons why I really enjoy your writing and your work. Your humanity and personality and niceness shines through. And long may that last in an online world that seems to chase “buzz” at the expense of compassion and connectivity, at times.

  2. Sally Cains
    28 February, 2018 / 11:20 am

    I completely agree, love should be about loving, not hating. Warm, respectful & caring. What is the point of being with someone for hurt & pain? does not make ant sense. With you all the way!! ( Life is too short)

    • Jo Middleton
      28 February, 2018 / 2:22 pm

      Yes! I feel like we need some kind of slogan t-shirt. (Everything is slogan t-shirts at the moment isn’t it??)



      I don’t know.

      I’ll work on it…

  3. 2 March, 2018 / 12:24 pm

    This absolutely hits the nail on the head! This is such an important subject and I’m so happy that a conversation has started. I first became interested in the link between love and pain after learning more about domestic abuse and then watching certain films that seemed to portray toxic and exploitative relationships as loving and romantic. There is, of course, a certain level of emotional pain that goes hand in hand with all relationships (romantic and platonic) – it’s natural that there will be a little conflict and disappointment sometimes. But, as you have said in your post, relationships that are safe, comfortable and pleasant i.e. healthy are often seen as boring. I think the media has a lot to answer for!

  4. 3 March, 2018 / 7:10 am

    Reading this, I’m rather taken aback by the boyfriend who would call you horrible names. I have seen similar in other relationships. That’s abusive and while I’m not trying to make excuses for the behaviour, there are issues in way some (lots?) of boys are raised. They’re raised to be successful but this simply breeds weak and insecure men. The insecurity manifests itself in abusive behaviour towards his nearest and dearest. I’ve seen it so many times, the verbose man and slightly cowed, deferential wife. That’s my theory and yes, there are issues about the way girls can be raised but I think we’ll cover that in the next session shall we???

    Getting back to the matter in hand, no love shouldn’t be painful. The closer you are to someone though, the more inevitable it is that you will, from time to time, cause pain, albeit unintentionally. Is love not also about recognising when you have hurt someone and apologising? is it not also about forgiveness?

    I am getting increasingly sucked in to these relationship-focused posts Jo. Compelling reading!

    • Jo Middleton
      3 March, 2018 / 3:48 pm

      Thanks John, glad you enjoyed it! I agree with you that some amount of hurt is inevitable, and that it’s about accepting it and apologising and what not. You’re right too about the name calling – it wasn’t cool. But it was totally as you said – a man who had been taught that ‘success’ was about power and money and status, and who at the same time was massively insecure, because no one had ever really told him that success could look like anything else, or could be about being a kind and generous person.

  5. Richard Willson
    3 March, 2018 / 9:12 pm

    To me love is finding the one in life that is your best friend.
    I’ve have recently spent 5 months seperated from my wife. ( this was my decision ) I tried to push my complete unhappiness onto the framework of our relationship, and although there were cracks, most of them were down to my lack of appreciation of every positive thing in my life and focusing on the negative, after analysing the situation a large part of the problem was actually me and my depression. She has been my best friend for nearly 2o years and people ask me, ‘ do you miss being married or do you miss the person ?’ I know after this time apart that i miss her as a person.
    I’ve tried to live without her in my life and although I have grown as a person and gained confidence there is a massive void in my life that is my true love, I’m going to spend the next part of my life making sure that I make her the focus of my world and not my work. Love is still alive and yes It can hurt, but don’t let it go if you’ve got it

  6. Choodle
    5 March, 2018 / 11:25 am

    After over 40 years with my love I know we went through a long period of adjustment in the beginning which settled into a wonderful understanding love filled with care and concern for the other’s welfare and comfort. When one loses the other forever your life becomes a void no one else can or will ever fill. Then you realise true love is the greatest gift you can be given in life and their absence forever is the only pain you should suffer for loving someone.

  7. 29 June, 2018 / 6:25 am

    I totally agree , maybe I am naive but If you love someone you shouldn’t do anything intentionally to cause them pain , couples may say things in the heat of an argument but even then you shouldn’t say anything to cause pain, love is a wonderful thing and should be anything but pain .

  8. 16 August, 2018 / 9:08 am

    This is further proof that no two people are the same , some will feel this is true while others don’t , I personally don’t. I’ve been hurt a lot and unfortunately hurt someone else by finishing with her , even though it was the right thing today. I’m old fashioned and a hopeless romantic , I really think love with the right person will be fantastic. I don’t even like arguing !

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