Ill-Starred Love: Lessons from Famous Romances Gone Wrong, And What You Can Do to Keep History from Repeating Itself

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When love goes right, there’s nothing better for the mind, body, and spirit. A perfect meeting of the minds, combined with physical attraction, like values, respect, and genuine affection for one another is a heady cocktail that far too few of us ever have the chance to quaff. But it does happen. Throughout history, there have been some splendid examples of true love realized that shine like a beacon in the darkness, and give the rest of us hope of someday finding our soulmate.

Truth is Harsher Than Fiction

Unfortunately, history and literature are also littered with romantic pairs who were fated for disaster. The most famous of these duos, of course, is Romeo and Juliet, the ill-starred lovers whose parents did not approve of their union, and whose love, in the end, could only be together in death. Likewise, the literary romance of Pyramus and Thisbe, whose parents also forbade them to wed, went awry after a small misunderstanding with a lion, and ended with the protagonists dying in one another’s arms.

While these tales are fiction, they are based in historical truths. Back in the day when the custom of marriage was a business arrangement between families, it was almost unheard of to marry for love. Women, especially those of “good family,” were considered a commodity to be traded for financial and social gain. Brides rarely had a say in whom they would wed. When love outside the parameters of these constraints occurred, the consequences could be dire.

Abelard and Heloise

When noted 12th Century scholar, philosopher, and logician Peter Abelard fell in love with his much younger pupil, Héloïse D’Argenteuil, her wealthy and influential uncle, Fulbert, did not approve. Their torrid affair resulted in a pregnancy. Abelard married Héloïse, but it was not enough to appease her uncle. Furious over the match, Fulbert sent henchman to castrate Abelard. Both Abelard and Héloïse took up the cloth, he spending the rest of his life in a monastery, and she, as a nun. Though their romance was ended, their love never died, and the correspondence they continued with one another has become the stuff of romantic legend.

The Takeaway

Letting your family dictate your love life can be a recipe for disaster. In ancient times, men and women had no choice in the matter, but these days, an interfering family has scuttled many a promising romance. That’s not to suggest that you shouldn’t listen to what your family is telling you, because at the end of the day, they likely have your best interests at heart—but if your parents consistently find fault with everyone you bring home, no one you meet is going to live up to their expectations. If you want to be happy, you’re going to have to cut the apron strings and trust your instincts.

Modern Love

The model for arranged marriage still exists in some cultures, and for many couples, it continues to provide both an economic and social continuity. But modern love, as we think of it today, is also fraught with unhealthy relationships that spelled trouble for their participants. Psychology, a relatively new science, has revealed the cause and effect of negative behavior on the relationships we seek out and choose to remain in, sometimes long after they no longer serve us, or actually do us emotional and even physical harm. 

Bonnie & Clyde

From the onset of the 20th Century, love affairs in which both parties share an addiction — be it to alcohol, drugs, or the endorphin rush of dangerous behavior—more and more often, are the stuff of news rather than fiction. Clyde Champion Barrow and Bonnie Parker (a.k.a. Bonnie & Clyde) were gunned down by the authorities near Bienville Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1934, after a long spree of mayhem that included a string of shootings and armed robberies.

The antics of this thrill-seeking pair are legendary, of course, but their love was based in an all-consuming desire that was divorced from reality.  A “two against the world” mentality is to be admired for those who support, comfort, and love one another “for better or worse,” but when a romance becomes the entire focus of life, and the participants see themselves as heroes in what to a rational mind resembles a fictional romance—it can become a deadly equation.

The Takeaway

If you’re in a romance that does not take into account your own long-term well-being or that of your partner, you may be headed for serious trouble. If your “us against them” stance has led you to disregard the welfare of others, or shut out family members who once supported you, chances are that this romance is based on something unhealthy. Counseling may provide a clue to the hole in your heart that you’re seeking to fill with a love that blinds you to reality, and in the long run, is going to be harmful to your psyche.

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

Another 20th-Century pair not destined to stand the test of time was legendary blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe and famed playwright Arthur Miller. Each of them represented an ideal that could not be sustained in real life. Monroe personified physical perfection. Her sultry beauty and pulchritude made her a star, but she was also possessed of the “it factor” that made her a legend. Miller, on the other hand, represented the intellectual pinnacle of his era.

While the pair was seen as a glorious golden couple, when the reality set in that they were people with flaws and wants and needs that did not mesh with the image they projected, the marriage crumbled. Monroe may have played a ditz on the screen, but she was extremely intelligent. However, she was also prone to bouts of depression and self-doubt that presented hurdles to work to overcome. Miller was brilliant, but by accounts, could be controlling and cruel. As each of their true natures emerged, the pair was driven further and further apart, until the marriage ended in a fairly public meltdown.

The Takeaway

Those who seek “perfect” partners are often doomed to failure. It’s a double-whammy, really. First, because by only looking for flawless mates, you exclude most of the population, including someone who might be a potential soulmate. The second reason being a perfection-seeking missile is off target is that no one is perfect. And even if you should find someone who seems to have all the attributes you’re after, the reality may be very different, and you’ll be in for a rude awaking when the perfection wears thin.


Many of us have been taught to believe that we deserve only the best. Nothing wrong with that, except it gives some people both a false sense of entitlement, and a false sense of reality. Wake up and smell the coffee. You’re probably not perfect, either.  If you want to find true love, you’re going to have to learn the difference between someone who is perfect, and someone—warts and all—who is perfect for you.


Has love gone wrong for you so many times you think Cupid’s got something against you? Let a KEEN love advisor help put you back on good terms with the winged bringer of romance.

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