“The feeling: I am loved for who I really am”

“The feeling: I am loved for who I really am”

Studium Generale evening ‘Love lessons learned’ with journalist Frénk van der Linden

15-02-2022

What are the criteria for a good loving relationship? Just before Valentine’s Day, Studium Generale talked about this with journalist Frénk van der Linden. Last year, his book En altijd maar verlangen (Continuous Longing), a book full of letters to his deceased parents who didn’t speak to each other for forty years after a bitter divorce. Van der Linden and his sister also had no contact with their mother for ten years.

Van der Linden starts off on Thursday evening with a question for the audience: What do you not understand about your partner? It stays silent, the first couples that he passes by have to think about it. Then one woman says: “What his desires are on an emotional level.” Van der Linden immediately addresses this. “That is something you often hear women say: the emotional wiring in men, I don’t get it. It is different in men than in women. Is that a bad thing? It is one of the factors of the ever-increasing divorce rate, it makes you think.”

He himself kept his emotions to himself for a long time, he says later on. Only after he made the documentary about his parents, called ‘Verloren band’ (Lost Bond) in 2009 – they were both alive at the time, but his mother had early onset Alzheimer – does he come out with it. “Until then, I had not gotten around to exploring and solving the woes from the past. After the reconciliation between my parents (not on film, ed.), something inside me melted. I suddenly wanted to talk a lot about the emotional world inside of me. But my wife Annette didn’t make a film about her parent’s divorce and wanted to stick to the old formula of maintaining a certain distance. So, then it didn’t work anymore.” Eventually it cost him his second marriage.

Not being seen

When Van der Linden sits down to be interviewed by Barbara Strating, programme maker at Studium Generale, they talk first about the book – an investigation into what happened in his parents’ marriage. “My mother fell in love with someone else and eventually left. This caused a lot of pain, also for her, as well as the greatest possible misery. To the point of having the police come to the house.”

This is the short version – something obviously happened before that, Strating remarks. Van der Linden: “My mother was a kind of film star; she was really stunning. My father was proud as a peacock of her. But whether he really loved her as a person, who she truly was? I dare to doubt that. It produced a kind of chilliness in their marriage. As a son, I never felt seen by my father, even though I love him very much. She must have felt that much more.”

It seems as if there is lack of understanding the other way around too. In Verloren band, father Jan says: “If only she had understood who Jan van der Linden is.” She feels that he is married to his DAF – Van der Linden senior was a truck driver – he considers all that hard work as taking care of his family. It brings their son to the first criterion: see the other person as he/she is. “The feeling: I am loved for who I really am, with everything that is attached to it. A lot of people are inclined to embrace the outside or to blur someone’s soul by trying to change that person. A higher art of loving is loving all the rest of the other person.” 

It takes two to tango

Van der Linden received a tremendous number of reactions after the publication of his book. “From people who can no longer see their children after a divorce, but also from people who say: ‘I am you’. One letter stayed with me most. A woman wrote: ‘Thank you for this terrible book.’ After her divorce, her husband killed their daughter and then shot himself. By reading the book, she was forced to see that she had a role in why the situation had escalated so badly.” In keeping with the evening’s format, he summarises it in one criterion: “Realise that a relationship is a tango that you dance together. The place where you end up on the dancefloor, is always the responsibility of both people, even if you end up doing nothing, even if you remain passive.”

Loyalty as a blindfold

During the divorce, Van der Linden takes his father’s side. Together with his sister, he writes a letter to the judge. They want their father to be given full custody. “As a child, you are in pure panic, you feel desperate, wonder if your parents still see you. In that kind of situation, as a child, you tend to choose, unfortunately. Later, I realised that it was understandable that my mother felt very cold with my father. But my mother had us leave secret notes under the park bench for John (her lover, ed.) and stood rubbing up against him in the kitchen while we watched television in the living room.”

Father, indeed, was given custody and Van der Linden doesn’t see his mother for ten years. “Beforehand, she never thought this could happen, she thought that they could sort things out properly as adults. That letter was a huge shock for her. My father was overjoyed with it. While it only made everything worse. You shouldn’t be loyal to excess. It sounds like something positive, but it can mean that you go through life blindfolded. If the tie gets too tight, you can’t breathe. The oak and the cypress do not grow in each other’s shadow. Give each other room to catch the light.”

Good choice

As the evening comes to an end, Van der Linden wants to add another criterion. “The most important of all. The core of all great ideologies is: treat the other as you wish to be treated yourself. If you don’t immediately think of a number of essential things – does God exist or not? Do you vote for Baudet or not? What does justice mean to you? – then there is a risk that you cannot live according to that law. Then you are so angry or sad about the other person’s other stuff that you take everything out on that. An important question is: Can I give the other person the space that he/she needs to acknowledge that individuality? Choose someone with whom you can do that, choose someone you can treat the same way as you yourself want to be treated.” 

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Observant

Categories: People
Tags: studium generale,Valentine's Day,love,book,lecture,instagram

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