Outlander Lessons in Love

Exploring Happiness Blog - Love

In between my last uni assignment marking and being sick, I rewatched (again) Outlander. Yes, the successful Starz series also running on Netflix. And yes, based on the very successful books. Claire and Jamie’s love and family story embedded in detailed-described historic events (a lot of battles and a lot of blood and killing) and medical procedures (about the same amount of blood there) is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is a great starting point to explore the topic love. Love, it seems, is often cause for as much happiness as unhappiness. I believe that Jamie and Claire’s story (though tragic and very stressful with all that blood and fighting) is a great example of how to leverage love for happiness.

Quick recap (this is about 11000 pages summarised): Claire, originally on a second honeymoon with her – let’s say – first husband in the Scottish Highlands in 1945 – travels through an ancient stone circle to 1743. She almost immediately meets Jamie and mends his wounds (which she will do all throughout 9 very thick books and the 8 Netflix seasons). The Highlanders are taking her to their castle and she’s a guest who can’t leave. She tries to get back to her original husband but events lead to her marrying Jamie. They then falls for each other.

After a tumultuous 2 years (with lots of battle and blood), Claire has to return to her original time to save their baby. She returns then again to Jamie after 20 years (if you want to know why there is such a wait, read or watch the good stuff) and they pick up their relationship and live together through more wars, killing, blood, rape, hunger, poverty, wealth, sickness and whatever else can happen in that time (except for death) for some decades. Emotional stuff!

What are the Lessons of Love?

Now, this story had quite an impact on me. I read and watch a lot of romance but this has been very formative for my expectations of love. I read the first four books (that’s all that existed then) in 2000 when I was 20. Devoured them. Didn’t forget them but moved on. 20 years later, I found the series on Netflix and it dragged me in. I was completely distraught for days, crying suddenly and being confused. I most certainly did not wish to live in the 18th century like Claire or live through all the stressful events as the main characters do. What then was it that got me so over-emotional?

It was Claire and Jamie’s love. It’s almost improbably, dramatic – even tragic – yet, they always find each other again. But, more importantly, they build each other up. The dramatic events around them tease out survival and the focus on what is actually important (still don’t want to experience that!). Where others decide that power, anger, violence, giving up is important, they find that supporting each other but also being themselves against all odds is important. Claire is a healer (and doctor in the 20th century at a time where there were no women doctors) and has to stand up continuously for what she believes is really helping others. Jamie is a leader standing up for what he believes is ethically and socially “right” and beneficial (which is quite progressive and agrees with 21st-century ideas).

In other words, Claire and Jamie are themselves and risk… sometimes everything including their lives… to be that. Even more important, in regards to love, they see that in the other, are attracted to it and support it wherever they can. They can fend for themselves and often have to. But they are always better together. They can fight and work out boundaries, test, communicate and negotiate them. They often save each other from danger and death (Jamie heroically through physical violence and Claire regularly sews him back together). They regularly express their love and importance for each other and are interested in each other’s lives and purposes. However, they respect that they don’t know all of it. They critically interrogate when they feel ethical boundaries might be challenged but without patronising each other. Jamie has no medical knowledge and does not pretend differently. Claire has leadership skills but keeps them in the medical area or for emergencies when Jamie is not around. She most certainly has no interest in fighting in the battlefield and leaves it to Jamie, fearing for him but also accepting that this is what he needs to do – fight for what he believes is right.

What is Love?

Barbara Fredrickson defines love as an emotion experienced between usually two people sharing positive emotions. This is important: positive emotions. There can be negative emotions but the positive ones build love. Depending on how regularly positive emotions are shared, the stronger the love. This means that love is only making one happy – it is the absence of love that can make one unhappy. But you can “make” love by encouraging positive emotions between you and other people.

Claire and Jamie always come back to each other which causes them to grow, feel supported, survive, laugh, be proud (they are a lot proud of each other), enjoying the joy of the other (generosity over jealousy), feeling understood (because they communicate very effectively), connected… and of course, they do have lots of very hot sex, so let’s say fulfilled. They also enjoy sharing each other’s lives, having kids and grandkids together (though that’s not without issues naturally) and having a purpose.

I think that we should all – partnered or not – take example of the elements of Claire’s and Jamie’s love. But it is also important to remember that there might already be a lot of those elements. Only is there no romantic music written by award-winning composers highlighting real life when it happens.