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Possession

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Possession

Possession Possession is a 2002 motion picture based on the novel of the same name by A. S. Byatt. The film relates the story of two scholars who uncover details of a passionate love affair between two 19th Century English poets. Their exploration of the past breaks down the defensive barriers of their intellectuality and awakens a flame of real emotional intensity. The movie contrasts the social barriers that constrained the relationship between two poets with the psychological barriers that restrain their modern counterparts.

 

Articles on Possession
Maud and Roland’s relationship shows an excellent example of Conflict in Level 2 in the Scale of Romance. Read more and watch video. See the article and videos.
Roland’s abstinence awakens a deeper relationship between them that melts the defensive barriers and leads them to a discovery about themselves. Read about it in the article Love, Romance, Sex & Marriage and watch videos. See the article and videos.
Read more and ask questions about this movie in the Movie Forums.

 

Plot Summary

Maud Bailey, English poetry professor in her 30s, meets Roland Michell, an American scholar who travels to London on a fellowship. He has yet to break out from under his mentor's shadow until he finds a pair of love letters in the textbook that once belonged to one of his idols, a famous long dead Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. Michell, after some sleuthing around, finds out that the letters were not written to his wife but another well known Victorian poet, Christabel LaMotte. Roland enlists the aid of a Dr. Maud Bailey, an expert on the life of the LaMotte. Together they strive to unravel the secret romance between Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.

Neither of the moderns seem made for love and certainly not for each other. They are opposites bordering on contradictions. Bailey is guarded, stiff, irritable, almost frigid British academic, who wants to be addressed as Professor and has a prejudice against all things American. Suspicious of any man’s sexual intentions and eager to avoid relationships, she conceals her beauty to avoid attracting attention to herself. Roland is a casual, friendly, irreverent American who distains British formality. He has had enough of unfulfilling and sometimes hurtful relationships centered around sex and is leery of any intimacy.

As they uncover details of the passionate love affair between Ash and LaMotte, the poetry of that relationship infiltrates their cold hearts and awakens a flame of real emotional intensity. Maud’s heart melts and she feels tempted by the lure of sexual relationship. Uncharacteristically, it is Roland who pulls back for fear of spoiling a relationship he has come to value far more than physical pleasure. Maud feels confused and rejected. Her old fears and suspicions of intimate relationship resurface and they quarrel, yet the real basis for their quarrel is their deeper emotional attraction to one another which ultimately prevails. Delving beneath their surface differences, they discover bonds of genuine attraction and admiration that elevate the whole relationship to a far higher level..

 

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Directed by Neil LaBute
Written by A.S.Byatt (Book),Samuel Taylor(Original play),
Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel(Screenplay)
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud Bailey, Aaron Eckhart as Roland Michell,
Jeremy Northam as Randolph Henry Ash, Jennifer Ehle as Christabel LaMotte
Copyright belongs to USA Films and Warner Bros. Pictures

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Love, Romance, Sex & Marriage

The true relationship between love, romance, marriage and sexual attraction is a source of endless confusion and controversy in modern society. Very often they are mistaken for one another both in theory and practice, becoming the source and occasion for bad decisions and failed or unfulfilling relationships.

Will, Emily, April and Summer (Definitely Maybe)

The confusion between sexual passion and romantic love is beautifully illustrated in this story of a handsome young man's love affairs with three beautiful, sexually attractive women. Will Hayes, a thirty-something married dad on the eve of divorce and striving to discover the true basis for romantic love, narrates the history of his relationship with these three women to his 10 year old daughter Maya. Will's first love is Emily, lovely co-ed at the University of Wisconsin who he regards as his future wife. He leaves Emily to spend the summer in New York working as a volunteer in Bill Clinton's election campaign, where he meets April, who is making photocopies in the same office. Summer is an old friend of Emily's aspiring to become a political columnist. Will spends the next decade trying to figure out which of the three he really loves.

Emily seemed to sense Will's dilemma, even before he left for New York. She knew he had career ambitions and wanted the adventure of rising in life, while her own inclination was to settle down to a comfortable and conventional married life in the Midwest. Lovely enough to find a hundred husbands, Will was her ideal choice, but even before he left for NY, she feared that the energy and excitement of the big city would lure him away from her. Will remained faithful and frequently asked Emily to follow him. When she finally agreed to come for a visit, Will proposed to her and Emily confessed that she had slept with Will's college roommate. She said she had done it out of fear that a commitment to Will would ultimately end indisappointment and her fear proved to be true. Will was disgusted and rejected her.

If Emily represents the attractions of a near-perfect wife, Summer was every man's dream of a perfect love affair. Beautiful, intelligent, sexually alluring and aggressive, she took Will's breath away. After a brief period of ecstatic sexual intimacy, he felt hopelessly in love and determined to propose. The very day he planned to give her an engagement ring, Summer published an article exposing the indiscretions of the politician Will was trying to get elected and trashing all hopes for the campaign, for Will's career and for his relationship with Summer. They both realized that Summer was not a woman who needed or could settle down in a permanent relationship. She enjoys freedom too much. Her first priority is her own career. Will walked away furious and deeply disappointed.

April was an intermittent spectator to Will's other love affairs, a friend he met frequently, corresponded with, and shared his inmost feelings with. He found April extremely attractive but he always felt that intimacy between them would be impossible, because they were so very different and opposite in many respects. They seemed to constantly challenge each other's beliefs and values. Their discussions often ended in agreeing to disagree. Just once on the eve of Emily's visit to New York, Will and April almost let their physical attraction for one another overtake them, but Will pulled back out of loyalty to Emily and a strange sense of hesitation. April went through numerous relationships of her own, none fulfilling, travelled overseas and returned to New York to discover Will preparing to propose to Summer. After Summer refused him, Will got drunk and found the courage to confess to April that he loved her. Clearly moved and deeply in love with Will, April refused to take him on the rebound and told him to get his life together.

Sometime later Will meets Emily again, marries and lives with her until Maya is 10 years old. Then they decide to divorce. We are never told why they divorce, but we sense that what Emily felt from the beginning had proven to be true. Although they are both good, pleasant people and like each other, the elusive magic of romantic love did not outlast the initial period of infatuation. They never had a serious problem, but something essential was missing. What they had might have been more than enough for a normally successful marriage, but not for someone seeking real romance.

Listening to Will's story, Maya perceived what Will had never understood. All the time his real love had been April, only he had been too frightened to admit he loved someone he believed would never accept him. Will had mistaken the surface differences that separated them for real incompatibility, when in fact at a deeper psychological level they were a perfect match. They both sought a life of meaningful ideals, not mere marital security or sexual adventure, but neither had ever found it with anyone else. At Maya's insistence, they call on April and the truth of their love for one another becomes evident. It is significant that the woman Will found most intensely attractive sexually was the least capable of a lasting love relationship and the woman he had never slept with during a decade of relationship was the woman most capable of fulfilling his quest for romance.

Three women with three dominant motives for seeking a relationship with Will. Emily's aspirations are social. She wants the security of a conventional marriage. Summer's are physical and sexual. She wants the thrill of a torrid affair. April's are essentially psychological, which is the true basis for romance. She is looking for a partner who seeks to grow and will help her grow. That does not exclude marriage or sexuality but it rises far above them in her value system, therefore she rejects both options when they are initially offered to her by Will. Only when he becomes conscious of his deeper love for her does she accept him.

Sexuality, Love and Romance

Controversy, confusion and conflict regarding the rightful place of sex in intimate relationships is extremely widespread, because of differing perceptions, attitudes and personal preferences. Many people mistake sexual attraction for affection, love and romance, when in fact the issues are unrelated. Sexual enjoyment by itself is never a sufficient basis for lasting, positive human relationships. Love and romance can very well exist and thrive without sex. More often than not they are spoiled by according inordinate importance to a physical passion at the expense of real love and affection. A clear understanding of sexual attraction can help remove the confusion and the controversy.

Human consciousness consists of physical, vital-nervous, emotional and mental dimensions. Sexuality is an instinctive physical urge which nature uses to foster procreation, but it is not the real basis for harmonious, affectionate or romantic relationship. In fact, it often becomes the source of problems because men and women differ with regard to sex, a difference clearly seen in other animals. The instinct of the female is to attract the male sexually in order to conceive. The pleasure derived from the act is secondary to the biological need and urge for conception and birth of offspring. The cyclic changes in hormones related to fertility also affect the sexual urge. In contrast, the male instinct in animals is neither limited to conception or to times of the month. Problems arise when a man interpret a woman's lack of sexual interest as psychological rejection or a woman interprets a man's persistent interest as if it were some kind of ulterior motive. Human beings in general have become more educated, sophisticated and capable of intimacy than other species, but many have not acquired the understanding, maturity and capacity for self-giving required to accord sex its proper place in a relationship.

Our human capacity for happiness, affection, love and romance arises because we have acquired higher emotions and mental capacities. Sexual attraction has little to do with romance, affection or lasting happiness and can distract attention from the true basis for it. To give sex the central place in intimate relations is to give inordinate importance to the physical aspect of man-woman relations. Making it an issue can actually deprive a relationship of the love and affection it would otherwise possess. On the other hand, those who are capable of more exalted emotions may find physical intimacy a powerful medium for expressing those emotions and sharing themselves with their partner. In that case, physical contact serves as a means of expression, not as an end in itself. Romance is an ennobling emotion, not a physical sensation.

From Sexual Attraction to Friendship to Affection (When Harry met Sally)

This movie shows how sexual attraction and relations can have a disruptive impact on couples in the process of falling in love. Harry has spent the past fifteen years in and out of unfulfilling sexual relationships and has finally come to realize that he prizes real love and affection far more that sexual gratification. When they violate their own mutual decision to remain platonic, their budding relationship goes into a tailspin. He begins to think of her as another physical relationship. She begins to feel cheap and used. It takes time for them to put sex in right perspective and decide that with or without it they really did have a relationship worth cherishing and preserving.

The Reluctant Lover (Possession)

Maud Bailey, English poetry professor in her 30s, meets Roland Michell, an American scholar who travels to London on a fellowship. Together they strive to unravel the secret romance between Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Neither of the moderns seem made for love. Bailey is cold, almost frigid, concealing her beauty to avoid attracting attention to herself, suspicious of any man's sexual intentions and eager to avoid relationships. Michell too has had enough of unfulfilling and sometimes hurtful relationships centered around sex. As they uncover details of the passionate love affair between Ash and LaMotte, the poetry of that relationship infiltrates their cold hearts and awakens a flame of real emotional intensity. Maud's heart melts and she feels tempted by the lure of sexual relationship. Uncharacteristically, it is Michell who pulls back for fear of spoiling a relationship he has come to value far more than physical pleasure. His abstinence awakens a deeper relationship between them that melts the defensive barriers and leads them to a discovery about the poets they are studying and about themselves.  

An Unusual Arrangement (In the Mirror has Two Faces)

The role of sex in romance and marriage is humorous depicted in this story of a sexually- obsessed math professor and an English professor in quest of ideal romance. Greg is a handsome bachelor pursued by women, including his ex-wife, whom he finds physically irresistible, but he  never succeeds in developing lasting relationships with any of them. After years of meaningless sexual exploits, Greg decides to seek a platonic relationship with a physically unattractive woman, so that the temptation for sex will be removed. He meets Rose, who is homely, lonely and frustrated, and they become increasingly intimate with her. He is attracted by her intelligence, natural humor and good values. She finds him pleasant company and a good companion. Eventually Greg asks Rose to marry him, on the understanding that sex will have little or no place in their relationship. Rose agrees, but finds it increasingly difficult to live up to their agreement. She is attracted to Greg physically and also feels rejected and unfulfilled because he does not feel the same way and because her own conception of romantic love includes physical passion.

While Greg is away in Europe, she loses weight, starts using make-up and dressing to reveal her physical charms. When Greg returns, he finds her very attractive  and feels betrayed. He feels uncontrollable passions rising within him, which he has struggled to suppress because they had spoiled so many relationships in the past. Finally he confesses to Rose that he is so deeply in love that he cannot live without her and agrees to accept sexual relationship as a part of their relationship. They both come to realize that love, not sex, is the central issue. If their romantic attraction is true and deep, sex can be one means to express it.

The relationship of Rose and Greg is in sharp contrast to that between Rose's sister Claire and her husband Alex. Claire is the beautiful and vain younger daughter of a vain and aging mother who always considered physical beauty was her greatest asset and is now plagued by the scars of middle age. Like her mother, Claire values her beauty above all else and has used it to snare handsome, gallant Alex into a marriage. Once having caught him and won his admiration, Alex can provide no further gratification for her vanity from their marriage, so she immediately starts pursuing younger men to reinforce her sense of being attractive. Mistaking physical attraction for love, the more affection Alex expresses, the less satisfied Claire becomes. She needs the excitement of fresh conquests to prove her worth. Finally she leaves Alex for someone else, who surely will not be the last in a series of failed relationships based on physical attraction. 

Ironically, for years Rose believed that she was deeply attracted and in love with Alex. When Claire rejects him, he seeks out Rose and wants to make love with her. Only then does Rose realize that her physical attraction for Alex was not real love. The relationship between Rose and Greg appears fanciful, but the issues it raises are real enough. Many people believe that sex is either indispensable for or incompatible with true romantic love, though most often it is the woman who comes to regard sex as disturbing or degrading physical lust which demeans the purity of their emotions. This is especially likely in instances where her partner seeks her for exactly that reason, physical pleasure, rather than for real emotional intimacy. The solution lies in recognizing sex for what it is and not placing too much importance on it one way or the other.

 

If you would like to raise general questions on romance, love, marriage and relationship or about any of the content in this article, please post your entry in the appropriate forums

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Level 2 Conflict

Relationships at this level are characterized by frequent quarrels, anger, resentment, and emotional confrontations, which make the overall relationship very unpleasant. Partners at this level relate to each other through fear, suspicion, resentment and mutual accusation.

Conflicts and anger arise when our demands and expectations are not met. Harmony arises when we actively strive to accommodate the needs and expectations of the other person. Disharmony raises its head in relationships the moment one or both partners wants to be accepted as and for what they are without having to make an effort or pretense at being better. Before making a commitment, both partners are on their best behavior. Afterwards they may lapse to show their worst. The challenge does not end with courtship, marriage or the honeymoon. It really has only begun. Maintaining harmonious relationships requires constant and continuous effort.  The more effort the partners are willing to put into their relationship, the more rewards they get back. Wanting to take and get from the partner without investing sufficient care and effort in the relationship is a sure basis for conflict.

Ben & Katie (The Story of Us)

Some relationships degenerate into intense disharmony after the initial period of getting acquainted is over, or years later when the dullness of routine family life replaces the novelty of the initial period. Ben and Katie Jordan began their married life full of enthusiasm, love and affection for one another. They gave birth to two beautiful children, moved into a comfortable house and achieved financial security. Fifteen years later they found themselves at each other's throats and ready for divorce. Neither of them had a clear idea what had changed or how it had happened. The very traits that they had initially admired in each other had now become a source of constant irritation, conflict and recrimination. Every issue became an occasion to highlight their differences and lapse into arguments.

Like many real life couples, Ben and Katie came to the conclusion that they were no longer compatible or in love. The truth is that they had come to take each other for granted and they had stopped taking the added effort to make each other happy. The initial out-going attitude of joyous self-giving, which is the kindle for romantic attraction, had turned inward and become selfish and self-centered. The very differences they had cherished now reminded each of them of their own insufficiencies. Rather than tolerating their differences and admiring each other as complements, they became defensive and critical.

Ben and Katie had forgotten the simple truth that no human being responds positively to criticism or becomes a better person because they are criticized by others. We become better when we are loved and accepted, never when we are criticized and rejected. Fortunately, they realized before it was too late that neither of them could ever hope to find a better partner than they already had now. By a conscious decision and commitment, they moved back up the scale of harmony striving to recover the sense of romance they had known years before.

Elizabeth & Darcy (Pride & Prejudice)

Some relationships start negatively and move gradually from disharmony to high levels of harmony as the partners get to know, understand and admire one another. Almost from their first meeting, Elizabeth Bennet developed a resentment and prejudice against Fitzwilliam Darcy, when she observed his stiff, aloof social behavior and accidently overheard him tell a friend that he found her appearance only 'tolerable'. Conscious that he comes from a higher level of society and perceiving that he looks down on people with lesser status and wealth, her prejudice grew in intensity each time they met.

In spite of his rude remarks and her inferior social status, Darcy found himself increasingly attracted to her. After much inner struggle to overcome his own objections to a socially disadvantageous marriage, he was finally driven by the passion of his attraction to propose to her. In the course of his proposal, he explained the serious objections to her family which he had struggled to overcome. She took his explanation as an insult and offence, and rejected him. When Darcy demanded to know why she rejected him without explanation, Elizabeth seized the opportunity to accuse him of spoiling her sister's marriage to his friend and cheating Wickham of his rightful inheritance.  With each exchange, they both grew more angry and resentful, until she finally declared to him that he was the last man in the world she would ever marry.

The relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth began negatively and remained contentious and resentment for months. Ultimately they each discovered that their disharmony arose from their own egoistic and assertive ignorance, pride, and prejudice, not from real deficiencies in the other person. Elizabeth discovered that the source of her resentment against Darcy was completely unjustified. Darcy realized that he had in fact behaved in a most offensive and ill-mannered fashion. Both had the sincerity to recognize the truth and change their attitudes. When they did so, intense and bitter conflict was transformed into the intense sweetness of romantic love. Their story shows that even intense negativity can be converted into equally intense positive relations when partners are genuine and sincere in their willingness to change themselves, rather than to change or condemn one another.

Maud & Roland (Possession)

English poetry professor Maud Bailey meets American researcher Roland Michell in London and together they strive to unravel the secret romance between two Victorian poets. Neither of the moderns seem made for love and certainly not for each other. They are opposites bordering on contradictions. Bailey is guarded, stiff, irritable, almost frigid British academic, who wants to be addressed as Professor and has a prejudice against all things American. Suspicious of any man’s sexual intentions and eager to avoid relationships, she conceals her beauty to avoid attracting attention to herself. Roland is a casual, friendly, irreverent American who distains British formality. He has had enough of unfulfilling and sometimes hurtful relationships centered around sex and is leery of any intimacy. As they uncover details of the passionate love affair between Ash and LaMotte, the poetry of that relationship infiltrates their cold hearts and awakens a flame of real emotional intensity. Maud’s heart melts and she feels tempted by the lure of sexual relationship. Uncharacteristically, it is Roland who pulls back for fear of spoiling a relationship he has come to value far more than physical pleasure. Maud feels confused and rejected. Her old fears and suspicions of intimate relationship resurface and they quarrel, yet the real basis for their quarrel is their deeper emotional attraction to one another which ultimately prevails. Delving beneath their surface differences, they discover bonds of genuine attraction and admiration that elevate the whole relationship to a far higher level.

To raise your relationship to a higher level of harmony, see Strategies to Increase Harmony in Your Relationship

If you would like to raise general questions on romance, love, marriage and relationship or about any of the content in this article, please post your entry in the appropriate forums

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Level 1 Opposition

Relationships at this level are characterized by shouting, mean accusations, deceit, and threats or actual acts of violence. Disharmony can increase in negative intensity until even an insignificant act, a casual word or glance triggers a chain of unpleasant reactions, acrimony or hostility.

Relationships become strained to the breaking point when partners exhibit offensive or mean behavior that intentionally or unintentionally hurts the other person. No positive relationship can ever be built by conscious meanness or intentionally inflicting pain, no matter how justified we may feel in 'hitting back'.

Partnerships at this level are caught in a destructive blame game in which the main objective is to find fault with the other person and put them down. All relationships are based on intensity. We feel intense about people who matter to us. No intense feelings arise when we are not closely related in feeling with the other person. The mother scolds her child who misbehaves, another's child doing the same does not elicit the same reaction. It is her concern for her child that comes out as scolding. Similarly, when a strong negative intensity is visible on the surface, it shows that there is a deeper attraction underneath. A couple living in the slums of Mumbai invariably quarreled every night after the husband returned from work. When the husband suddenly died of heart attack, a few days later his wife also died because she simply could not live without him. Attraction that expresses negatively can be converted into positive intensity. Indifference is the opposite of relationship. It is indifference that is more difficult to change. Disharmony on the surface is proof that there is scope for creating harmony.

Blaming one's partner for bad manners or offensive behavior never solves the problem. It only provides a very temporary satisfaction to the ego which inevitably prompts reaction and retribution. Putting another person down and gloating over one's success is a sure formula for a failed relationship. It takes two people to dance but only one to improve a relationship. Inevitably each partner blames the status quo on the other and expects the other to change first. That never happens. Relationships improve only when one of the partners resolves to take unilateral initiative and sticks to that resolution. The first thing necessary is for one of the partners to totally eliminate any and all expressions of meanness or spitefulness without expecting or demanding any change in the other partner. That effort is sure to bring about a substantial improvement in the relationship for as long as it is maintained. If it fails, it is only when the habit or urge to fall back overcomes the commitment to be positive.  

Many people enjoy the intensity that comes from complaining, quarreling and even from getting angry. As long as you enjoy it, it will continue and grow more intense. Others have a way of relating negatively to the very person they find most attractive to get their attention or assert their own value. If you are experiencing intense disharmony in your relationship, try to become conscious of the underlying attraction that expresses as negative intensity between you. Often anger is a disguise for feelings of not being loved, respected or appreciated.  Try to shift your attention from the sources of quarrel to the sources of attraction. Even when you feel most intensely negative, remind yourself it is only an inversion of a deeper positive attraction and need for one another. Negative intensity can be addictive because it makes us feel alive and it is easier to generate than positive intensity. Adopt at least one strategy for generating positive intensity in the relationship and work seriously to achieving it.

 

Scarlett & Rhett (Gone with the Wind)

Rhett and Scarlett are a classic example of a relationship based on intense energy and turbulence, which never manages to become stable and harmonious. The partners go through brief periods of pleasantness, interspersed with frequent quarrels and occasional violence. Both are high energy, head strong, selfish and opinionated people who look for fulfillment from relationship by taking rather than giving and end up frustrated, empty and disappointed. Scarlett is immature, impulsive, self-centered and totally selfish. That leaves no scope for harmony, let alone the romance she so passionately longs for.

Both harmony and romance require self-giving, accommodation and patience. Rhett tried to win the heart and possess the body of a woman he knows is in love with someone else by providing her the financial security and luxuries she longed for. Gifts and material security may satisfy a customer in a business relationship, but it is not enough to win the heart of an intimate partner. Scarlett thought merely of taking what suited her from the relationship and simply ignoring the rest as far as possible.

 

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

The degeneration of a marriage from harmony to violence and its remarkable recovery are humorously depicted in the spoof thriller Mr. and Mrs. Smith. After six years of polite and seemingly harmonious marriage, Jane and John Smith suddenly discover that they really do not know each other at all. Both feel betrayed when they find that their spouse has concealed fundamental truths about themselves. When distrust, suspicion and fear compound their difficulties, the relation lapses into violence and a seeking for vengeance, in spite of the fact that each is still intensely attracted to the other. Eventually they learn to accept and admire each other's true personalities and reunite more happily and genuinely than before. Though the story is pure fiction, the process and stages of relationship they undergo resemble the course of some relationships that drop to level 1 and then ultimately recover.

 

Serge & Josephine (Chocolat)

Serge and Josephine Muscat own a small tavern in a small town in rural France. He is uneducated, stupid and brutal. She has intelligence and refined taste but has been reduced to fearful submission by Serge's heavy-handed, authoritarian dominance and the conservative values of the society in which they live. When Serge drinks, he is likely to take out all his bitterness, frustration and disappointment in life on Josephine, occasionally even becoming violent. The arrival of a newcomer, the spirited, independent-minded  Vianne Rocher gives Josephine the strength and courage to stand up to her brute husband and cast off his oppressive domination. Soon Serge repents his violent, dominating behavior and promises to reform, but Josephine seems bent on freedom. Violence destroys not only harmony. It undermines the very foundation of trust and security that is the bedrock of human relationship.

To raise your relationship to a higher level of harmony, see Strategies to Increase Harmony in Your Relationship

If you would like to raise general questions on romance, love, marriage and relationship or about any of the content in this article, please post your entry in the appropriate forums

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