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Summer is upon us in these strange pandemic times! A lot of things have been put on hold the past year, but there is one constant we can trust – love. In many ways, our relationships have been challenged and tested – some have started, and some have ended; some has become prisons and in some, new doors have opened. In this second of my blog posts on Love according to Swedes, I will focus on metaphors for love as a container, once again building on conversational data from my dissertation (Boström, 2018).

First, what is a container? In human experience, containers is basically anything that has boundaries – from the human body as a container of organs to parking garages as a container of cars. Mark Johnson (Johnson, 1991, sec. VI) discuss the essentials of containment:

We experience physical and bodily containment in every aspect of our lives, and this provides imaginative structure for our understanding of all sorts of abstract containment. Whether in two or three dimensions, a container consists of an interior, a boundary, and an exterior.

Hence, most humans have daily interactions with numerous different containers, but most do not think of them as containers. Or do you think about your kitchen as a container when you walk in and out of it? Or the bread loaf as a container when your 3-year-old asks if there is soft crumb inside? Or do you think of your body as a container when you breath in and out or when you ingest and excrete food? These recurrent, albeit sometimes unconscious, experiences of different kinds of container and containment shape an understanding that can be transferred to more abstract experiences, e.g., love and relationships.

In my data, understanding and talking about romantic love as a container or containment is the second most common way of understanding romantic love. Most common is talking about love as an external container (i.e. not one’s body) where one can be in a relationship, come out/get out of a relationship and stand outside other people’s relationships. One woman says: “IF a relationship is not good enough, then I rather break it up (se previous post on love as an object), than stay in something I do not want to be in […] I did however stay to long in my first marriage”. Hence, the relationship is here something you can move into and out of, the same way you walk into and out of your house. And speaking of houses, some metaphors in the conversations focus on characteristics and properties of a container. One woman talks about the importance of a façade: “what they show outwards is that they are the perfect family, but on the inside, there is no “togetherness” (Sw. samliv) at all”. On the same note, other participants talk about building a strong relationship on a stable foundation – as a well-constructed and solid building.

Furthermore, some participants talk about experiencing boundaries in their relationships, but most often invisible ones: “boundaries that are there, but not maybe defined yet”. In this case, the container is both bounded and unbounded in a way as there exists no physical boundaries, yet implicit boundaries. This might sound strange, but I know most of you reading this have boundaries in your relationships regarding e.g., infidelity. If you break or cross that boundary, you move outside of the container (standing for a boundary). But if you stay within the boundaries, you are safe and sound in your relationship-container. Basically, either you are faithful and inside or you are unfaithful and outside. In relation to this, some participants talk about external threats: “how about this person coming from the outside? He’s trying to get in. Could they have done something so that he couldn’t reach them?”.

Do you also feel like you have feelings inside that is just dying to come out? Or that you always have to “pull” things out of your partner? You are not alone! One woman in my data talks about how “I always have to pull it out of him!” and that “sometimes it would be nice just to let it out”. Someone else reflects on peoples' “openness” and talks about that different things affect how much “open we are” – the same way containers can be open or closed. In all of these examples, the body is a container of emotions: you can be open and let the feelings out or you can be closed and keep them in. We seem to store our emotions inside our bodies, the same way we store more concrete things in other kinds of containers.

So, is your relationship a well-structured building? How's the façade? Is it in need of a paint job? How's the interior? Is it Feng Shui-like or messy? Can people read you like an open book or do people need to pull things out? I will leave you now with this food for thought while you put strawberries into your body and let stress out!



Boström, P. (2018). ”Det här är ju dött tåg liksom…”: En studie av metaforer för ROMANTISK KÄRLEK i talad svenska [Dissertation, Umeå University].

Johnson, M. (1991). Knowing through the body. Philosophical Psychology, 4(1), 3.


The MetNet Blog will now go on summer vacation but will be back sooner than you think!

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