By Roland Watson
I am now going to talk about love. (What an intimidating subject!) What is love? Well, like happiness it depends on who's talking. Love is as multi-faceted as a brilliant cut diamond.
However, the actual feeling of love is ineffable. It is beyond words. No amount of description will suffice. It can only be experienced. Therefore, when we talk about love we really only dance around it, describing some common aspect of the experience, or of what it might mean.
Passion, sacrifice, trust, and compromise
There are of course many different types of love - or are there? There is the love of a partner, of family and friends, of reading and education, of travel and experience, of life itself, and of god. And, love is expressed through various attributes or characteristics, including passion, sacrifice, trust, and compromise.
Passion is in fact the defining aspect of love - at least of love with another person, and in its early stages. You really, really love someone. In this expression love is our highest emotion, and also one of the most powerful. It is so powerful in fact that it borders on, and can easily turn into, obsession.
Sacrifice, on the other hand, is a more enduring part of love, and it can be defined as caring more for the other person than for yourself. His or her welfare becomes paramount, such that you will sacrifice anything for it, including your life.
These extreme measures, though, are rarely required. More generally, the sacrifice of love means that what the other person wants is more important than what you want. You want them to be happy, and their happiness is actually more important than yours. Indeed, you are happy when they are happy. Also, in some situations, as when something unfortunate happens to them, you do whatever they want, and do not argue or complain about it at all.
Sacrifice in turn gives rise to trust, a deep abiding trust that will outlive any sexual or romantic passion. Because you recognize that the other person will sacrifice anything for you, you trust them completely. He or she is your "partner," your life partner.
This in turn yields one of the greatest benefits of love, which is knowing that someone will always be there for you, that you know you have someone on whom you can depend, and with whom you can build a life together, confronting all of the difficulties of existence as a team, and sharing all of its joys.
Lastly, because of this, this selfless support, love involves compromise. As I said in another article, it is one of the few cases in which individuals relinquish their own form, their selfish desires, and do not force others to accommodate them.
The danger of love
On the other hand, with such a depth of commitment, love entails great risks. The first of these is simply that it may fail. Love is fragile, and it may well be lost or die. And, the consequences of this are traumatic.
Your heartbreak may be so great that the depression it causes threatens your mental balance. Or, your love may turn to hate, of the other person, or of yourself, with the effect that your heart is poisoned. Through the failure of the relationship you may actually lose your ability to love, and to trust, and because of this you will become withdrawn, and miserable.
What happens is that before your first love, your first "great" love, you are effectively independent. You are wholly self-reliant, and in a sense you do not even know what you are missing. But, when you give yourself to another person, this changes. Over time, the other person becomes part of you. Indeed, in a good relationship power ceases to be an issue. You are unified now, so there cannot be a power conflict.
Through this you develop a dependency, on the other person. And if that other person then leaves, or dies, the downside of this dependency becomes all too clear. Part of you is now gone. You are no longer whole. It is as if something has been cut out of you, and this is the something that actually made your life fun and worthwhile. And, there is no way, none at all, that you can regain it. All you can do is mourn its loss, and then slowly try to recover: to pursue new interests, to meet new people, and to rebuild yourself into a whole person again.
Even more, it is not as if this risk is obscure or remote. During your lifetime there is a real probability that it will happen to you. The initial passion, which will often be based on appearance, must be supported by a deep compatibility. Opposites may attract, but their pairings are regularly not long lasting. And, even with real passion and compatibility, love requires great effort. It is not inevitable, at all, that it will survive.
Love in the modern world
In traditional, and idealistic, circumstances, what was supposed to happen was that young "sweethearts," passionately attracted to each other, would find "true love." They would take their school years to get to know each other, and along the way develop common interests, and also share deep, bonding experiences.
However, this pattern, if it ever even achieved real frequency, is now very rare. Social conditions have changed. There is no rush to bond, or to wed, but rather the conventional idea is that we should take time to explore the many choices of partners that are now available - through the trend of our coming into contact with far more people than was formerly the case.
But, ironically, even though the number of choices is now much larger, our actual choice, as always, is usually shallow. It is based almost exclusively on appearance; specifically, on the social form of the currently idealized appearance. Hence, these relationships are rarely enduring. What happens is that after a while, the thrill fades. Boredom and discontent set in. We start to look for, or at least make ourselves available to, someone new, and "better."
And, this happens over and over again. The result is that we lose our ability to commit, to form a real bond. We become too independent for love. For love to work, both partners must confront the unknown, take the chance, and then work hard to keep the relationship in balance, by compromising on what they want as individuals, even on what they need.
Love and chance
As all of this makes clear, love also has a chance element. There is the chance - at least some probability - that you will meet the person of your dreams. However, there is also the chance that you will not be the person of their dreams, or, even if you are, that some tragedy will befall them.
Then, even considering that the ideal is that you should try to find your one perfect match among all the people in the world, there is the real chance that your actual choice, in the moment, will be based on impulse.
There is a fantastic quote about this at the end of James Joyce's book Ulysseus, in what is known as Molly Bloom's soliloquy, where Molly revisits her entire relationship with her husband, Leopold, including their first coming together. She says:
"And then I thought, well, as well him as another."
The reality of love
What this illustrates is that while love is an ideal, it is also a reality. Indeed, do you love someone for who they are, or for who you want them to be?
I said that love is one of our highest purposes, in principle, but it is also the cold, hard truth of our attempts to obtain and preserve it. The reality is that you will not meet your one and only. Instead, you will hopefully establish a relationship with someone with whom you share a strong attraction and good compatibility. This in turn will progress from your first date, to your first kiss, to building a workable life together including, if you accept them, the social form of marriage, and the social and instinctual forms of child-bearing.
All of this, your entire relationship cycle, will then become part of your identity, and, to the extent that you can avoid such forms, or mold them to your purposes, it will accentuate your uniqueness and individuality.
Its social role
Love is further worth comment because of its social consequences. To start, it regularly leads to children, and as a byproduct of this to all of the modern consequences of overpopulation. Also, love is a behavior that has passed the test of time, including in the worst of circumstances. And, it is in opposition to those behaviors - other than procreation - that are responsible for our negative social conditions. Love is in fact the basic counter to the trend towards total individualism. We feel a need to reciprocate the love that we receive as children, and this helps bring people together.
Through this we can see that love is one of the most important antidotes to personal selfishness and form. In life, we necessarily, or at least inevitably - certainly as children - think of ourselves as the center of the universe. We filter it, everything we see and experience, through the lens of our own desires. We do not perceive things so-to-speak independently. Everything is put in a context, made dependent, relative to us.
Love shifts this focus. It takes it away from us, and while such a shift may only be to another person, not to all of humanity or of life, and while it may also only be temporary, even with these limitations it still has highly beneficial social effects. Indeed, this begins with the individuals who are involved. Being in love takes the edge off life. It changes the focus and the filter. It makes it - meaning life - softer, and much more pleasant.
However, and as I implied before, the idea that love can solve everything is utopian. The sources of bad behavior are too many and too complex. No one, simple, overriding solution will work. The idea that "love will find a way," is regularly a false belief. But, love is useful as it can be solicited, and hence it will form part of the solution. But by no means should we expect it to be the sole, or even the central, element of this.
Said another way, love leads you to sacrifice for another person, but not for every other person. It is an unachievable ideal that we can love everyone.
Our purpose to find love
To close the article, I want to focus one last time on the idea that love is one of our highest needs. The reason for this is our existential condition. Ultimately, we are alone in the universe, with only our thoughts, our self-consciousness, for company. But, we want to share these thoughts, and our experiences, and our love of and partnership with another person is the means by which we can most fully accomplish this. Love is also a means!
Creating a lasting love is one of life's supreme achievements. It is a purpose in and of itself. Creating a great love is equivalent to creating a great life.
But, as we have seen, the risks of love are severe. However, the rewards are so profound that such risks must be borne. As a basic guideline for life, then, you should do everything in your power to make sure that love is part of your future.
In the next article, I will make some concluding remarks about how you can break free of behavioral form.
© Roland Watson 2015