I have what is a fairly random dictionary on my computer that says love is “A strong positive emotion of regard and affection.” Well, if that’s the best it can do, I suspect the author has never loved or been in love. For most of us, love is indeed a strong emotion but is so much more, and for the few skeptics, much less.
One of those skeptics told me that love is little more than a self delusion that we use to cover up the unpopular fact that what we represent as love is nothing more than a frequently intense example of pragmatic self interest. We want people in general or particular people to respond to us in specific ways; and what we do to maximize our preferred outcome we call love. This is evidenced by our turning off our love if other people or that particular person either doesn’t respond as we want or stops responding as we want. Some of us are more persistent than others of us; but nearly all of us eventually quit loving when things do not conform to what we want or expect, when they fail to serve our self interest.
My skeptic does have a point. Like most everyone else, I have loved but have also stopped loving. We may think love is a forever kind of thing, but sometimes it isn’t. So, what’s the deal with sometimes love being more sticky than other times?
My skeptic says it’s just a matter of whether it continues to serve our self interest, whether our efforts continue to be rewarded.
I pointed out to my skeptic that Sometimes we might stop loving because we discover that we have misjudged others or misjudged someone specific. We developed a picture that turned out to be incorrect. Had we not been so caught up in love, we would have been more cautious, would have showed better judgment. We were just not being nearly objective enough.
The error in our judgment may be apparent to us sooner or occasionally a lot later, but we eventually see our laps in judgment.
That is the rational side of it, but the love side has its own reality. We know that we have made an error in judgment but continue loving despite knowing that it’s not serving our best interest. Love and self interest don’t always align thus proving that they aren’t necessarily connected, although it frequently seems like they are.
My skeptic did at least pause to give my point some thought. As it turned out, that thought was not about the possible validity of my point. Rather it was merely time to consider the best way to respond. It was also a chance to reframe my point and then feed it back to me in the new frame. I must admit that it was rather cleverly done. The response went like this.
Your point seems to me to go like this. Can we talk as if our focus is on a relationship with one specific person? My point would also apply for relationships with groups of people but limiting our discussion to one-to-one relationships makes it less cumbersome. – I nod and my skeptic continues.
You are in a relationship and perceive yourself as loving the other person. That means that you believe that the relationship is serving your self interest and that you will continue to love in order to sustain that outcome for yourself. You continue to behave in what you think are loving ways, physically, socially and emotionally. Let’s call that your love package. But the perspective changes.
What you refer to as misjudgment is more of a mis-prediction. You were predicting that your self interest would continue to be satisfied but now believe that is unlikely. Why your prediction was wrong is content for another discussion, but the point here is that your prediction is invalidated. You are suggesting that since the point at which you decide that your prediction is wrong and when you stop delivering your love package are not simultaneous, love and your self interest are not necessarily connected.
Think about it like this. A train is slower to stop than a bicycle. Similarly, physical love, emotional love and social love do not slow at the same rate. Perhaps the easiest to slow is social love. You can just stay away from the other person. Physical love can also be slowed by distance. Emotional love, on the other hand, is not nearly as distance sensitive. It can also be puled by wishing and wanting. How quickly it dissipates is mostly a function of the strength of wishing and wanting. Wishing and wanting what? Wanting your self interest served and wishing that the relationship had served that purpose.
I hope not to be excessively harsh, but things not working out, whatever the reason or circumstance, is but a much more advanced version of the five-year-old wanting the cookie in the jar and not being able to have it. Call it love if you will, but self interest is always at the heart of it.
What to say? My skeptic is probably right, as far as it goes. Superficially, Love is in the service of our self interest and being in love is in the service of our mutual self interest. It is also in the interest of perceived responsibility as well as shared empathy. I could easily add other dimensions such as shared enjoyment, a sense of connection and practical productiveness. I’ll bet you can easily join in in adding to the many ways to finish the sentence, “Love is….” The best I can do is to add my personal definition to that random dictionary on my computer.
Love is that secret sauce that magically appears when it’s all about me transitions to it’s all about us. But if the “us” reverts to “you and me,” that secret sauce fades and can sometimes turn bitter. Even so, the memory of how sweet it was remains, often as potent as ever it was.