In the West we spend a lot of time thinking about, promoting, and even consuming the idea of romantic love. If I am not mistaken, it was the West that championed the idea of marrying for the sake of love, unlike much of the world that, to this day, still adheres to the tradition of arranged marriages.
But what is romantic love?
So that we may better define—or confine—this discussion thread, let’s start by excluding a few things:
1.) Let us not be concerned with inanimate things that we claim to love, i.e., I love chocolate, I love to golf, I love my new car, or I love my country.
2.) Let’s exclude the love we may have for our parents or children, as this love is familiar, often involuntary, and quite often obligatory.
3.) Let’s also exclude the love we have for our pets, which lacks romantic connotations (hopefully), and which is probably not reciprocal (or at least not on the same level, if it is).
4.) Finally, let us exclude love as a consumerist expression, such as sending roses and giving diamonds as a representation of love or commitment.
Let’s talk only about romantic love here—the love we long to give to others, and hope to win from others in return. The love that brings with it joy, eagerness, light, and, quite often, a greater sense of self-worth. Let’s look at the bare bones of love and try to figure out what motivates and sustains it.
As a child and teenager, I had very idealized and romanticized notions of love. I grew up in a home where I did not feel wanted or loved, so the idea that someone could one day choose to love me appealed to me greatly, and occupied a prominent place in my thoughts and hopes.
When I was in college, a great deal of my art and writing centered on the nature and quality of desire, and it struck me that humans are little more than a bundle of desires—diverse, ceaseless, and unquenchable.
I even toyed with the idea—though never really taking the concept seriously—that humans were nothing more than vehicles for desires, and that the various desires were the true life forms, the true sentient beings; incorporeal, alien creatures who used us much like we use tools or machines to achieve our goals. We existed for their benefit only.
As a young adult, I decided that love was nothing more than need fulfilled. In other words, we all have needs—needs for security, affection, attention, and sex to name a few. When another person satisfies or fulfills those needs, we convince ourselves that we love them, when it would probably be more accurate to say that we gain satisfaction from them.
I still hold to that belief today. It seems obvious to me that we cannot love someone who does not sate our desires (we have little motivation to do so), and that the undesirable are equally unlovable. Consider, too, how quickly love turns to hate or animosity when desires cease to be fulfilled. Couples break up because they no longer satisfy one another’s desires for intimacy, acceptance, sex, emotional rapport, or even financial support.
Yet, in spite of that belief, I find it difficult to completely destroy all idealized notions of love, such as unconditional love and love for the sake of loving. Well, perhaps we never outgrow foolish things.
So, what are your ideas and beliefs about romantic love? Is it something sacred and unknowable? It is too elusive to attempt to define? Is it possible to have unconditional love, or is love very conditional? Have you been in love? What are your opinions on love, either personal love or the love you see shared by other couples? Is love tangible? Or is it, as I have suggested, merely the satisfaction that comes with needs fulfilled?
Please remember to confine your comments to romantic love only.