What is love?
Is love the intangible yet warm feeling when you meet your crush? The person you are married to? Or the person you are currently attached to?
When I look up the definition of love, the first definition that is given is:
1. an intense feeling of deep affection.
2. a great interest and pleasure in something.
3. a person or thing that one loves.
Most of us will have no problem with agreeing with the definitions. Do you think that love is something that will come naturally? Do you think that love is a natural phenomenon that will happen to all of us?
I can’t help but think, is love more of a noun or a verb?
Recently, my friend recommends me a video by Alain de Botton. I also go on a slight binge on the youtube playlist of School Of Life. Love to me is a curious thing, more curious than marriage itself. Today, I’m going to dissect love, just like how I have dissected marriage.
… But basically all of us, and none of us get through the gauntlet of early childhood, adolescence, etcetera, with our sanity entirely intact. We are all of us warped, distorted in very distinctive ways. It may take us 50 years to work out exactly how we’re distorted, but we are distorted. And this is a fundamental piece of knowledge, which we should be taking with us into relationships with a big warning sign over us. Now why are we so unable to conceive of ourselves as damaged and crazy …
— Alain de Botton
To put things into perspective, the love that we are exploring will be of the romantic nature, in which, when two strangers meet each other and claim to fall in love.
Premise of love
Our belief in love varies based on the level of our own cynicism. Here, we will make a generalisation on what is held as true or correct in the context of romantic love.
Generally, we believe that love is a wonderful thing despite the potential heartbreaks or betrayals that we might encounter. With love, we could overcome hardships as a couple and bond even stronger. When we have a strong feeling of love for the individual for a prolonged period of time, the person is the right one for us to spend the rest of our life with.
And the insidious one, which most of us hate to admit, but probably fervently believe in, is that love could change another person for the better.
In all context, we are also assuming the rationale for being in a relationship is to become lifetime partners, whether in the form of marriage or other alternative arrangments.
Myth 1: There will be more happy moments than sad ones
We all know that in any relationships, there will be happy and sad moments.
When we undertake a relationship, subconsciously, we are assuming that the joyous moments will outweigh the painful moments (except if you are masochistic). And for the majority of us, to ultimately discover and form a lifetime bond with our partner.
Then, we have to define what brings us happiness. As Alain de Botton points out, that we are warped in our unique ways. Some of us seek to love to validate our narcissistic selves. Some of us use love in hope to diminish our sense of loneliness or unworthiness.
People can appear charismatic and compatible with us initially. Until we start to discover the various ways they are twisted inside. Or we can even love someone who is not compatible with us at all. Perhaps, all of us could hide our twisted side well. Or perhaps the “spark” is too tantalising to not follow through.
When we approach love from the belief that love will make us complete and whole, and the partner of our choice will understand us, we are setting ourselves for suffering. No doubt, there are many things in a relationship that could make us happy. Things like sex, companionship, empowerment and etc.
Still, we could be spending much more time and energy worrying if our partner is cheating on us. Or being defensive about things we do. Or getting angry with things you think they should do.
The thing about emotions is that it is difficult to measure and quantify and is prone to be over-emphasized depending on whether we are optimistic or pessimistic.
Myth 2: We can overcome most obstacles with time and love
Have you been in a long-distance relationship? Or have you been with someone when both of you does not have the financial means to maintain a family despite the wish to do so?
I might sound callous saying this, but unless we are teenagers, for most of us living in the first world country, being together, often entails making financial plans together. According to Insider, financial problems is one of the 11 most common problems of why people divorce. That doesn’t mean we should get together because of the financial ability of the other party.
Essentially, we need to recognize that a committed relationship involves a lot of work. It is not merely about saying sweet nothings, fondles, cuddles and all things nice. It is also about seeing your partner as an incomplete self, just like yourself. It is about being able to envision a future that both of you could agree and work on.
All these almost always entails certain compromises, a lot of communication and perhaps, more moments of forgiving on both parties. If neither of you has an inkling of resources or means to resources to overcome your current obstacles, love will not cause the obstacle to disappear over time. In fact, a peculiar cycle of entrapment might happen.
Have you heard people saying things like, “We’ve been together for decades, wouldn’t it be a pity to just let it go like that?”
Yes, it might be a pity. But we will also have to recognise and be willing to carry the obstacle for the next few decades because of our inability to solve it. We get trap because of how we find it a “waste”. But what is in the past is in the past. We can still make a logical decision to weigh the opportunity cost of our decision to remain in a relationship.
For instance, if you are thirty years old in a ten-years relationship, that is fraught with obstacles that make both of you miserable. Neither of you has any idea when or how it will be solved. Realistically speaking, you will have at least these 2 choices:
- Continue the relationship, with a low probability of finding solutions to the problems. Or even accept the problems as it is, and the misery that comes along with it. Going with this option, you might risk wanting a breakup in ten years time, which is when you are 40. At that age, it most certainly almost become an uphill task to find another partner. The upside is, you might solve the problem on hand.
- Breakup. At 30-years old, you still have a relatively decent chance of finding someone who is compatible with you. If you decide to break up, you might risk not finding another person who is more compatible than your current partner. The upside is, you will have an opportunity to figure out who will be better or what lifestyle suits you.
Myth 3: The person we love will change for the better
Most of us heard of the joke, “Man marries a woman, hoping she won’t change. And woman marries a man, hoping he will change.
The truth is, all of us change. As we progress in life or career, our encounters and experiences will shape us and evolve our thought processes. If you look at the relationship that you have at a different age, do you really wish that your relationship and partner stays the same?
So yes, people change, but do they change for the better? Or more importantly, do they change because love changes them?
Human beings are complex. Beside being burden with our childhood quirks, we are cumulative of our environment, thought processes, friends, reading material and mass media and etc.
As mention above, love involves a lot of work, communication and forgiving. While we certainly could influence our partner with our actions, we cannot guarantee that our partners will act in accordance with what we want. Fundamentally, we have to recognise that our partner is not us. They have their own quirks and thought processes. Essentially, even what we think of being better for our partner might not be perceived as better to them.
One simple illustration is the concept of better in religious terms. A devout believer might think or even fear for his/her partner if they don’t convert. However, if the other partner is an atheist, they will most likely think otherwise.
Perhaps, almost perpetual singlehood has compelled me to view love in a detached way. I still believe love brings about many good things in life. I still believe that if both parties are willing to put effort into their relationship and be open and about their problems, they might be able to solve it together. However, I also firmly believe that each relationship and issues in the relationships need to be evaluated as per their context in a logical manner, so as to prevent future and more impactful suffering.
Mark Manson. Love is not enough.
11 Feb 2016. Skye C. Cleary. Why do we love? A philosophical inquiry. Ted-Ed