When you think of the word ‘love’ what comes to mind first is the idea of romantic love as expressed in art, literature, music and everyday life. For the majority of people, there are two types of love other than that of the romantic variety – that for friends and that for family. The goal of this essay is to show that our understating of love when it comes to interpersonal relationships beside friendship and family is made worse by entangling it with romantic concepts.
My main issue with those concepts is that they are idealistic in nature and so much so that within their framework, reality is sidelined when exploring the inner workings of the self or one’s partner or preferred partner. What serves the function of understanding the self and the other instead of an honest assessment, are idealistic notions. A very powerful one among them is that people are defined by how much they appear to fall into certain categories like ‘altruistic’, ‘caring’, ‘nurturing’, ‘positive’, ‘loving’, ‘peaceful’, etc. What I aim to show with this essay is that the perception of the self and the other through the romantic lens is inextricably tied to how one seems to be rather than how one is. This outlook greatly limits one’s scope of understanding what reality is, for it is based on idealizations and leads to falsehoods. There is no living or dead person that can serve as an example of the ideal state of one of the qualifications. Nevertheless, it would seem that these same qualifications are a major part of the cognitive tools we posses for making character judgments. So, we strive to be something we can’t possibly be to impress others who commit to exactly the same madness. If one tries to logically disentangle this dynamic, one would reach an infinite regression loop, thus proving that this dynamic has us cognitively running in circles to appease others who are also running in circles. What is even more disturbing, though, is that through this dynamic it is impossible to get a sense of what one is all about – what constitutes one’s inner world, be it for the self or the other. There are other reasons for this, too, which I will summarize in the term ‘mechanisms of obfuscation’. Notably, these include all manners of tribal distinctions, generalized identifiers for personality types (e.g. moody, friendly, outgoing, shy, morally good/bad, benevolent, people-oriented, etc.) and all sorts of assessments on personhood based on wishful thinking (I loosely term it ‘the cult of positivity’).
My aim is to decouple the concept of love from all such mechanism of obfuscation. First, I will define the term ‘objective love’. It means a partnership of rational actors based on approximately equal mutual benefit and the understanding of themselves and each other in terms that can be objectively demonstrated. One can notice this seems a lot like a business partnership and that is because there are clear boundaries, characteristics, goals and a separation of responsibilities. I can already presume one would ask ‘But doesn’t such a dynamic undermine the emotional basis of a relationship?’ To an extent, yes, but to understand this proposition, one must first look at the different applications of emotionality in a regular love-based relationship. First comes the emotional need to be in close physical proximity with one’s partner – I reckon that due to this need, depending on its strength, feelings of jealousy may arise (completely irrationally in most cases) for simply not being in close special proximity with one’s partner at a certain time. Thus, this is one of the examples of the fluctuating nature of the emotional basis for romantic relationships based entirely on proximity in space at a certain time. Secondly, there comes the emotional need to be validated by one’s partner – essentially to be told you are worth something to them. This creates a dangerous dynamic of unequal codependency on the other’s validation, for it is rare that both partners would be equally insecure in themselves. Furthermore, at times when no such validation is present or is reversed (i.e. you are being told you are worthless) one’s self-worth diminishes greatly. I would argue that wildly fluctuating feelings of self-worth are psychologically damaging and may have long-term repercussions. Even though one may rationalize those needs in various ways, they are fundamentally irrational, for one’s rational mind has exactly zero input on their manifestation.
On a different note, yet another pitfall of romantic qualifiers for a person is that they are entirely subjective - their meaning is entirely contingent on comparison with others on these traits. Therefore, it is impossible to derive an objective way to measure such traits (e.g. – how ‘good’ you are as a person) – they only have a coherent meaning within a certain context. The context we choose to compare them within defines what they are. Logically, if one wants to appear the best in a particular set of these traits, one would compare oneself to someone who appears to be the worst in that set of traits. When looked at in these terms, one can deduce that for all interested in showing highly cherished traits are in constant competition with each other in all shared contexts. The term for this exhibition of the ‘virtuous’ contents of one’s character is ‘virtue signaling’. These so-called ‘virtue signalers’ are locked within a constant struggle to appear more ‘moral’ than the next person. However, that is all they strive to be - someone who appears to be better than someone else. They shun introspection or rational analysis of behavior, be it their own or that of others, they see it as crude and cold at best and somehow violating them at worst. I would posit that such people fear honesty for it exposes what is behind their mask – their worldview is so contingent on appearances and the whims of others that they see someone honest as being morally reprehensible. The only reason for such a reaction is that their ego is being threatened – but how fragile must one’s self-worth be to rely on ever-increasing illusion and masking of reality? What’s more, their constant competition with each other in this avenue leaves them morally and intellectually blank, for none of them care for the truth in front of them. Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand thinking it is safe from danger because it can’t see anything, these people bury their personhood in whatever ‘virtue’ is popular with their social circle at the given time, purposefully rejecting everything they don’t see as useful in their appearance game.
It truly boggles the mind just how much appearance manifests in our lives – from advertising and design, to art and music and even how people present themselves to others. Our world is gradually becoming more and more plastic and void of meaning, everyone becoming more and more interchangeable and until individual inquiry into such topics becomes a fashionable trend (which is so laughably doubtful, it is truly depressing) we will fall ever deeper into the well of stagnation and mediocrity. Excellence can be cultivated, but if one has learned for all their life that it doesn’t matter what they do, it matters how they do it, how can they ever break free from this grip of conformity? While love continues to be seen as it is now, people will use it more as a fashion statement than a fulfilling bond between equals.