French philosopher François de La Rochefoucauld characteristically remarks that "there are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard of such a thing". I ought to admit that this very statement shocked the hopeless romantic out of me: because, in fact, how much of the love we see around us is pure? And even in cases of pure love, is that a sustainable state? Are we even conditioned to love?
Existence Precedes Romance, or does it?
The great minds of philosophy have long debated whether existence precedes essence: do we come into the world with a predetermined essence, a core of who we are, or do we first experience life before we can create our meaning? Well, my question is a little bit different: Does existence precede love?
I can't help but wonder whether we are born with an intrinsic to our nature tendency to seek love, or if it could be that love is taught. Is love a precondition for human existence or is it a key to societal belonging and validation? In other words, could it be that love is no more than a social construct?
Is Love a Rational Decision?
We tend to think of love in terms of overwhelming emotion, as this all-consuming sensation that goes beyond the realm of the rational mind. Even in our languages, we seldom refer to love in literal terms. No one will declare to have "decided to love", but rather to have "fallen in love". Nor do we offer concrete reasons for our love; we prefer to solely attribute it to "that certain feeling". Yet how much of our love is truly that irrational?
There is this sense of typicality in romantic relationships: to declare love is to take upon yourself the 'duties' of a significant other. And, for force supposedly so irrational, there is this structural element to the way people form romantic relationships. Even the concept of 'dating', of planned weekly outings, while in a romantic relationship itself a 'typicality', common to almost every romantic relationship.
This leads me to question whether love is a social construct that preserves reproduction and social order. Love birthers matrimony and matrimony birthers family. Family is a structural pillar that provides order to the function of society. Therefore, we could even go on to argue that our society is structurally based on love. At least subconsciously, we do choose love on a social level, in the sense that love and romantic attachment is deemed an integral element not only of the satisfaction of one's sexual needs (which does entail the innate element), but also of societal existence. This societal and structural element to love, can only mean that, to an extent, we do think of love in rational terms, in terms of societal expectations and existence.
Love Outside The Context of a Relationship
We often regard romantic relationships as the ultimate expression of love. However, could it be that relationships are just another piece of rationality, somewhat of a formal structure for love? In reality, the structure of a relationship is more rigid, more 'typical' than we like imagine. In entering a romantic relationship, we are making a formal commitment of love, time and affection to another person. In other words, we are taming the sensation of love into a formal structure.
And that's not to say structure in a relationship is a remotely bad thing. Whether we like to accept it or not, after the beginning spark dies off, we must integrate the other person into the mundane of our life, and the intimacy of doing is arguably, more romantic than any grand gesture. However, how willing are we to acknowledge the formality of our romantic relationships? To admit to ourselves that it's time to amalgamate rationality and sensation: to consciously accept another person into the structure of our life. We try as long and as hard as possible to remain ignorant to the structural and practical elements of love.
Our ignorant denial of the social and structural elements of love is even more evident in the way we perceive love outside the context of the typical relationship. We do not deem love outside the traditional relationship viable or sustainable. We like to think of people who claim to love people they were never in serious relationships with hopeless romantics, or, if we've grown more cynical, ludicrous and absurd. We only think of love in terms of the typical relationship, which merely accentuates the idea that love is more rational, more of a social construct than we like to think of it being.
To Love or To Be Loved?
Understanding the reality behind love comes down to asking a single question: why do we seek love in the first place? It's from there that we get to the question of whether we can ever truly love somebody. Can we put our egoism aside and give our all to someone? Can we love selflessly and unconditionally?
The way I see it, we seek love because it makes us lovable. We want to see ourselves through the eyes of someone capable of loving us, because we are so incapable of doing so ourselves. We want to be painted ideal, to be seen by someone without the flaws we fear we have. Could it be that the pursuit of love is not of a person, but of love itself? We search into the insight into ourselves we know is overdue but are afraid to delve into. We love to be loved.
Don't get me wrong, this is not to say that love cannot be beautiful, or pure, or unconditional, for that matter. But there's more to it. We don't love for the sake of it. As we don't do anything for the sake of it.
What I'm getting at is that everyone seems to share that vain lust to be loved. Through the greatest wounding of the heart, our weakest moments, we all seek the comfort of the arms of another. Fazed by what I can only call chiding innocence, we assume it is possible that another's love is the glue that can mend the broken pieces together. However, this naive yearning of the soul seems to overlook the reality of the loneliness of human nature. We’re born alone. We die alone. But loneliness isn’t a bad thing. Nature knows best. We’re born desolate for a reason. Because it is with our own tears we best liberate ourselves from the barriers of within. It is with our own touch that we best then wipe those very tears off our face. It is only our own mind that understands how we feel and it is in our own thoughts we can seek the comfort we ultimately need. And most undoubtedly of all, it is in our own body, where we find home.
This article is not to say that there is no such thing as true love. Rather, all I'm trying to do is to consider love more for what it is. We have somehow been led to view the rationality and practicality of love as somewhat of a 'taboo'. However, to be happy in love, we must be conscious of it in its entirety. By completely diminishing love to an irrational sensation, we relinquish control over it. To embrace rationality in love is to assert your power over your fate, to make your voice heard in the narrative of your life.