Monday, 20 May 2013

Practical Love

There is one good reason to assume that there's a mistake made in how we commonly think of romantic love, even before any arguments are discussed: it's not very successful at delivering what it promises. The promises behind romantic love vary--happiness, fulfilment, to 'feel complete', to make the world a brighter place, and so on and so on--and these things are occasionally achieved, but mostly it just seems to frustrate people, make them act rather strange, and lead to a lot of upset and feelings of unworthiness. When there is an in-congruency like this between the intention and the actuality, something has gone wrong somewhere. The question is, what and where?
"It’s doubly unnatural when the system is based not on rational ideas like good character, similar outlooks and whether or not she owns the next door farm, but on a fluttering change in the brain chemistry that some neuroscientists would say is a form of temporary insanity."
-Ed West on romantic love. See more here 

 Mr West thinks the problem is that people base their decision of who to love on chemicals rather than practicals. It's a common criticism of love--that it's just silly chemicals, but unfortunately it doesn't hold. The chemical reaction responds to ideas the person already holds about who to love. It's not just random firing of dopamine and oxytocin triggered by no cognitive process at all, otherwise we'd have less women falling for swarve, charismatic men, and more people in relationships with toasters, or homeless people, or whatever else would have more odds at being present during a random chemical spray. Indeed, ideas also are needed to interpret the chemicals as love and not something else, as we do feel these chemicals in other contexts such as roller-coaster rides and so on.

If people don't do love practically, that isn't the fault of chemicals, then, but the fault of some bad idea people have about who to love, how to love, and why to love.  And... maybe most importantly, when to love.

One such mistake might be elucidated through looking at the meaning of the word 'practical'.
Of, relating to, governed by, or acquired through practice or action, rather than theory, speculation, or ideals
 One thing that seems true of the bad ideas about love is that they're rather presumptuous. Person A meets person B and, based on the idea that they perceive them to have certain lovable (to them) character traits, falls in love, but without actually checking if they *really* have those character traits or if it was just a good first impression. Or person A meets person B and, seeing how well they get along--they have so much chemistry!--decides this means they'd get along with one another really well probably if they spent every other day together for the foreseeable future. Or person A really like person B for a year, probably they'd like them just as much til death do they part.

This problem goes even deeper, however, in that it ignores not just misunderstandings you might have about the external world (them), but also ones about the internal (you).

There's a lot of deciding 'how something should be' before one really has experience of it in romantic love, and by definition, this isn't very 'practical'. People should be more easy-going about it. More open to surprises. More open to turning out to be wrong. And less often love based on guesswork of what sort of person can make you happy over and above the reality of what makes them happy... in practice.

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