Introductory Chapter Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Identify the need for analysis of the concept of love.
- Explain the initial criteria the author proposes for identifying love.
- Compare and contrast the differences between a rational approach and other common approaches to discussing love and its characteristics.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to see how others define love.
The main point of this book will be that two people can be said to love each other when they, to some fair extent (or, in general)
(1) have feelings of attraction toward each other,
(2) satisfy (or enjoy) each other, particularly in areas of psychological importance (or meaningfulness), and
(3) are good for each other.
Love is stronger when:
(1) the feelings of attraction are stronger and/or occur more frequently,
(2) the satisfactions (or enjoyments) are greater and/or more frequent, or
(3) the two people are better for each other, or
(4) any two or three of the above are true —all this without there being an equal or greater decline in one or more of the other categories.
The remainder of this book will explain these categories (feelings, enjoyments, and ethics) and their interrelationships more fully; it will explain why looking at love this way is a useful, accurate, and explanatory way of looking at loving, and other, relationships; and it will examine many of the past inaccurate, ignorant, and/ or harmful things that have been said about love and about other kinds of relationships, things which are still harming and confusing people today.
My approach to this subject is meant to be rational and logical, analytic and scrutinizing, not mystical, religious, poetic, or psychoanalytic. I will try to show clear and logical reasoning supporting my theories. Logic and emotions are not totally incompatible; though logic cannot be understood emotionally, emotions can be understood (in various degrees) and discussed logically.
Many clergymen, or fundamentally religious people, think people’s intellect is limited in some of the areas I will address and that people should stick to the work and will of God in those areas as explained, say, in the Bible. But apart from even getting into questions about the origin and/or truth of the Bible, let me state here that religious interpretations of the Bible are often simply rationalizations of the interpreter’s preconceived ideas anyway, often focusing on highly selective passages, or parts of passages, that give evidence for the interpreter’s point while ignoring their contexts or while ignoring those other passages which might contradict that point. This enterprise makes use (or misuse) of intellect anyway. If the Bible is clear, no interpretations or explanations of it would be necessary. If it is not so clear, then explanation of it will rely on people’s intellect every bit as much as logic and philosophy do. The fallibility of human intellect is not the sole province of secular humanists, philosophers, or scientists. To me, the reasonableness of what is said is more important for determining its truth, probability, or plausibility than its source of inspiration, and it is to people who sympathize with that approach for whom this book will have meaning, even where they disagree with what I say for reasons they will be able to produce themselves.
Now it is impossible to give a complete list and criticism of ignorant or erroneous things said about love or about aspects of relationships, such as the sexual aspect. It seems there is something new, or something old resurrected in new form, every time you hear a new speaker or read a new work on the topic. On television one night, a born-again Christian made the correct observation that one’s being in the mood for sex did not therefore give him or her a license for immediate sex, even with a spouse, if the spouse was not in the mood and could not subtly be put into the mood [or, if I might add, there were some other reason it might be inappropriate].
However, the speaker erroneously drew or implied the conclusion that one could only gain such an insight into sexual morals by loving Christ and accepting Him into your life as personal savior. Only through being a Christian, and definitely by being a Christian, he was sure, could one learn to control one’s sexual desires and learn to respect one’s mate’s feelings. Surely though, this is false, since many have such knowledge and respect without accepting fundamentalist Christian doctrine and since there are many sexually ignorant or insensitive persons who do accept Christ as their savior, and who might cite 1 Corinthians 7:3,4 to prove sex on demand or request is a duty: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.”
Disagreeing with the above speaker is not to deny that sexual urges may sometimes be more easily put off when it is for values believed more important — such as religious values or principles. But that does not mean such sublimation or denial is always good or right, nor that it is always possible or easy, nor that there might not be causes, values, beliefs or reasons other than religious ones to help harness or better channel one’s sexual energy when that is appropriate. This particular speaker was justifiably attacking (what Rollo May calls) the “new Puritanism” (May, 1969, p. 45) which says you must always have sex when you or your partner want it, that performance is required for virtue, and that there is never any good reason not to have sex when the urge demands. But he seemed to want subtly to replace it with a form of the old Puritanism, not only showing selfish sexual activity in marriage to be improper, but also then sliding into other born-again Christian views such as the claim that even consenting sex between unmarried persons, is wrong or bad. The old Puritanism and the new Puritanism support the adage that a physics teacher of mine once said seemed to be a law of (human) nature: if something is not forbidden, it will probably be required. I hope that the analysis in this book, along with the examples of errors I do point out, will enable the readers be better able to detect on their own those errors I do not either mention or foresee.
It seems that despite the large number and high popularity of books and of magazine and newspaper articles concerning love and personal relationships, few people seem to have very feasible and reasonable ideas about the subject. There are probably at least three reasons for this: (1) too little thought at all by some people about relationships; (2) a high percentage of error in what is written; and (3) poor analysis of what is written and said.
Concerning (3), poor analysis: often this is due to hasty and unreflective reading; and it is easy to find even quite intelligent people who, after just having read a book they claim to “like”, can do little to tell you what specifically it said or what the author’s main ideas were, let alone whether they were reasonable or not. Enjoying or liking a book seems often to be related more to enjoying the author’s style than to analyzing it for truth or reasonableness. There is little analysis or growing body of constructive dialogue building on what is written. I would hope that people who read this book would rationally analyze and respond to it, so that a rational and constructive popular dialogue could begin with knowledge in this area then progressively growing.
Concerning (1), there are some who do not read or think about love or personal relationships at all—those who say there is nothing to think about, that nature will take its course or that when you meet the one you love, you will know it and you will then know what love is. (I hope such people do not meet the one they first love after drinking curdled milk; it would be terrible to go through life mistaking nausea or ptomaine for romance.) But given the number of relationships that come to an unhappy ending, and given the numbers of people who thought they were once in love but now are not sure they ever were, that answer seems hardly true; and at any rate, it is unenlightening to those with questions. I think we can do much better. For there are a number of questions that people have, such as how to tell whether a particular attraction is love or infatuation or whether it is just physical or just good friendship, or whether it is the result of, or dependent upon, some unusual, perhaps temporary, circumstance such as loneliness, rebound, grief, frustration, tension, anxiety, or disappointment. (At college, it always seems so many couples fall in love or “find” each other just before final exam time that it could hardly be just coincidence. Is then the probable future durability of these romances something to consider with suspicion?) And many people still consider physical contact, however innocent or harmless (such as kissing or hand-holding), and its relationship to love to be a problem— wondering whether one ought to love the one kisses or sleeps with or dates repeatedly, wondering whether there are any good reasons to marry first before sex of any degree or even to love first, wondering just how marriage and love should be related, if at all, wondering whether there are any reasons to have any kind of physical contact of a romantic sort or any reasons not to have such physical contact with any particular person at a particular time (even spouses) or not. These are just a few questions many people have, often (as a student of mine once said) particularly when a relationship that was important to them has just ended badly.
However, I once had one student who seemed typical of many people who do not, or who do not want to, question anything about relationships and who often stifle inquiry by those who do. She said: “Why should I worry about it? My dating has been all right.” Perhaps her dating or love life will always be all right. Perhaps she may never want to verbalize or intellectualize about just what makes it so. Perhaps, in matters of personal relationships, she has a sixth sense or a natural ability, like a “natural” athlete or musician who can perform well but who does not know how or why, at least not on a verbal level. Alternatively, perhaps she has just been lucky…so far.
Or perhaps she is mistaken. Perhaps her relationships are not so good as she believes. Perhaps she tends to not see the parts that are not so good, particularly the parts that may not be so good for the other person. Or perhaps she tends to simply not notice or just to forget about relationships or parts that aren’t quite so good or so meaningful. Or perhaps she notices them but dismisses them as not worth worrying about because she thinks they are a natural part of life—not anything to trouble over and not anything that can be solved. She might feel that you cannot love everybody or get along well with everybody, or that even in the best relationships, problems arise, but that is nothing to cause any great concern. Perhaps she is somewhat dissatisfied and does not even know it or know why or think there is anything that can be done about it. Dissatisfaction can be so constant or so prevalent that it seems normal, or even ideal. Comic Sam Levensen said of his mother’s Jewish cooking (lots of onions and/or garlic) that it was not until he went to college that he learned heartburn was not normal. How many women not too long ago thought sex was not supposed to be enjoyable for them, and that if they did enjoy it, something was therefore wrong with them? How many people live the poet’s “lives of quiet desperation”, never even realizing that life shouldn’t be that way and that there is something that could be done about it. I believe that though much of love springs “from the heart” (from emotions), it is often or usually important to understand the heart (emotions) so that it will not run away with your head. Often, such understanding will even prevent a heart from being unnecessarily and regrettably broken. Emotions are only a part, not the whole, of what makes behavior reasonable and right.
Concerning (2), many books and articles flood the market, but few are good. Many of the newspaper and magazine articles and columns, for reasons of quick entertainment or limitations of space, give brief, cryptic, and often preconceived, purely fashionable answers to people’s problems about which the authors may not even have sufficient relevant facts to offer sound advice. Few give the reasons or evidence for the reasonableness or wisdom of their views.
With regard to books, even serious books, many start with some notion of people based on a general psychological theory of their nature—often a notion that is so problematic, suspicious or general to begin with that it is difficult to tell whom it fits, if anyone. These books then go on to expound a theory of relationships based upon that theory of human nature—rather than being gathered from experience—and insofar as experience does not fit the theory, it is ignored by the author, or is considered to be abnormal, aberrant, or irrelevant.
For example, some, trying to argue that sex without love is always dissatisfying (since people, unlike the lower animals, are emotional creatures “needing” love) point to many different people for whom this might be true, and either ignore the people and cases where it at least appears not to be true, or perhaps dismiss them as having only ephemeral physical pleasures, or the pleasures of a neurotic who mistakes physical satisfaction for the true contentment of love which he or she is unwilling and/or unable to seek or to give. Others may argue that since people are just animals in regard to physical pleasures and since sex is a physical pleasure, that there then needs to be no overriding emotion nor binding commitment behind it. These authors then dismiss as simple, culturally conditioned victims, people who cannot just enjoy sex for fun and physical pleasure alone. But neither type of account is reasonable about, or fair to, the subjects who do not fit the theory. Neither is being helpful to most people in explaining what sort of aspect sex is in a relationship. And neither is being very helpful in explaining the relationship of sex to passion, emotion, happiness, or the good in life.
The first fails to recognize that ephemeral pleasures are, after all, still pleasures and that few pleasures, even that of completing a great task, last long anyway. Of course, one can conjure up joy at their memory, but so can one conjure up joy at the memory of a particular affair, if it was in fact joyful and good or right — which is the question in the first place. The second fails to recognize that people have certain emotional, intellectual, and moral capacities that lower animals do not have, and that some of these capacities may, at least sometimes, have an important bearing on a person’s (otherwise physical) experiences. Though some animal behavior might be well for us to copy or return to, it is unlikely all of it is. I do not want to live in a cave, forego the use of tools, and continuously have to forage for food. Not even all natural human instincts are desirable. The fact we have animal instincts and are capable of animal pleasures does not necessarily mean those are the right instincts or pleasures to pursue. The case must be made not only that humans have instincts and the capabilities for experiencing certain pleasures, but that any particular instincts and pleasures at issue are good ones to pursue.
To deem a person neurotic solely on the basis of his/her pleasure in sex without love, or on the basis of his/her not having pleasure in sex without love, is to beg the question in a psychologically name-calling manner with little profit in understanding.
Also, the first theory has a further problem. For even if it is true that man needs love, it hardly necessarily follows that he therefore needs it with sex — any more than it follows he therefore needs it with dinner or with golf or with doing algebra, climbing mountains, or performing surgery. To need love is not necessarily to need it every minute, nor with every activity, nor with all sex, any more than to need nutrition means that one needs only nutritious food every minute, or that one cannot sometimes abstain from food or eat less nutritious foods on occasion just because they taste good and provide the ephemeral pleasures they do. I am not arguing here that sex is ever or always good or better without love or that love is never important for sex to be good. I only wish to say here that I think there are many more specific and intelligent ways to approach this area and many more (and more accurate) things we can (and will) say about the relationship of sex and love, and the relationship of sex with other aspects of life, than that sex without love is empty because people are creatures that need love, or that sex without love is rewarding because people, like other animals, can have physical pleasure without emotional overtones or commitment.
There are also some works on the market concerning love and personal relationships that put great stock in what the ancients thought (without examining the arguments supporting those thoughts) or in the meaning of myths or words and phrases coined long ago and evolving over the centuries. But in the absence of any (independent) reason to believe the ancient Greeks (or whoever) were right about relationships, there is no more reason to accept any of their unsupported ideas about them than there is to accept their ideas about physics or medicine simply because they also held them. Even the “wisdom of the ages,” as enshrined in myths or the evolution of words, is not necessarily rational nor correct. Superstition, specific cultural values, philosophical theories, and religious beliefs creep into mythological tales and into language development and may themselves be irrational or incorrect. This is not to deny the potential value of looking at what the past has said about relationships, but only to advise against accepting it without scrutiny to make certain that it is correct or reasonable and not merely historically interesting.
Another popular theme is that people and their relationships should be governed by natural law; but only certain cases are chosen for which this is claimed to be applicable. Some writers condemn artificial birth control methods because they are not natural, yet most such writers do not condemn the use of (artificial) medicine in order to save lives (or to produce life, such as in artificial insemination) simply because it is artificial. Nor would many writers, I suspect, want us to live like primitive people or jungle animals as far as our living conditions or our eating or toilet habits and other everyday aspects of life are concerned. It is certainly not natural to eat food with silverware rather than hands, nor, I suspect, is it natural to cook food before eating it or refrigerate it to prevent spoilage, shower periodically with soap, live in comfortable, heated homes, use anesthetics in surgery, cultivate crops, or any of hundreds of things we do that are arguably far better than the natural alternatives would be. Certainly nature can be a great teacher, and certainly it is bad to go against some natural inclinations or instincts; but nature is not the only teacher, and the question is always whether any particular way of nature is better to be followed or to be modified or to be shed. Since we have justifiably left nature behind in many areas (medicine, for example), it can hardly be argued in any given case that nature’s way is the best just because it is nature’s way. And this is not even to use the available argument that it is human nature to be rational and to invent, discover, and use “artificial” things and methods in life and that, therefore the use of such things and methods is natural after all.
Other writers may not refer to a theory of people or the whole world of nature, yet refer to specific animal behavior to exemplify or argue a point about people. Rollo May, for example, in Love and Will speaks of the death of the drone bee after copulation and of the decapitation of the male praying mantis by his mate during copulation and her ensuing eating of his corpse as examples of what he considers to be a close connection — that between love and death. The fact that there are billions of animals, including humans, that do not act this way seems of little consequence to Dr. May.
In this book, I too will generalize sometimes about people, but with regard to the kinds of specific ideas that individual readers should easily be able to verify as to whether they accurately apply to themselves or not. I will also, in some cases, be writing about my own personal tastes or those of certain groups of people. I will try to make it clear when I am generalizing and when I am not; but I realize that is not always possible, since it is far too easy to unintentionally and incorrectly generalize about mankind from one’s own limited experience. However, apart from offering what I think are well- supported ideas about particular aspects of relationships, this book is meant to do three other things that are also of importance. The most significant is to offer a framework for looking at relationships— so that even if I am incorrect about any particular things I say about relationships the overall way of looking at relationships will still be most helpful to people. Second, I am trying to popularize looking at relationships and their components in a rational way by showing how, and by showing that much insight, perspective, and knowledge can be gained this way, often while looking at ordinary experiences open to all and common to many. Finally, I am trying to show the kinds of issues that I think need to be addressed, and the kinds of problems that need to be solved, even if my particular answers about them can be proven incorrect.
Concerning the framework that I will be presenting, though some of my particular ideas about relationships have changed since I first formulated my basic view on the subject, this framework has remained the same. It has helped me view and understand relationships more clearly and coherently, and it has helped me see what the possibilities, as well as the problems, are in relationships. By using this framework, I believe it is easier to spot, and often to solve, specific problems in relationships.
This does not mean that by using my framework all relationship or marital problems will be or can be solved. Knowing a problem is not necessarily the first step in solving it. Knowing one has some incurable disease is not the first step toward cure. There are many problems, whether in mathematics, medicine, history, crime, relationships, etc., that seem to have no reasonably attainable solution, even though the problem is well specified. If two people are incompatible in some way and neither is willing to change or to accept the other’s behavior as it is, it might be impossible for the relationship to continue as a fully active, loving one. Having a framework that helps one understand relationships better can help identify and solve problems, but it is no guaranty it will help identify and solve all of them.
What I mean by a rational approach to the subject is not just voicing unsupported opinion, but giving evidence for the things I say – evidence that is readily available to most people to verify or disconfirm. This does not, by the way, mean appealing unquestioningly to an authority, particularly one whose pronouncements seem to be at odds with experience. If my ideas are wrong, then there must also be something wrong with the reasons I give as evidence for them; and if progress is to be made in the area of relationships, people need to learn to show specifically just what is wrong with other people’s reasoning instead of just arbitrarily dismissing disagreeable conclusions and replacing them with unsupported opinions of their own. The rational approach to a topic does not mean just dismissing differing views — as one writer on another topic in a professional journal dismissed quite reasonable, substantial, and devastating criticisms of his work by others as being simply “contentious, wordy, and irresponsible” without responding to their specific criticisms.
In this book I will try to be as clear as possible, give as much evidence for my views as possible, and give evidence that everyone can understand, appreciate, and confirm or deny. I will also give numerous examples from everyday life, from literature, and from movies and television — not to prove my points with such examples, but to illustrate and further explain them. This is not a book that will require any special training or knowledge to read or to analyze. I doubt that I will ultimately be telling any new facts to people who have had normal experience with relationships, or given much thought to them; but I expect to be putting those facts into a new order and perspective that will shed previously unseen light on them and on the meaning they have for us in our relationships with others.
- Love can be analyzed and understood rationally even if it or the common concept of it involves emotions or feeling that are themselves not always rational.
- Love can be said to involve feelings, joys, and good ethical qualities.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What are the components of love?