“that state which we call ‘being in love’; or, if you prefer, that kind of love in which lovers are ‘in’ ….In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself…” – C.S. Lewis
“What is it to be?”; this is one of philosophy’s greatest questions and it takes up the heading known as ‘metaphysics’. The second is like unto it: What it to be in love? The second question will be the focus of this reflection.
How does something as enigmatic as a romantic relationship come about?
A. Perhaps this is due to a sense of entitlement; the thought that romance will be served up to us when we are good and ready to take it. This approach to romance is put on display by the use of applications such as “Tinder”:
(i) You create a profile and you are presented with potential matches. If you consider their profile presentation to represent good potential, you swipe right. Rejecting someone is as easy as a swipe to the left.
(ii) This approach assumes the idea that “what you see is what you get”. Any form of social media can be potentially similar (unless you just add people in whom you’re already well-acquainted). But in Tinder, the idea is that you don’t know the other (that is, the potential ‘beloved’) personally. It’s a means of going outside the familiar because familiarity hasn’t been good to you.
(iii) Just how far outside of the familiar does this take you? Remember Tinder presents quasi-profiles with digital images of the potential beloved. There still remains a good amount of ‘space’ between you and these digitally imaged quasi-profiles of the potential beloved. Is it truly possible to gain a sufficient amount of information through these presentations to come to the conclusion that you could qualify them as the potential beloved?
(iv) Obviously, they are not their Tinder profiles. It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the person is only being represented, and they are not really and truly there on the screen; just like you are not equivalent to your reflection in the mirror. But didn’t we just conclude that Tinder wants you to believe what you see is what you get? Don’t they want you to believe that just a little bit?
(v) But it may be that we already knew all of that. We agreed to sign up, recognizing the risks involved. We will hold on to the belief that “what you see is what you get” provisionally. We agree to this because we know that Tinder puts us behind the same veil. We don’t have to be truly exposed to the judgement of the potential beloved, at least not yet. We’ll wait until we know more about them until they can know more about us. We will redact until they decide that they trust us enough. We will take the unfamiliar and keep it as familiar as we can. We don’t want to be exposed in the way romance demands, at least not until they expose themselves to us
B. It’s very difficult to provide an explanation for the development of a romantic relationship, for no one has an objective view of it. The fact is, “God only knows.”
(i) On the face of it, it seems like an objective view of romance could be obtained. Sure, those within the relationship may have trouble defining it. After all, we have an acronym that encourages potential couples to “define the relationship (DTR)”. However, that assumes the existence of a relationship to be defined (or RtbD, for those obssessed with acronymns). Usually we don’t DTR our friends, nor do we DTR our family members. Wouldn’t it be awkward if someone you considered your best friend DTR’d you? In any case, we don’t have any definitive answers as to how a romantic relationship develops. So the participants in the RtbD may not have an objective view.
(ii) Wouldn’t the outsider’s perspective be objective? After all, they can observe the way in which some person becomes co-attracted with another. I’m a bit skeptical about the observant as well.
(1) The passive obervant doesn’t have access as to why either party loves the other
(2) There can be a cynicism that distorts the persepctive of the passive observant,
As to (1), our patience toward a friend’s beloved probably will not extend as much as our friend’s patience. How is it they deal with all of their beloved’s pet peeves? How is it they can endure all of the hardships that come with particular personality of the beloved? She wouldn’t let him hang out with his friends for just one evening when she has all the rest; how does he put up with that? He kept calling over and over when she was out with her friends for lady’s night; When is she going to set some clear boundaries? She spends too much money on, well, whatever it is women spend a lot of money on! He literally just spent $60 bucks to buy that video game!! Such is the nature of romantic love: It pursues the beloved, the beautiful and the ugly. In all their glory, and in all their sin. It isn’t just the warm-fuzzies; it’s also the nitty-gritty.
As to (2); it relates to (1). We can’t see what the lover sees. We aren’t with the beloved as much as the lover is. In our eyes, the pair are absurd. However, the cynicism originates from more than just our ignorance. It can originate from envy. If one is single (whether divorced, widowed, or never married) and desires to change their status, then we could perceive the romantic relationships of others as if they were mocking our singleness. The frustration that singles have may be something they do not wish to acknowledge. Instead, they see the frustration as originating from the romantic pair. The romantic pair, they may think, is naive. “Can’t they go elsewhere?” “Those two are so needy, they can’t go one place without dragging the other one along. I mean really, have you seen them apart for 5 minutes? ” Perhaps they do acknowledge their frustration with singleness and wonder why their friends won’t consider their state before parading, as it were, the fact that they are in love. But one doesn’t have to be single to be envious of the romance of another pair. Maybe they don’t believe in their own romance, and when they see the romance of another, they see ghosts of what they used to be.
So in (1) they don’t have an objective view because they don’t have access to the subjective views of the romantic pair. In (2) their envy and bitterness cuts of any access they may have had. The passive observers withdraw from trying to understand, because it will be painful for them.
C. Romantic love is something that most (if not all) of us desire, yet, it is very difficult to admit that we desire it. It is mysterious in many different ways and for many different reasons. If one gives an explanation for love, it will be limited to the subjective experiences of those who are in “the kind of love that lovers are in” or the subjective experience of the outsider. Both can offer true things about the romance, but still, only God has the full picture. We know romance exists objectively, because the two lovers share in one experience
D. Is there a reason for romance that goes beyond the love in which lovers share? Probably not.
(i) Sure you consider them to be physically attractive. But you don’t love them simply on the basis of their outward appearance. That would be shallow
(ii) You love their personalities. But what if they develop a mental condition which has the potential to alter their personalities once every few days, weeks, months, or years? You learn that you don’t love them simply for their pleasant personalities
(iii) You love that they act decisively and firmly; yet with humility and the love for the image of God in others. But you don’t love them based on their performance
It’s like one lover asking “Why do you love me?” to another. The only reason that can be given is circular “I love you because I love you.”
The question remains to be answered: “What is it to be in love?
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, – John Donne