It seems TJ and I have become interested in exploring this whole notion of romantic love together.
As you might suspect, it occasionally works like this: First, she has an extraordinary insight. Then, with impressive tact, she takes care to phrase the insight as a graceful, non-dogmatic question about herself or me.
Naturally, I then respond in the most sensitive and caring manner possible by reflexively kicking into my extremely annoying testosterone-driven Mr. Male “I will save you” role.
“Stand back, O Lady Love! There’s no need to worry about the saber tooth tiger over there! Why, I’ll just solve that little problem in a jiffy!”
Whereupon I proceed to do battle with the problem in the most alarmingly graceless manner, getting nearly eaten in the process, while TJ pretends admiration and struggles to keep a straight face.
Finally I settle down enough that we can discuss the matter as colleagues. And that’s when the real fun begins of having a friend like TJ — a friend who’s going through the same feelings as yourself — and who is, among other things, kind, honest and insightful.
Romantic love never lasts forever — except in the hopes and dreams of teenagers — and so someday the feelings TJ and I are experiencing for each other will wear off. I suspect if the two of us are both fortunate and wise, we will then become better friends for having gone through this thing together. I would like that to happen not because of my present feelings for her, but because she is a good person, and she will endure as a good person long after any romantic feelings have faded.
It seems to me romantic love is a bit like fire. If TJ and I are intentionally or unintentionally foolish in how we deal with our love, we will surely get burnt. But if we somehow manage to deal wisely with our love, it holds for us powers of light and warmth.
Now, there are at least two ways of looking at romantic love. You can look at the biology of it, which Helen Fisher is doing, or you can look at the philosophy of it, which I’ll touch on briefly here. But I should caution you: Those two ways of looking at romantic love do not entirely match up.
Philosophically, the core idea underlying romantic love is the notion the beloved is an unique individual who cannot be replaced by anyone else, and who is, or ought to be, loved for who they are as a person. For example: You don’t love your wife because she is your wife, you love her because she is herself. Put differently, there are no other TJs in this world — there is no one else exactly like her — and the art and discipline of loving her consists to some significant degree in supporting, cherishing, and affirming her as a person in her own right.
When the notion of romantic love arrived in Europe around, as I recall, 1200 A.D. it was revolutionary and subversive of the social order. Consequently, the Church condemned it. But it nevertheless survived, and I think that’s because — for all its flaws — it is indeed based on some profound truths about human nature.
Today, romantic love is no less subversive of the social order than it has always been. We in the West, however, have more or less surrendered to it, and our social order has to some great extent been changed to reflect that surrender. That’s less the case elsewhere. In India, for instance, the proto-fascist Hindu Nationalists periodically condemn romantic love, oppose such evidences of it as Valentine’s Day, and even burn down greeting card shops. They see it as subversive of the family and the social order. And, in a signifcant way, they are right. Romantic love asserts the value of the individual — the value of the beloved as an unique person — over and above the value of his or her role in society. Anytime you do that, you create the potential to subvert the social order.
That, in brief, is the philosophy of romantic love. How does it match up with the biology? Not very closely in some ways. I think the philosophy is more inspired by the biology than led by it. We know from Fisher and other scientists how the feelings or emotions of romantic love don’t last forever. But the philosophy, of course, is something that can be applied long after the feelings wear off. Nothing — no biology — prevents me from cherishing TJ as a person for the rest of my life.
Like most of us, I’ve been in love before and will be in love again. But no matter how many people I love in my life, there has never been — nor will there ever again be — another TJ. Like all of us, she’s an unique and special person. If I somehow manage to be wise in my love of her, then I will love her and not my feelings towards her. That, after all, is one of the more subtle implications of the philosophy of romantic love.