The structure and nature of romantic love has been a research interest of mine for a while now. While at Penn, I worked with a professor of Philosophy on issues of moral psychology; specifically, we focused on reactive attitudes and the framework associated with them as a way of analyzing different emotions and attitudes like resentment, guilt, indignation, contempt, and hope.
One of the emotions that was generally disturbingly understudied in the entire field was romantic love. Save a handful of papers on the matter, romantic love didn't generate nearly the interest of resentment, forgiveness, and guilt. Considering how important romantic love is to so many conceptions of the good life, it struck me as odd that philosophers -- oftentimes derided for being aloof from the real world -- did not devote more attention to the matter.
There are some reasons that I suspect motivate this understudying that I will elaborate on in a later post, but where it has been studied, it is either too abstract (i.e., analyzing love with symbolic logic and from a purely scientific viewpoint) or too contextual (i.e., studying love entirely through literature, or doing so through self-help).
Given this dearth of good information, I am always on the lookout for good literature that treats the matter as both fully human and as entirely serious. Nathaniel Branden (whose work on self-responsibility and self-esteem I've glossed over here), a psychotherapist by training and marriage counselor through his trade, developed a work in 1980 titled The Psychology of Romantic Love. While far from being a formal work of moral psychology, Branden's book outlines some of the necessary and sufficient conditions for love, the history of love, the challenges of love, and recounts many of the interactions he's had through his counseling and own life (surprisingly enough, the book does a great job of not falling into a work of self-help and stays fairly cut-and-dry).
I wish to devote (much) greater attention to the subject of the moral psychology of romantic love in the future. For now, here are some quotations from Branden's book that I found insightful:
Romantic love is a passionate spiritual-emotional-sexual attachment between a man and a woman that reflects a high regard for the value of each other's person. (Introduction, pg. xxiii)
The ideal of romantic love stands in opposition to much of our history, as we shall see. First of all, it is individualistic. It rejects the view of human beings as interchangeable units, and it attaches the highest importance to individual differences as well as to individual choice. Romantic love is egoistic, in the philosophical, not on the petty, sense. Egoism as a philosophical doctrine holds that self-realization and personal happiness are the moral goals of life, and romantic love is motivated by the desire for personal happiness. Romantic love is secular. It is union of physical with spiritual pleasure in sex and love, as well as in its union of romance and daily life, romantic love is a passionate commitment to this earth and to the exalted happiness that life on earth can offer. (Chapter 1, The Evolution of Romantic Love, pg. 2)
It is implicit in the metaphysics of Romanticism -- that is, its view of the nature of life, the world, human nature, and the possibilities of human existence -- that we can find the deepest explanation of its impact on culture and on cultural ideals and expectations. (Chapter 1, The Evolution of Romantic Love, pg. 25)
To love a human being is to know and love his or her person. This presupposes the ability to see, and with reasonable clarity. ... To argue that love is blind is to maintain that no real and deep affinities of a kind that inspire love can really exist between persons. (Chapter 1, The Evolution of Romantic Love, pg. 36)
People who do not experience self-love have little capacity to experience love of others. (Chapter 1, The Evolution of Romantic Love, pg. 42)
Perhaps the essence of our evolution as human beings is to keep answering, on deeper and deeper levels, the basic question: Who am I? We answer that question, we define ourselves, through the acts of thinking, of feeling, and of doing -- of learning to take more and more responsibility for our existence and well-being -- and of expressing through our work and through our relationships more and more of who we are. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 49)
The tragic irony of people's lives (this point can hardly be stressed enough) is that the very attempt to deny aloneness results in denying love. Without an "I" who loves, what is the meaning of love? (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 51)
[L]ove is more than an emotion; it is a judgment or evaluation and an action tendency. Indeed, all emotions entail evaluations and action tendencies. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 51)
As an orientation, love represents a disposition to experience the loved being as the embodiment of profoundly important personal values -- and, as a consequence, a real or potential source of joy. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pgs. 52-53)
Children need to find joy in their world, joy in various activities, joy in different aspects of their physical surroundings, and the promise of joy in association with other human beings. The child is an active force, not merely a passive recipient. The child's need to love can be as powerful as -- if not more powerful than -- the need to receive love. And this becomes no less true as we mature. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 57)
[T]he desire to perceive our self as an entity in reality, to experience the perspective of objectivity through and by means of the reactions and response of other human beings. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 66)
[W]e wish to be loved for specific reasons. And if another professes to love us for reasons that do not bear any relation to our self-perceptions or values or standards, we do not feel gratified, we do not even feel really loved, because we do not feel visible; we do not feel that the other person is responding to us. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 70)
The purpose of romantic love is, among other things, to celebrate self-esteem -- not to create it in those who lack it. (Chapter 2, The Roots of Romantic Love, pg. 72)
[F]earing the effort, the responsibility, the integrity, the courage that such rational selfishness and self-value require, we may begin the process of giving up our soul before it is even fully formed, surrendering aspirations, surrendering happiness, surrendering values, not to some tangible beneficiary but to a nameless, unidentified lethargy or apprehension. (Chapter 3, Choice in Romantic Love, pg. 87)
Many people live automatically; they live off past thinking and past perceptions and past learnings. Hence life loses its freshness very early. Enthusiasm dies quickly. Passion dies quite soon. They have turned themselves more or less into machines, and as machines, they speak with great authority on the fact that inevitably passion is short-lived, as inevitably romantic love must die, as inevitably all enthusiasm must flag. Their delusion is that they are speaking about reality; the truth is that they are speaking about themselves. (Chapter 4, The Challenges of Romantic Love, pg. 138)
To love selfishly does not mean to be indifferent to the needs or interest of the partner. To say it once more: when we love, our concept of our self-interest expands to embrace the well-being of our partner. That is the great compliment of love: to declare to another human being that his or her happiness is of selfish importance to ourselves. (Chapter 4, The Challenges of Romantic Love, pg. 151)
To love selflessly is a contradiction in terms. (Chapter 4, The Challenges of Romantic Love, pg. 152)
I will be reconstructing Branden's conception of romantic love in a future post.