Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Romantic Impulse

Original Posting

There is an impulse that drives us to want to be seen by another person. To have another person look at us and have a definition of us in their minds. We want to exist in their eyes, we want to have our presence acknowledged. More so, we wish to be significant, we want to find someone who will regard us as a significant part of the universe. Why do we want this? I suspect that it has something to do with what I talked about in my last Sunday Bullshit: all value is created by people. True, we can value ourselves, but we also want to be valued by another. We want someone outside of ourselves to say that we are important.

We want another person to step in and say, “yes, I value you. Yes, you are important. Yes, you are significant.”

“Yes, I love you.”

This impulse, the impulse to find someone who will value you, is one of the single most powerful motivators for the human character. This is often expressed sexually, but even apart from all sexuality I think that the impulse can exist. It is related to, but distinct from, the desire for sex.

How do we make sense of the world except through value? We, each of us, creates his or her own subjective world by taking our perception of the world as is, and then coloring it with our preferences and values. If our subjective world contains nothing that we find worth pursuing, nothing that we enriching, we find ourselves in a state of boredom and ennui. We, therefore have a desire to find something that we can pour ourselves into. Something that we can value, something that can occupy our mind, and drag us out of our complacency. This is the desire to love. The desire to value.

By and large it is quite difficult to find oneself valued meaningfully. This seems to be because we fall into one or two conditions: we either value very few people in such a way or we value many people in such a way. To be valued by one who is capable of valuing many, it does not seem a great matter to be loved by them. This is often the case with a group of friends, where it is difficult to feel any friendship to be particularly weighty if one is surrounded by many friendships. In the case of people who value very few people, it is difficult for most people to find a way to occupy such an elite position. This is usually the case when we talk about exclusive, romantic love: it is a matter of occupying a very elite spot in someone's life, of being valued in a very unique way.

Once in this state, we become full of jealousy and insecurity, because we dread the thought of losing such a position in a person's life, or worse, having our position reversed and becoming an object of loathing for them.

In order to get through life, it is necessary to hold only one-dimensional summary perspectives of most people in our minds; imagine if you had to view everyone you meet as a full and complete human being, it would be far too taxing. We have a limited number of people that can become real to us, a limited number of people that we can perceive as being complex, multi-layered characters. If you view someone in this deeper way, you have already begun to value them; likewise if you are viewed by someone in the way, you have already begun to be valued by them ('value' in this case being distinct from love).

There comes a point at which we wish to know a person more deeply. Not just their positive traits, either, no we want real flesh here. We want to know flaws as well as qualities. We flesh them out, we develop a perspective of them, and we allow a version of them to exist, writ large, in our subjective world. We begin putting stock in their opinion, because only by saying that their opinion is an important matter can we say that their opinion of us is likewise an important matter. We put stock in them. We build them up. We make them important.

And all we can hope is that, upon making them so important, they will turn and regard us as important as well. That we will be able to enter into a state of mutual valuing. The state of love.

It becomes tempting to lie at this point. We grow fearful that, upon being seen, we will be discarded as unsuitable. There is no satisfaction to be found if we give into this impulse, however, as it will invalidate whatever perspective they have of us, as we would know that it is an artificial creation rather than our genuine character. The only way to experience the full satisfaction of having another person value you so deeply is by allowing yourself to be exposed before them. This, in turn, leads to a certain dread and anxiety, as one is offering oneself to the other for judgment and fearing that one will not be adequate. Taking a shortcut and using falsehood, though, will make it impossible to achieve the full experience.

Upon entering the state of love, the state of mutual significance, one gets a feeling of rightness. A feeling of flourishing. One feels that their life, their subjective world, has been blessed, been made richer. This is why romance is often held to be intoxicating, one's outlook on the world is altered. The Other becomes a reference point for evaluating the world. And once the Other becomes so large to you, it becomes terrifying to even imagine leaving that state of love.

This is why some will go to such drastic lengths to remain in that state, and why it is difficult to exit the state and simply move onto another. In order to experience the richness and satisfaction of such a state, one must spend some time building up the Other's importance and significance. Simply leaving and moving onto another makes our own value judgments appear cheap. For this reason, for the sake of preserving the legitimacy of our own will and values, we will often go to extreme lengths to be with the one we have already built up in our subjective world.

So, there we have it, for week two, my account of how people come to value each other and forge a strong connection. That is my account of romantic love: a matter of people coming to make each other important in their own subjective world, of coming to regard another person as being worthy of being a reference point in our own evaluations of the world and life.

No doubt, the blog itself surely failed to be romantic.

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