Interpersonal Love, Falling in Love, & Being in Love II

Interpersonal Love, Falling in Love, & Being in Love II

Dennis Bradford

389 Posts



N.B.:  The following post is the second of a 7-post sequence on love.  Since I wrote them, I’ve revised them and put them together into Interpersonal Love, Falling in Love, and Being in Love.  Instead of reading the sequence here, I encourage you, if possible, to download it for free with no strings attached at:  If you do and are able to print it out, it’ll be easier to read on paper and you’ll be reading the final revisions.  I hope you’ll find it very helpful and I welcome your feedback.  Be well, Dennis

In the previous post (here) I quickly reviewed some of the chief ideas about love and some related ideas such as sexual desire from the western tradition.  (If you’ve not yet read it, I encourage you to do so before continuing with this post because there are some very stimulating, relevant ideas mentioned there.)

What is falling in love and how should we evaluate it?  After continuing the discussion from the last post, my answer follows.

Stendhal thought that passionate love is the only meaning to be found in life, which is a view to which some recent philosophers such as Robert Solomon (see his The Passions) have been attracted.  Stendhal’s ideal of love between a man and a woman blends passion-love, sympathy-love, vanity-love, and physical-love.  Even though he has nothing to say about what a happy marriage might be like, to enjoy passion-love is supposedly the greatest happiness available to humans.

What about feeling oneness with all nature and not just another human being?  That’s Schelling’s idea.  Somehow he thinks of God as separate from nature but also pervading all nature.  Divinity is the omnipresent One and the All.

For Hegel, absolute Spirit (God, Geist) somehow develops through history with the goal of becoming aware of its own nature (‘Bewusstsein’, self-awareness or self-comprehension), which is a complete understanding of consciousness.  In a love between equals, the lovers are life sensing life and the oneness they feel is real.  Ultimately, sexual love is just a developmental stage to be superseded as a kind of rational and yet spiritual love that is a driving force in which alienation is overcome, which was what Luther believed.

Coleridge thought that poetic imagination could be superior to reason as a cognitive device [Irving Singer, The Nature of Love, vol. 2, p. 419].  For Shelley, it’s most important to understand that people in love use their imaginations to unite or commune or merge with one another.  In sexual love, this overpowers the three complementary factors of sexual desire, the enjoyable sensation that comes from awareness of beauty, and goodwill or kindness.  He wasn’t only a poet but a panpsychic who thought that the world was always getting better.

These kinds of views owed much to Hume who emphasized the value of sympathy.  Although Hobbes thought everyone was selfish, Hume thought that all human beings had an innate disposition to be sympathetic and that that disposition provides the foundation for all morality.

Byron reacted against any kind of doctrine of love as “benign merging” [2, 428].  Reality is how things are and that’s quite different from how in our longing for oneness we would like them to be.  For example, no two lovers can survive the shipwreck of marriage to each other.

Is a happy love between two people who have fallen in love possible?  (Even if not, it seems certainly infrequent!)

Many Romantics were pessimistic and had a belief in “love-death.”  Many, like Goethe, valued love but thought true love may be impossible given our worldly imperfections.

Insofar as Romantic love depends upon imaginative processes, it’s in danger of simply being covert egoism, Romantic self-delusion [2, 296]. 

Like Hegel, Schopenhauer thought death was a complete loss of individuality.  For him, individuality is nothing but a delusion of the intellect.  Reason just objectifies the underlying “will” or life force that is the dynamic force that drives nature.  He reduces all kinds of love to the reproductive instinct. For Schopenhauer, nothing justifies existence itself [2, 447].  Like Augustine and Pascal, our search for happiness is in vain.

What’s the difference between being in love and falling in love? 

Correctly in my judgment, Ortega y Gasset considers falling in love to be madness, a kind of insanity or dysfunction [2, 363-4].  It’s like a self-induced hypnotic state in which one overvalues the beloved.  As Singer puts it, it’s “only a pathological substitute for truly being in love.”  (For a good literary description, read Ferlinghetti’s Her.) 

If so, that implicitly answers the question with which Part I began, the question about how we should think about falling in love.  When love feels like falling into a pit, it’s not love!  It’s insanity.  It’s mostly deluded teenagers or young adults – or so it seems to me – who think that, where ‘S’ stands for the someone who is beloved, if only S loves me will my life be meaningful.  This is nothing but an example of the someday syndrome, which is always delusional. 

Notice that falling in love never works for long.  Typically, it lasts for a few weeks or months and almost never more than a year or two.  The exhilaration from it, however, can become addictive, and that addiction can lead to serial monogamy in which one keeps chasing its associated emotional highs.

It cannot work for a simple reason:  there is no future fulfillment.  When the future arrives, it’s always the present moment, right now.  Belief in any version of the someday syndrome is always dysfunctional.  Fettered by time, we fail to appreciate the depth of the insight that, just as the past no longer is real, the future is not yet real.  As Eckhart Tolle repeatedly emphasizes, life is only ever lived in the present moment.

Stendhal had studied the philosophy of Destutt de Tracy who argued that, although married love has its origin in reproductive instincts, its complete development goes well beyond physical desires.  He wrote, “Love is friendship embellished by pleasure; it is the perfection of friendship” [2, 371]. 

Most philosophers throughout the centuries have taken friendship to be the paradigmatic kind of inter-human love.  In a marriage, it may happen that, while sexual and emotional desires fade, the friendship deepens.

Perhaps it should be noted that many major philosophers from the western tradition were not themselves married.  Consider, for example, this list:  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche.  Only 5 of them were married or, in effect, married; Augustine famously quit his.  In that sense, they were thinking beyond their experience, which is always dangerous. Also, of course, they were all men.

Anyone who struggles to think seriously about the nature of love must, if honest, be sympathetic to an entry in Emerson’s in which he could see the “inadquateness” of his own essay on love [2, 484].  If you think that I have the final word about it, you are deluded.

Nevertheless, I have fulfilled my self-appointed mission.  I’ve answered the question about “falling in love.”

What remains to answer is the question of the nature of “being in love.” 

Answering that clearly requires separating out our faculty of thinking or reasoning from the emotions (passions, feelings).  Hume famously argued, “that reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will” (Treatise, Book II, Section III.).  What a host of tangled ideas to clarify!

My intention is to write more in this blog about some of them.  In particular, the idea, or at least the ideal, of being in love is too important to think about carelessly. Click here to continue.

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