Why love is rational - English

The wise choice

By Aaron Ben-Ze'ev10.06.2014Culture and Society

Love might be irrational at times, but it is still the wisest option on the table for leading a happy and meaningful life.

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“Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you”, sang Elvis Presley in 1961. The common perception of romantic love is that it involves no small measure of foolishness and irrationality. We are all familiar with numerous songs and claims implying that foolishness is essential to romantic love. The partial, and seemingly egoistic, perspective of romantic love is seen as incompatible with the impartial, broad perspective of wisdom and rationality. Hence, Robert Burton claimed that “Love extended is mere madness.”

I believe that profound love is wise and rational since it is one of the best roads to personal flourishing. The main romantic problem today is not the absence of love, but how to keep it once you have found it. It is easy to find love these days; love is in the air and a greater number of people are enjoying it. However, it is difficult to establish and maintain profound love for a long time; one reason for this is that marriage, which is the main framework for long-term love, is in troubled waters, and there is not yet an established, solid alternative.

Superficial sex can be harmful

Dealing with this dilemma requires distinguishing between superficial and profound romantic experiences. Superficial romantic experiences are mainly based upon short-term passionate sexual attraction. Profound romantic experiences involve shared, valued activities that promote the lovers’ long-term flourishing. Much of the criticism of the foolish and irrational nature of love is only valid concerning superficial romantic experiences. Superficial sex can be harmful, especially when it is excessive. Profound love is highly positive for the agent’s flourishing and health. Achieving such love is, then, a most wise and rational activity.

Marriage is currently the prevailing framework for long-term romantic love (this has been the case only in the last 200 years or so). It is, however, unclear whether marriage, in its present form, is adequate for this purpose. Indeed, the marital framework is presently in great crisis. Divorce rates are high and marital satisfaction among many of those who stay married is low. Hence, the number of marriages has been declining, while divorces, unmarried couples and single-parent families are on the rise.

There are various socioeconomic reasons for this crisis; I will not discuss them here but will merely mention two basic reasons that pertain to the nature of romantic love: (a) the superficial and brief nature of passionate love, and (b) the abundance of alluring romantic alternatives:

(a) The prevailing ideal in current marital (and other committed) frameworks is that passionate love is essential for marriage and that the two spouses create a fused identity. This ideal has upgraded the value of marriage, but has also made marriages more volatile and uncertain, since passionate love and marriage do not go together like a horse and carriage. When marriage depends (exclusively) upon passionate love, which is subject to changes and often decreases as time passes, the issue of whether to leave a marriage becomes annoyingly central and romantic compromises become a major concern.

(b) In our cyber era there are many alluring romantic alternatives that make people in bad and good marriages go in search of a more passionate relationship. This prevents people from being happy with their lot, and hence prevents the development of long-term, profound love. Nowadays, there is no rest for lovers, and not because the road of love on which they travel is appalling; the road may be a bit boring, but it is still valuable. Yet the road not taken is perceived to be more attractive, and there are many roads available for a romantic journey. People are tempted to pursue many superficial romantic experiences rather than investing effort in deepening the love underlying their own relationships. As we know, more is not always better.

The two issues above pose serious difficulties for the prevailing marital (and other committed) frameworks within which love is expected to be found; they do not reduce the likelihood of other romantic experiences. Indeed, love is on the mind of a greater number of people, and its presence is a major criterion in more and more relationships. Profound love can no longer be dismissed as a silly fantasy; many more people perceive it to be a realistic, feasible and necessary condition in a long-term relationship.

The best thing you can do for yourself

To sum up, profound love is a most wise and rational road to take, provided that you find the appropriate road and are ready to overcome its various obstructions. It is not easy to do so, but it is possible if the marital (or committed) framework is sufficiently flexible and generous to enable each partner to flourish personally. It is easier to fall in love than to nurture that love until it becomes profound. Although time is an expensive commodity in cyber society, it is an essential feature of profound love.

So take your time, enjoy your love, and cultivate your profound love—it is the best thing you can do for yourself (and for your partner).

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