Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Philosophy of Love: Am I Doing It Wrong?

Ludwig Wittgenstein

A few weeks ago, The Guardian posted a story written by Giles Fraser, a British priest and journalist. The title really says it all, so here it is in it's entirety: How Ludwig Wittgenstein Helped Me Get Over My Teenage Angst. Needless to say, the title caught my eye.

Wittgenstein, being a cherished philosopher from my undergrad years. Words are a function within a larger system, and all that jazz. Bertrand Russell described him as "passionate, profound, intense and dominating". For me, it was love at first sight! Though, I admit, I have not read much of him since, and at this point he is more fantasy than anything.

In the article mentioned above, Giles details how my dreamy, handsome philosopher actually turned him toward religion. Yes, there are many faulty arguments (if you can call them that) in this article. A hot-bed for atheist bloggers. But one particular section gave me pause:

Moreover, there is no need first to develop a coherent philosophy of something in order to go on and do it. Apropos ... you don't need a philosophy of love in order to be in love.

Say what?!

Let's take that second statement first. Everyone has a philosophy of love, whether or not they realize it. No matter their orientation, kink, number of partners, age, lack of sexuality, etc. EVERYONE has one. It would be impossible to be human and not have a structure of how you approach, analyze, and ultimately behave concerning love.

The word "philosophy" may be a bit off-putting for the uninitiated. But don't run screaming just yet. From the time you were born, you were interacting with the world, developing beliefs about it, and reacting to it. As you got older and could understand language, you may have had particular worldviews and opinions thrust upon you without your knowledge. Religion would be one such worldview. Hopefully, as you became older, you used your knowledge about the world, as well as your own experiences to form a worldview, a philosophy, about what life is, how it functions, and the best way of getting along in it. This is your philosophy, most likely terribly flawed, as everyone's is, but a philosophy nonetheless.

Giles even agrees with this:

Philosophy is ... creating better intellectual maps that reflect what people are doing when they say the things they do.

In other words, there are reasons for your actions. They don't just happen randomly, even if you don't know what those reasons are. Your beliefs, values, and ideals are at the root of all your actions. 

Now let's apply this to the experience of love, whether that be the way you love your partner or the way you love your new car. (I'm looking at you, LordofDarkenss!!!) Every person has some idea of the experience of love, though our ideas about the
experience may differ extensively. We call this a universal experience because it happens to everyone, in all cultures, time periods, across the scales of skill or intelligence levels. To love is part of what it means to be human.

The first time you fell "in love", kissed someone you were attracted to, or had someone profess their love for you, you had a profound feeling, an experience.

And from that moment, you associated this experience with the concept of love. You began developing ideas about what love meant, how you were supposed to act, and ultimately what you wanted your "love life" to look like, even if that means you wanted nothing to do with it at all. This is your philosophy of love.

Giles stated that we don't need a philosophy of love in order to be in love. But human beings cannot help forming a philosophy of love, even if unintentionally. A human's ability to reason ensures that some kind of philosophy will form for all experiences. Therefore, since everyone experiences love (universal experience), everyone must have a philosophy of love. And this happens even if you don't know it's going on.

The second problem with Giles's statement is that he claims you don't "need" the philosophy to be in love. His implication, I believe, is that human beings experience love naturally without needing any rational activity taking place. Falling in love, he's saying, is not like deciding how or if or when to start a business. However, it is naive to think that you can do something well, or that your plans will turn out well, without a solid philosophy about them.

If my philosophy of love is that I am the center of the universe and everyone I "love" has to do what I say, well, it's obvious I am going to fail miserably at my relationships. (Unless of course I meet a really kinky submissive.) That's an extreme example. Let's look at one that's more frequent, and since this is a blog about poly (sometimes, anyway), let's make it a poly example.

I was raised to believe that the only choice for love was a long-lasting monogamous marriage with my soul mate. This was a faulty philosophy given to me by my mother about love. Why is it faulty? For one thing, I do have a choice. Monogamy is not the only choice. Having multiple, simultaneous partners is a choice. Having no partners is a choice. The truth is, if you can conceive it, it's a choice. I didn't know that. For another thing, the word "soulmate" is an invented concept, perpetuated by Hollywood. Letting go of the dream of finding that one perfect person just for us can be brutal. It's a seductive fantasy.
There's probably a host of other reasons this philosophy is flawed, but we'll move on. 

Getting married, then, based on this faulty monogamous philosophy created all kinds of problems for me. I wasn't happy being with just one person. And, my "soulmate" didn't turn out to be "perfect". It's unreasonable to think any partner could be. You can guess, no doubt, this made for some pretty shitty "love". If I had chosen to continue within this faulty framework, I could have gotten divorced and looked for a new "soulmate". And so, the cycle would continue.

When real life doesn't fit our philosophy, we have the option to change it. By adopting a new philosophy, I could make decisions that made me, and everyone around me, much happier. Taking time to research (a fancy word for gaining more knowledge about a subject) and rationalize and do some serious introspection led me to a different philosophy about love. My new philosophy fit the poly lifestyle quite nicely. I was even able to short-cut many poly relationship pitfalls due to my poly Fore-Sisters and Brothers, who made the mistakes for me and kindly blogged them on the internet! (I cannot thank you enough, Fore-Sisters and Brothers. And I could never list you all. Just know that I'm grateful.)

So, to review, a faulty philosophy of love caused me to make decisions which led me to a very unhappy situation. However, a well thought out, introspective philosophy led me to a life where I am happier than I
have ever dreamed. So, yes, Giles, you can fall in love without a solid philosophy, but if you do YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. If you want your love life to be worth anything, you're going to have to put some thought into it. And a lack of knowledge about your personal philosophy (even if you say you don't need one) will cause needless heartache for you and your loved ones.

[A]ttention is properly directed on what one does, how meaning is indexed to behaviour. Neither [psychology nor philosophy] is about the clever answers one can provide under cross-examination. Which is just as well – because I don't have them.

A naive worldview, indeed. Whether or not you like it, Life will throw hard questions at you, and sometimes you will have to address them with "cross-examination" speed. You may not have the "right" answers every time, but if you have a well-thought-out philosophy of life and love, you will have a head start. Life does not accept "I don't know" as an answer. Life deals out consequences anyway. In this case, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about yourself and your experiences will better equip you for Life's obstacle course.