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Trevor Stone's Journal
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On Love 
28th-Apr-2004 04:36 pm
tell tale heart
This post draws on a presentation by CU philosophy professor Luc Bovens presented after a showing of The Crying Game a few years ago.

Personal identity is a concept deeply ingrained in human ways of thought. Unfortunately, it presents several philosophical problems with no easy and intuitive solutions. Most philosophy can get by by assuming an intuitive solution exists, but on their own, the problems are both easy to understand and hard to solve.

Consider love.

Do you love a person (whatever that means), or do you love a set of habits, quirks, physical features, mannerisms, thought patterns, memories, and so forth, hereafter referred to as "Feature Set."

If you love a person, do you love them because of their Feature Set, or do you fall in love with some soul-like entity for reasons (or a lack thereof) which have nothing or little to do with the Feature Set?

Loving the Feature Set seems kind of shallow, and not something most people would admit. If somebody loves me because I'm smart, witty, handsome, and rich, will they lose interest in me when they meet someone smarter, wittier, more handsome, and richer? That certainly isn't the love the romantics have in mind.

But loving without regard to the Feature Set also seems a bit odd. If you loved someone and they changed every aspect of themselves, would you still love them? Would it even make sense to call it the same person?

it seems reasonable that love usually happens somewhere in the middle ground. You love many things about a person and you also love the person such that if your love wanted to change some feature, you would support that transition. For instance, suppose Alice is attracted to Bob in part because of his casual demeanor. They fall deeply in love and remain so for several years. After being fired from his job, Bob decides he wants to be more businesslike and reform his casual demeanor. It seems silly for Alice to leave him over that; if she truly loves him, we would say, she would help him achieve this goal.

But by the same token, we can understand the person who falls out of love with someone when they learn something new about their partner. If Carl falls in love with Denise, but later finds out that she cheats on him or murders babies or what have you, we can understand him losing that lovin' feeling. We can also understand Alice falling out of love with Bob if he transitions from a casual attentive guy to a workaholic who doesn't give enough time to his relationship.

So perhaps a good common case is this: people become attracted to other people because of the Feature Set. But there's a deeper connection than the Feature Set (perhaps it's some core set of features or perhaps it's something less tangible). With a strong enough bond, the Feature Set can change and the couple remains in love. But sometimes the Feature Set changes in ways that cause love to fade. Some times, of course, the Feature Set changes in ways which make the people incompatible, but they remain in love. This gets especially messy. Furthermore, the falling out might not be linked to a change in the Feature Set, but a discovered discrepancy between the Feature Set and the imagined Feature Set.

To put it succinctly, love can fade or break because the person you loved is now a new person or because the person you loved is not the person you thought.

The latter is the essence of the Crying Game. The transgendered in specific, but anyone in general, can be affraid that a person will fall in love with an idea and then lose interest when they find out that an idealized feature isn't present. This could take the form of an unexpected penis, a revelation of undesirable behavior, the discovery of annoying habits, or a change in fundamental goals, ideas, and personality.

We are often presented with the idea that Love (and especially Marriage) Is Forever, but it seems more naturally transient, though with the possibility of a very long tenure.

The Cosby Show gets the last (paraphrased) word:
MRS HUXLTABLE: If I died and you later met someone who looked and acted just like me, would you marry her?
MR HUXTABLE stammers a bit and answers a derivative of "I suppose so."
MRS HUXTABLE: Would you at least keep my picture?
MR HUXTABLE: No, I wouldn't keep your picture. She looks just like you, so I wouldn't need your picture!"</bblockquote>
29th-Apr-2004 12:14 am (UTC)
29th-Apr-2004 04:23 am (UTC)
"If I died, would you remarry?"
"It would take a long time, but I suppose eventually, if I met the right person, I would."
"And would she sleep in our bed?"
"If we were married, yes, that would make sense."
"And would you let her use my golf clubs?"
"No, she's left-handed."
29th-Apr-2004 07:29 am (UTC) - It's not about the feature set, its about the bonuses..
The +2s to the individual features, that is. It's the tiny details and reactions that sink in the hooks.

Funny and handsome are broad.. funny because of his cute boyish expressions and handsome because of intelligent eyes are different, and more specific.. you're not gonna find someone else with a +3 to all features--it's too impossible. Funny in a comedic facial expressions is different.. not an upgrade, just something in another category. With specifics like that, its too hard to find an exact match, only better.

I believe in love forever as a possibility.. but not necessarily marriage. I dunno, I think its kind of insulting to yourself and your partner to think that you're never going to grow.. and two plants dont always grow the same. Death-do-us-part freaks me out, because, as much as I love hypothetical you, you may not always be what I need and vice versa. Love isn't always compatible with needs being fulfilled.

My best friend in the world was my first real boyfriend, 6-7 years ago. As for romantic compatibility, we really aren't fit at all.. but I could live with him for the rest of my life and be generally content. I'd be selling myself short, though, for the highs that come with romance. Some people settle, some don't.. its all personal choice and lifestyle. But that's the kind of love I believe in. Even though he and I aren't compatible in that way, I love him the same (if not more, sometimes :p) as my closest family.

It's all categorical. Why bother classifying? A person is his/her feature set.. some of which are conscious and some unconscious, depending on the same things.. personal willpower, conditioning and environment. It depends on how picky you are ;)

wow I'm babbly. hehehe I was just thinking about something similar to this...
29th-Apr-2004 07:38 am (UTC)
I... yes. I'm thankful you posted this. the insight, even if from other sources, is appriciated. :-)
29th-Apr-2004 09:46 am (UTC)
Do you love a person (whatever that means), or do you love a set of habits, quirks, physical features, mannerisms, thought patterns, memories, and so forth, hereafter referred to as "Feature Set."

Before I can answer this, you'll have to more specifically detail the difference between the "Feature Set" and the "person." What makes a person a person, what makes them unique? Your Feature Set is pretty extensive; it covers physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. What defines a personality outside of this Feature Set, if anything?

Loving the Feature Set seems kind of shallow, and not something most people would admit. If somebody loves me because I'm smart, witty, handsome, and rich, will they lose interest in me when they meet someone smarter, wittier, more handsome, and richer?

They might start for that reason, but usually it deepens as time goes on, as you begin to love the things that make a person unique, whether it's a combination of features you haven't seen combined or the possession of features you haven't seen anywhere else at all. All those features coalesce into the person themself, until you're not just loving particular features, but the entire set. (to use your terminology)

See, I could say I love my boyfriend because he's smart, witty, cute, funny, talented, and sweet, but that doesn't mean I'll run after someone else with those same characteristics, because I also love my boyfriend because he juggles penguins, makes awful puns, is insightful, has devastating eyebrows, and reads at the speed of lightning, among other things; generally because he's himself, with all the positive and negative connotations thereof. I'm not likely to find someone else with all those characteristics exactly, or those characteristics at the next level. What's the next level of juggling penguins?

I think the point is that you fall in love with the set, and as individual features change, you don't stop loving the whole. Or perhaps sometimes you do, but the parts become less important compared to the whole, and little individual changes don't have as much of an affect on the whole as you might think. It's when lots of small changes combine to become major changes that change the definition of the set that it becomes complicated. The secret is to not to fall in love with someone, but to keep falling in love with them; not just as they change, but as you change yourself and begin to value different things on different levels than you once did.

Also, don't underestimate the power of "I've been with this person a long time and know them very well, and vice-versa." Powerful bond.
29th-Apr-2004 03:53 pm (UTC) - Hmmmmmm
The question is a bit arbitrary in dividing this stuff up. I mean, who's to say the "Soul" isn't actually part of the "Feature Set"?
2nd-May-2004 06:17 pm (UTC) - Pt 1: what decides who loves whom?
I detect two assumptions to your exploration that I find questionable:

1) An individual's feeling of love (for narrative ease, let's say "my" love) is dependent on external factors. That is, my love for you is controlled by your Feature Set, or even your "soul".

2) Loving/being in love with = living together.

As for assumption #1, how disempowering! How irresponsible! I push the buttons in my brain. If I really love you unconditionally, that means finding out that you eat babies, or sleep with other people is not going to make a difference. If you have a stroke and stop being brilliant, or contract a flesh-eating virus in the jungles of Borneo and become grossly disfigured, or have chronic erectile dysfunction, I'm still the one in charge of how I feel. Not circumstances. Whether or not I feel that you love me back, I get to choose how I feel about you.
(That, incidentally, is why love does not protect you from accident, disease, or death. Because real love is not threatened by those things.)

Now, does that mean it's best for both of us to live together? Maybe. Maybe not.

Y'ever hear someone in an abusive relationship whine, "But I LOVE him!" Okay. I'll buy that. So what?

Let's accept that all of us, even abusive or cheating or drug-addicted or seriously mentally ill people, are guided by a divine higher self; that we are all doing the best we can at this moment, with the resources we have; that in the Great Pattern, we are all on the perfect path from who we are to who we are becoming. So, in the grand perspective, we are all worthy of being accepted and cherished just as we are. Yea. Somebody explain to me how it follows that any given person is required to subject themselves to the behavior of a specific somebody else?

Once empowered with the understanding that my feelings are entirely in my control and not dependent on your Feature Set, I then get to make choices about commitments; about working through problems together or moving apart.

Very empowered. Not terribly "romantic"? What about that nifty, soaring "in love" kinda feeling? Sure, I still believe in that. But the fact is, it's a quantifiable biochemical process. We know what it is and how to create it.
(see part II, an accounna I tend to be verbose)

2nd-May-2004 07:08 pm (UTC) - Re: Pt 1: what decides who loves whom?
I certainly intended nothing resembling #2, so if I implied it, I'll blame my lack of sleep. I'll be the first to proclaim you can be in love but not together.

As for your other running theme of "my feelings are entirely in my control," history and art beg to differ. Even though it would often be extremely beneficial, most people have trouble deciding to start or stop being in love with someone. It doesn't seem to be the sort of thing we have conscious control over. I'll certainly argue that emotions are under a person's control, but those controls usually take the form of biochemical processes, deep and ancient psychological instincts, and learned non-conscious reactions. But if people had much control over their emotion of love, there would be a lot less whiny country music.

The problem of personal identity is this: Unconditional love is the idea that person X will love person Y no matter how person Y changes or what person Y does. But if everything changes about person Y -- from personality to gender to appearance to memories to position in the world -- is it really the same person?
2nd-May-2004 06:22 pm (UTC) - Pt 2: warm, fuzzy feelings
Sustained eye contact (lovers or mom/infant gazing into each other's eyes) causes the brain to produce oxytocin. Preening behavior elevates the same chemicals. It's a rush; a feeling of being "in love". Notice how much time people spend looking directly at each other, touching, flirting, when they're dating, and how much they spend after they've been together/married for a while. And then they complain that that feeling fades. Duh.

The second element is a feeling of being ego-syntonic. That is, a core response of, "Yes, this is me. This is where I belong." This is where it helps to find someone of the same religion/philosophy, someone with the same goals and values, someone who enjoys the same things you do, and usually someone of a similar age and background.

These two elements work dynamically.

He feels talking is strictly for communictating what needs doing, while she feels verbal intimacy is how you show someone you care and want to share your life? If both are empowered and responsible for their own feelings, they may talk this through and figure out how to make it work. Or they may talk it through and decide it would be easier to seek people who have the same understandings about communication. But if she believes it's his responsibility to make her feel loved? Or "If he loved me he would talk to me/ask me about my day"? Doomed.

Even if they have "everything" in common, if one or both have the attitude that anything the other person does or says that isn't something they could predict or something they wanted means love is invalidated...well, it's going to be stormy, to say the least.

Two people have everything in common, do everything together, build a life - careers, vacations, mutual friends, posessions, kids, years of experiences. Gradually, they stop being so active. Stop looking at each other. The "fire" (chemical response) may have faded, but they have all this ego-syntonic bond going on, so they are still "in love". [And then maybe one (or both) of them get a new relationship with a lot of eye-gazing. Then they decide which kind of "being in love" they value more (or try to have both.)]

Your best bet is to find somebody empowered and self-responsible who has a lot in common with you and enjoys the same things/wants the same things. If your relationship needs to include things like "together forever even if it kills us both," put that in the picture up front. Not "If you really loved me, you would stay with me no matter what," because that's crap logic. But "My relationship needs to include the commitment that we stay together and take care of each other no matter what."

Once you've got the self-responsibility thing down, it's a simple matter of whether you're committed to staying together or not. Because you really can make it work as long as you make that your #1 priority (which includes believing it's possible).

Take that with a grain of salt: I'm divorced and not currently in any promising relationship.
2nd-May-2004 08:04 pm (UTC) - Re: Pt 1: what decides who loves whom?
Assumption #2 was definitely implied but not stated (as underlying assumptions tend to be). It may have been more in the replies than in your original post; I was responding to the Gestalt. I'll admit falliblity as well: what I read, by definition, had a chunk of my own interpretation mixed into it.

It would be more in keeping with my generally liberal mindset to have said, "These things are true FOR ME." Most of my friends have been diagnosed somewhere on the autistic spectrum, or have autistic sibs or kids. It's entirely possible that we experience our emotions as a more objective process.

It's medically verfiable that people with autism have a reduced response to the bonding experiences I mentioned, so maybe it's easier to perceive them as deliberate rather than unconcious responses.

Having said that, I'm not sure how much credibility I give to art and history. Remember, it's not too long since doctors "knew" that illnesses were caused by an imbalance of body fluids.

As for country music, I never touch the stuff. The majority of people seem to prefer to believe that their feelings and their lives are beyond their control -- and hence, not their responsibility. But that's why we hang with the pagans, right? Don't be telling me God or the Devil made you do it. Thou art God! Stop hiding behind the damned curtain!

Let me relate a personal story that may explain where I'm coming from:

When my first-born was 2.5 years old, he was diagnosed with severe autism. I was told he would never dress himself, speak, be potty-trained, would never appreciate what I did for him, or even understand who I was in a conventional sense. I made the concious decision to love him ON THOSE TERMS. Really unconditionally; expecting nothing - not even for him to be aware that I existed.

As it turns out, he's a smart, loving, wonderful young man, toilet trained at three. He's called me "Mama" maybe half a dozen times. But all that's just a bonus. The real benefit was learning that I was in charge of my feelings. Blessed or traumatized? My choice. I could love somebody no matter what. Really, no matter what.

It took several years before I turned that around and applied it to myself. I don't "earn" or "lose" somebody's love by being cranky or chipper, by pursuing my own interests or waiting on them hand and foot, or being thin or fat.

So right now, Grandpa has Alzheimer's. They call it "death on the installment plan". A man who took pride in his intellect and held the inarticulate in contempt is having trouble remembering words and articulating his thoughts. Some of the family avoids him, "I love him so much I can't bear to see him like this. You're lucky you're not sensitive like I am." Useless, self-negating bullshit. For me, what a great opportunity to affirm my ability to love this man, to practice being in the here and now rather than comparing him to what he was. And what a great opportunity for him to find out that he can be loved even when he can't "earn" it.

So we're talking magick, here: reality is 3% external; 97% interpretation. I choose to be concious rather than reactive in my interpretations. Not denial: I'm not saying "everything's fine". I see the truth. I just don't put the good/bad label on it. Or, if I do, I opt to see it good. Not because I believe it's good. I try not to have beliefs. Because seeing it as good makes me energized and useful, and keeps me open to resources and opportunities, while seeing it as bad would make me depressed, lead me to avoid him, make me miss opportunities.

What determines love is the lover, not the lovee. As long as person X maintains the capacity to love (tricky!), it doesn't matter how much person Y does or does not change. (Otoh, if person X loses the capacity to love, it doesn't matter how much person Y does or does not change.)

Is it really the same person? A.k.a., what defines "person"? In the context of "unconditional love" the answer is: it doesn't matter. If we want to ask "at what point is this a different person?" or if we want to take "love" out of the equation and ask "given: change; is it realistic for two people to stay together for their entire lives?" -- well, that's a whole 'nother banana factory, isn't it?
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