Jun 042011

Has anyone ever done an accounting for the net effects of love in the world?

That seems like a shocking question.  How could anyone think of love as anything be positive?

But if I assay my life I find that one the whole love has been anything but positive.  Sure, there have been a few good times.  But I also look back on at least one shattering breakup and one instance of heartbreaking unrequited love, both of which hurt every day for months after they happened.  The most recent of these two events is now fourteen years in the past, and the memory of both is still painful.  They hurt enough that I’m at least partly convinced that it would have been better never to have fallen in love at all.  With anyone.  I feel this way often.  At least there are at least some other people who are honest enough to admit this as well.

If we look around the world what do we see?  We see loneliness.  And heartbreak.  And people stuck in nasty, abusive relationships they can’t break out of.  Or people who, in the words of Lady Blessington, have for a month of honey condemned themselves to lifetimes of vinegar.  Add in the violence and frightful behavior of people tormented by love and you have worldwide one nasty picture.

Has anyone ever done an honest accounting for the net effects of love in the world?

  7 Responses to “Love stinks”

  1. This is why the Benatarian asymmetry is not strictly speaking about coming into existence, it can be generalized to coming into any state of need or desire. Puberty can be considered a kind of ‘second birth’, and the same arguments apply: better not to have undergone puberty. Digressions about the nonidentity problem only unnecessarily complicate the core of the argument.

    • Intriguing. I hadn’t thought of this, but it seems to me to be right, at least prima facia.

  2. Love is a zero sum game. There’s winners and losers abound, and it sucks to be a loser. It’s hard to justify the pleasure of winning, as it comes at someone else’s expense.

  3. I have to agree with Dali (as much as it pains me) on this one. The fact that we live in such a constricting heteronomic society regarding love makes love a hell of a lot more negative than it could be, for everyone. We have made it a zero sum game.

  4. Some love is positive-sum, some is negative-sum, a vanishingly small proportion of it is zero-sum. One question is whether on the whole it is positive- or negative-sum, but more relevant for one’s own life is whether any particular opportunity to fall in love or simply love is positive- or negative-sum. We’re biased in favor of seeing love as positive-sum, to be sure.

    From my own experience, I’ve found brotherly, friend-oriented love to be positive sum, and romantic, erotic love to be negative-sum (I can’t access its effects on the people I’ve shared love with, but to the extent that their outward expressions and behavior correlates similarly to internal states as do mine, I think my assessment is correct), although my sample size for the latter is too small to be especially confident. This forces me to hedge and borderline-dissimulate in relationships — my boy/girlfriend often wants me to say, “I love you”, when really what matters to me is how suitable we are for each other as long-term partners and whether we make the choice to be life partners for each other.

    This puts me in the odd situation of being an Epicurean who places commitment before love.

  5. By putting commitment before love, you are helping to make it a negative-sum game. So what’s the point of doing that?

  6. Francois, I think I’m choosing not to play the game. People make contractual commitments all the time without having any personal feelings for people they contract with. People also are committed to their friends without there being any romantic love between them. That people can rely on and get help from their friends is, I think, positive sum.

    What I’m saying is that I’m inclined to think that in a relationship that is expected to be romantic, that is, boy/girlfriends or spouses, romantic love isn’t necessary for the relationship to be good for the people in it. The question, “are we going to make this happen?”, neither depends on nor controls the question, “are we in love?”.

    Feelings that we have toward others, of course, are not in reality so neatly boxed as “brotherly love” versus “romantic love”. Is the best long-term relationship simply brotherly love plus sex plus (optionally) cohabitation? I think a certain fondness and tenderness might be inescapable, but the relationships I’ve had with a special fondness and tenderness haven’t been painful or difficult to end while those where I’ve been unmistakably in love have been (and also tended to be more painful after the honeymoon period). So maybe a few nods in the direction of romantic love are a small price to pay for the benefits of a long-term partner.

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