The case against love

February 08, 2022 08:17
Photo: Reuters

Valentine’s Day is coming up.

It’s the season of Love! The billboards blast, with the hyper-commercialised neon-lights trudging out the precursor to the manufactured consent: we’re told that Love is kind, Love is good, Love is pleasant, Love is enduring.

But Love could very well be a lie. What if love were a prison, and true love but a mirthful tale told to post hoc rationalise foolish decisions? More precisely, foolish is the surname of romantic love – I have all the time for agape love, or familial love, or love for knowledge. But not romantic love, or eros. What I’m about to proffer could well be offensive, but hear me out – here’s the case against (romantic) love.

First, romantic love constitutes a fundamental drain on one’s time, energy, resources, identity, and self-worth – all for an investment that may not, as it turns out, yield any substantive rewards. Consider the volume of divorce, separation, and bitter ends to relationships. Even where the unravelling of love is not acrimonious or fraught – you’re lucky there! – it’s apparent that there is little that one gains from this post-love state of indeterminacy, that one could not have acquired through alternative means (e.g. friendship, or camaraderie, or a collegiate relationship).

Ah, perhaps, it’s to do with the process – it’s the process that counts, after all. Perhaps it isn’t about where we end up, but the journey of love, the act of love, and the vicissitudes and idiosyncrasies of romantic flourishes. The trouble with this proposition, however, is that it fails to spell out the distinctiveness of what there is to gain from love, as compared, once again, with its closest possible rival. If we are deliberating over a Marserati and a Ferrari, this deliberation is likely to involve a far more marginal difference, than, say a Rolls Royce versus a Ferrari. What is there to gain from romantic love, that one could not gain through alternative sources of passions, support, and kindness?

Now consider the downsides. To emerge from a fraught relationship, one that ends with bitterness, or – at best – dries out like a desperate swamp in the summer, is a deeply traumatic experience. To emerge from it – only to walk into another disappointment down the road, is a gross misfortune. To repeatedly plunge oneself into the exercise, well, that’s another way of terming Stockholm Syndrome.

Now, now, I mean no disrespect to the relationships of love that have lasted enduringly and with resilience. I must applaud you all, and congratulate you on your fortunes. The trouble with making an argument from such incidental evidence, however, is the survivor bias. A most valuable statistical study should and must be conducted, investigating the extent to which romantic relationships do, in fact, emerge successful. So much to do, so much to see – there is nothing wrong with taking a backseat to romantic affairs.

Second, then, we must recognise that romantic love poses a vast set of opportunity costs. Career, health, time for self, knowledge, success, fame, wealth, peace-of-mind – all of these are comprehensive goods that are, arguably, substituted out by both the performative and aspirant elements of love. The former denotes, of course, the rituals and customs attached with love, or the feigning of appearances of love; the latter, on the other hand, has to do with the process of seeking or searching for love. With modern technology, the transaction and search costs have indubitably been lowed, but it’s still not easy to find a partner – especially one that clicks, that matches (like, genuinely matches), and that works out for one.

Of course, one could make the argument that romantic love provides both a causal prior and moral legitimation/basis for reproduction, and reproduction is of utmost importance – especially for ageing populations. The issues with this argument are fourfold: firstly, why must we accept the view that there exists a duty to procreate? Secondly, to the extent that such duties exist, why must it be that it is you who procreates? Perhaps one would be better-off subsidizing and supporting individuals who do want to have more children, to have more children. This would be a more efficient solution than the seemingly egalitarian yet fundamentally oppressive discursive practice of admonishing those without children, and glorifying those who bear aplenty, potentially against their will.

Thirdly, having children does not require one to love – one could set up an agreement with a voluntary and equally willing partner, to bear children, that is undergirded by firm and sound principles of corporatist collaboration, without fusing the relationship with love (which is, if anything, a bonus but not a necessary precondition). We must learn to decouple the practice of reproduction from the onerous burdens of love.

Fourthly, and perhaps most fundamentally, the reproduction-centric instrumentalist defense of love at most supports the conclusion that when couples bear children, they must love each other; this does not extend to warranting or justifying the endurance and persistence of love. It is thus perfectly imaginable and conceivable, that the post-aggregation costs of the post-conception/birth period of love (let us term that “Love2”) outweigh the post-aggregation benefits of the pre-conception/birth period of love (let us term that “Love1”). Given that it is conceivable for Love2 to outweigh Love1, who are we to posit that love is always, at all times, justified and desirable?

The case against love may not be conclusive – I for one, do not ultimately believe in it. I believe in the emancipative potential of love, as well as its liberatory prowess. I firmly believe in the kindness of strangers. And I believe Valentine’s Day is indeed an occasion for us all (single or otherwise) to celebrate – so happy Valentine’s Day in advance!

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Editor-in-Chief, Oxford Political Review