Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

Romantic Idealism, Case Study #2: "The Self In Love"

Reality always intrudes into the self. It is in and against reality that we create ourselves. And reality is, in almost every instance, other people. We are the persons we think ourselves to be and become through the eyes and opinions of the people around us, whom we choose for ourselves and determine in turn.

Our selves are formed in intercourse, in conversation, in touching, in acting together and separately. It will do little good to think of yourself as a good person if everyone, including your best friends, thinks of you as a bastard. Of course one can always think of oneself as a person 'out of place' or 'untimely', or as a misunderstood genius. But these alienated roles, too, require the backing of other people, perhaps at first only imaginary people but later on, one hopes, a real appreciative audience -- the so-called vindication of history. But for every Nietzsche or Rousseau who proves himself in the eyes of future generations, there are hundreds of others who simply disappear, even in their own lives, without a trace.

It is sometimes objected that this deprives us of our individuality. The result is one of the most tragic conceptual disasters in American life -- the false belief that to love someone is a weakness, a sign of loss of self, a loss of autonomy and independence. The truth is that such definitions make individuality possible. Without such connections with other people, individuality is just another abstraction, almost an existence without qualities. "I love, therefore I exist" may be a bit unimaginative, but it is not far from the truth. It is through love that we find and make our place in the world, through identity rather than conflict, expanding ourselves and our world by concentrating all of our energies and our attention on a single individual who is both other than, but more importantly a part of, ourselves. The self needs this other, not just for sex or companionship, but for its own completion.

This, I want to argue, is what love is. It is the mutual creation of self-identity. Sex plays a powerful and central role because no matter how cerebral and soulful we may sometimes pretend to be, we are ultimately sensual creatures for whom a touch and a gesture is more meaningful than an eloquent soliloquy. Sex, solitude, intimacy and privacy play essential roles in love partly because it is when we are naked and alone together that the self comes to especially appreciate the importance of shared identity. Fantasy plays an important role in love because it both presupposes and feeds the freedom to imagine and plan and choose one's future and determine one's self. A thoroughly determined self would not have any fantasies.

We cannot understand love until we get over the idea that the self is, in each case, individually and inalienably our own. A strong and independent self is an incredible and rare achievement. But independence is an act of defiance and perversity, not a return to a natural state. We define ourselves in terms of other people and we are largely defined by other people, no matter how nobly individual we may be.

It is revealing that nearly everything we want to say about ourselves, every adjective that applies to us, depends upon other people. What makes us individuals, paradoxically, are our relationships (real or imagined) with others. Even such straightforward facts about us as being tall or short, weighing 130 pounds, being twenty-nine years old and born in San Diego state implicit relationships. "Tall" and "short" are comparisons; weight depends on a scale, based on comparisons, and why weighing more or less matters to us clearly depends upon the opinions of others, current fashions and an image of ourselves that is, even in the mirror, a reflection of how we'd like to be seen by others. Facts recede in the face of interpretation. What concerns us here are not the facts themselves but their significance. We are what is made of us, even if we then have considerable say in making something of what has been made of us. And one way to do this -- often the most powerful and passionate way -- is to fall in love.

Love is fundamentally a matter of self-transformation, not as a secondary effect but in its very nature. Love embodies a reflective desire for self-improvement. In the simplest terms, to be in love is wanting nothing more than to show one's ideal self, to make oneself even better as well as to be loved for what one considers best in oneself. (Adapted from Robert C. Solomon's About Love)
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