Warning: philosophical ramblings below! Read at your own risk!
For best results, brew a cup of tea, wrap up in a blanket, lay aside preconceived ideas, and proceed with an open mind. Enjoy.
Love is selflessness, right? You can’t be a selfish person and thrive in a happy, long-term relationship. Love is about giving of yourself, meeting your partner’s needs, and putting aside your personal preferences for the sake of your significant other. Albeit, you are allowed to cautiously assert your personal opinions and preferences on occasion—“babe, I’d prefer Chipotle over Olive Garden, but whatever you want is fine”—so long as you don’t appear overbearing, domineering, or selfish. Selflessness is how relationships thrive. If you’re lucky, your significant other will be equally selfless and in the best case scenario, you’ll get what you actually want close to 50% of the time (give or take).
Love is selflessness. At least, this appears to be the Western philosophy regarding romantic relationships. For the past 19 years, I have adhered to a similar mindset. Selfless love is the only lasting love. However, in light of a recent Ayn Rand obsession, my tune had begun to change.
Ayn Rand, a 20th century Russian-American authoress, screenwriter, and philosopher, is credited with developing the philosophical system of “objectivism.” As I studied this ideology, I began to wonder how objectivism related to the idea of love. Can love exist in a purely objectivistic culture?
In extremely simplified terms, objectivism is a philosophy of self-interest. In other words, do whatever is best for you—put yourself first. (Objectivism is so much more complex, but for the sake of simplicity, this article will stick exclusively to how it relates to love and relationships. I strongly encourage you to do some more research on Ayn Rand and her philosophies. They are a fascinating study.)
Generally speaking, in the Western world, self-interested love is discouraged. Love is about giving, providing, and caring—for better or for worse.
Imagine a man who gives up wealth, future, and freedom for his wife who is paralyzed in an unfortunate accident. What a terrible tragedy, you say. But the man who gives up his potential is now placed on a moral pedestal. His act is classified as a “selfless sacrifice”—the most beautiful form of love. But is it?
At the end of the day, do you really want a partner who loves you only out of sacrificial obligation? I’m taking care of you because it is my duty. Love tells me that I should care for you, so I will throw away all of my happiness, if need be, to do just that. Love should never stem from the roots of obligation or pity.
In her book The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand contends that a “selfless” love is a “disinterested” love. Selfless love “means that one is indifferent to that which one values.”
Okay, I think we can agree that no one wants to be the subject of disinterested love. For love to be “worth it,” love must offer something in return—happiness, joy, pleasurable experiences, etc. If love offered nothing, love would be pointless.
According to Rand, true love is selfish. I choose to love someone because I get something in return. I like to see my partner happy. It makes me feel good when my partner laughs. Therefore, I do kind things for my partner because it inevitably makes me feel good.
It’s an interesting mind game. Are humans even capable of acting selflessly with no personal gain at all?
“Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests. If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a “sacrifice” for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies” (The Virtue of Selfishness).
Selfless love often leads to resentment. If you feel obligated to give, serve, provide, or care for your partner with nothing in return, resentment will build—perhaps slowly, but surely. We are wired to seek pleasure and love is merely a means to that end. Be very wary of a relationship that does not meet your needs and wants. If you are constantly giving and rarely, if ever, receiving, you may need to question your motive for staying in your current relationship. You were not created to be a giver. Live your life first. If another soul falls in sync with yours—excellent. If not, that’s okay too. You can only give so much before you run dry, so give to yourself first.
When you do find a soul that coincides with your own—love it, nurture it, care for it, and protect it—not for its benefit, but for yours.
Selfishness is such a negative word in society today. In writing this article, I realize how vicious and distasteful this philosophy may sound. I can almost hear conservative critics protest: put others before yourself! Remember the Golden Rule! But even if this is your life philosophy, realize that you must receive some pleasure, peace, or joy from putting others first. If it didn’t benefit you, in some way or another, you wouldn’t do it.
There is so much more I could say on this topic, but for now, I will bid you farewell. In closing, I freely admit I know so little of this inexplicable notion of love. I’m only 19 years old. Perhaps in a week, month, or year my tune will change again. That’s the beautiful thing about life, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s progressive. But until I know and understand more, here are my musings and a few points to ponder…