Is love merely sexual instinct, self-interest, or a positive emotion? From a materialistic point of view, the beloved is mere matter. Any values we attribute are not inherent but projected onto the one we love. If we reduce love to sex or instincts or a feeling, love is reduced to being merely a symbol for something else supposedly more real. Then we look behind the reality of love and become blind to it. What if there is another way to look at love?
Do we choose our beloved by comparison with other products on match dot com? Or do we choose based on getting to know someone’s incommunicable preciousness? What if love is a response to inner value?
Love does not derive from self-love. That theory overlooks the transcendent dimension of love: our ability to take an interest in someone else because she is so internally beautiful. It ignores the response we have to her inner value as a person.
For instance, a narcissistic woman becomes angry when someone insults her husband. She is not angry because she loves him, but because he is an extension of herself. Thus, she perceives the insult as directed toward her.
The narcissist projects value onto him so she can feel valuable connecting to this extension of her ego. In contrast, the lover sees his beauty so clearly she doesn’t need to project onto him. She doesn’t have to talk herself into loving him because she can’t help doing so.
Is love a feeling? I don’t think so. After all, feelings come and go. They’re states of mind, not union with reality. Something as fleeting as the weather could hardly be love.
In love, I perceive your inner value as an entire person. In projection, I perceive the fantasy I want to see. But then I no longer love you but the fantasy I have placed on you.
Love also is not mere pleasure. We enjoy a warm bath, but that is not love. In contrast, love takes delight in the inner beauty of the beloved. The beauty of a Mahler symphony moves one person and doesn’t touch another. Beauty calls out from us a value-responding attitude. But the person who cannot grasp the reality of beauty remains blind to the depth of beauty in the world. Love is a response to the inner beauty known directly within the other.
Love can be reduced to being a need, a wish to depend, or sexual desire. Here love is misunderstood as an illusion based on a need in me rather than a response to the beauty in that person. If that person merely serves my need, he or she is an object I use, not a person I love.
The fulfillment of a need decreases our interest in the object, ending our movement toward it. We squeeze the juice out of the orange and toss the rind. In contrast, the fulfillment of our love intensifies our interest in the mystery of the Other, drawing us closer.
Satisfaction of an appetite is finite. Exploration of the mystery of you is infinite. We relate to you not as a thing we “know”, but as a mystery who will always remain unknowable.
When asked why we love our spouse we become tongue-tied. Kind. Sweet. True, but so inadequate. Why? The beauty and preciousness of a unique personality as a whole cannot be contained in partial details. What we say can merely point to the unsayable.
But a doubter might argue, “The beauty you see is just the result of your love.” From this materialist view, a person is a material body; values are the result of your projection. But could it be that love opens our eyes to the beauty in another person? And could it be that a devaluing attitude blinds us? What if the inability to see beauty in others is a form of psychological, even spiritual, blindness? We see how our love actualizes the potential in others that was previously dormant. The inner beauty of the beloved calls forth our response of love. And, in turn, our love brings out even more of their inner beauty.
“The value which flashes up in another person pierces my heart and engenders love for him,” says von Hildebrand. Love does not generate an illusion about the beloved. Devaluation generates an illusion that the other has no value. Then we love an image created by the mind, not the person before us. Love enables us to see the inherent value in others. We respond to their real depths, not to our projection.