In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Should We Compromise in Love?

In love compromises carry negative connotations
"You've got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little, that's the glory of love." (Bette Midler)

"You don't know anything about love if you don't accept compromise." (Clive Owen, in the movie, Closer)

Concerning most emotional experiences, particularly negative ones, we usually approve compromises that people make; thus, we praise the person who has not behaved angrily despite being provoked to do so. In love, such compromises typically carry negative connotations, as they are compared to the tenets of Romantic Ideology, which assumes that "love can conquer all" and therefore needs no compromises. Also the ideology that purports that "love can do no evil" encourages people to reject such compromises on the part of the lovers.

Accordingly, the great romantic heroes do not make compromises and in this sense are not mature. Indeed, when people speak about mature love they do not refer to a stormy, exciting experience, but rather to something akin to companionship love. Mature love is typically morally good, but it is not what passionate romantic love is all about. Hence many people may say that they never want to become mature, because settling for what is feasible while ignoring the desirable is an obvious sign of decay.

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At first, moderation and compromise seem to be in diametric contradiction to emotions in general, and romantic love in particular. People do not say to their partners that they love them moderately; such a statement would be an insult. Loving at a moderate intensity is perceived in this case as an expression of deficient love. Indeed, lovers tend to emphasize their extreme attitude. As Flora says about her married lover, "I adore, love and desire this man to the extreme. The universe has never seen a greater love." (cited in In the Name of Love). However, in fact, unlike the total and uncompromising nature of ideal love, in reality, love comes in degrees of intensity.

It is evident that we must take account of reality. This can be done by revising our ideals or at least their implementation in a way which is more compatible with reality. From the standpoint of the individual upholding the ideal, there are two main methods to achieve this: compromise and accommodation. In compromising, we agree to make the required revision without actually making a suitable personal change in our attitudes and preferences; accommodation implies making such a personal change. To compromise is "to make a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial;" to accommodate is "to make fit, suitable, or congruous."

Speaking about compromising love seems odd. Thus, one would not say to his beloved, "I love you darling, though this love is a compromise for me." However, one could say, "I love you darling, and I am ready to accommodate myself in order to make our relationship successful." In compromises, which may involve concessions that are considered depressing, one does not change one's attitudes but rather, unwillingly, agrees to something that is essentially negative but nonetheless can be tolerated when a more valuable end is achieved. In accommodation, the lover changes his or her own attitudes in order to perceive the other in a positive manner; this person is perceived now by the lover as a suitable partner rather than a "problem."

Accommodation may be characterized as positive growth, expansion of capacity, adaptability, and flexibility. The process of accommodation involves learning and adaptability, whereby accepting the change is accompanied by some modification in the creature. In this sense, accommodation sustains a more profound and durable process. Not all compromises can be accommodated, since this process may require a change in constant character traits and attitudes. In such a situation, we are required to adopt the compromise while being aware of its problematic nature. There is no doubt that we must make compromises in our life; the question is how many of those can be turned into accommodations and how many will remain derogatory concessions. One measure of the profoundness of a romantic relationship is the ability to turn what seems to be a compromise into an accommodation.

As in other important areas of life, love requires both compromises and accommodations. The challenge is to maintain romantic love despite them. However, sometimes we compromise when we do not need to (and should not) do so. Sometimes, we compromise to the wish of others and thus relinquish our love in return for temporary comfort. This may be what is meant in the lines of a Patsy Cline song: "I cried all the way to the altar, a smile was on my face, but tears were in my heart... I've thrown away my chance of happiness with you." Compromises are often made too early and too easily. Many people are aware of their compromises, and even see themselves as getting a raw deal, already at the wedding ceremony or soon after. Other people may be in a situation that hardly requires any compromise and accommodation; yet, as the current crisis in romantic relationships clearly indicates, these are a very few.

In comparison with the tenets of Romantic Ideology, the following are major types of romantic compromises and accommodations prevailing in modern society (see In the Name of Love):
• Accepting postponement of romantic gratification-for example, waiting a few years for the beloved to be available.
• Accepting declining romantic intensity-measured, for instance, by the frequency of sexual activities or the time spent together.
• Accepting flexible exclusivity-by enlarging the scope of activities which are not restricted to the beloved.
• Accepting serial monogamy-keeping the ideal alive, but maintaining it only for a limited period of time.
• Accepting polyamory-loving more than one person at the same time.

The above are examples of compromises and accommodations intended to cope genuine difficulties lovers face in our dynamic modern society. Coping with such difficulties is challenging and complicated. However, as we cannot stop the sands of time, we have no choice other than to find ways of dealing creatively with the new contexts surrounding our love lives. In light of the considerable need for accommodation in maintaining romantic love, it becomes clear that the relaxation of normative boundaries, as well as the individual's capacity for accommodation, should be significantly promoted. Given the greater flexibility demonstrated in the prevailing romantic trends that characterize relationships nowadays, future generations may be more willing to accept the kinds of compromises and accommodations indicated here.

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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