In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, My Sunshine, Is Love All I Need?

Is it true that all you need is love?

"You are the sunshine of my life... You are the apple of my eye." (Stevie Wonder)
"All you need is love, love, Love is all you need" (The Beatles)

Ideal love is often described as providing us with the meaning of life. Thus, Stevie Wonder sings that "you are the sunshine of my life... You are the apple of my eye." In their song, The Beatles go one step further and say that: "All you need is love." Is the shift from the subjective meaning (in Stevie Wonder's song) to the more objective description (expressed by the Beatles) justified?

It should be noted that the very assumption that love provides our life with its entire meaning is not necessarily true and the further shift is even more problematic. However, as the above songs (and so many others) indicate, these assumptions are deeply rooted in our culture.

In ideal love, the beloved's value is profound in the sense that the beloved is often perceived as providing the entire meaning for the lover's life. When the beloved is around, life is meaningful and when clouds cover the horizon of love, life begins to lose its meaning. From this perspective, there is no life without the beloved, which implies, as Grace, a married woman in her mid-fifties, says about her married lover: "Anything without him couldn't be life at all. Since and only since I met him I know why I have come to this world. Before, I felt no meaning in anything, just pain. Now I feel that everything is so much more meaningful and joyful, even all the little things. Every single time with him is like coming to life again, being born again."

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It is far too extreme to assume that love, or the beloved, can provide the whole meaning of a person's life-the life of each person is too complex to be based upon one other person. Nevertheless, a lover can perceive her love and her beloved as the most meaningful aspects of her life and accordingly view them as coloring the meanings of (almost) all events that matter to her. Thus, the actions and the vows of the beloved are the most significant for the lover.

In the same sense, religious people view their faith as being the most meaningful aspect of their life, and its meaning colors all other aspects. Love is similar to religion in many other ways. Both dictate basic beliefs, demand fundamental moral standards, and bestow high moral status upon their objects. Issues of love and religion are very significant in a person's life and in this sense they play a central role in determining the meaning given to many issues in life. Both God and the beloved can be perceived as the sunshine of one's life. And indeed, the comparison between the two is often made by lovers and believers (see here).

The more objective claim that "All you need is love" is more problematic as it refers not merely to our perception of the world and the subjective meanings we bestow upon various events, but also to our objective needs.

Nevertheless, such an objective change to the world is experienced by lovers who perceive their love as creating aspects that are new and real in their environment. Thus, statements like "The world has changed; everything is different now," or "Loving him is wonderful; my whole being expands into unprecedented realms" are common among lovers.

People in love often feel as though they are starting life all over again, like experiencing, as one man put it, "the first-ever impressions of a newborn infant" and "the purity and innocence of virginity." They say that their new loving experience is so unique and exceptional to them that they do not know how to handle it, as it takes them to previously unknown heights and terrain. This newness may confound, but it also surely adds to the intoxication of the experience of being "swept away," so central to the great Romantic poets. This kind of a profound meaning overshadows all others, so that equating love with life becomes natural. Thus, the all-encompassing quality of love is expressed in statements such as "I am surrounded by nothing but you." And indeed when love is essential in our life and everything is smiling upon us, the world is "Shining, shimmering, and splendid" and is seen from "a new fantastic point of view."

Those changes in the world are kind of mix between subjective and objective aspects-the subjective good feeling colors and enables objective new aspects of the world to be detected. Nevertheless, this is still some distance from accepting that all we need is love and that one person, the beloved, can fulfill all of our needs.

The assumption that one person can and should satisfy all the needs of another person is obviously problematic especially concerning certain types of needs-for example, intellectual stimulation, psychological support, social connections, and biological needs such as eating, breathing or sleeping, which can be met without a noteworthy contribution by a unique lover (although, of course, one might sleep better and have a better appetite when in love). (see here).

Although many people still believe that from a normative point of view, it is better for most of the beloved's needs to be satisfied by one person, intellectual needs should almost by definition be fulfilled by various people who can give you various perspectives. Unlike emotions, which are quite focused, intellectual curiosity is unrestrained. Similarly, psychological support and social connections are by their very nature related to relationships with various people.

The romantic and sexual domains are different in this regard, and here the claim that the beloved can fulfill all your needs makes more sense, even though it remains questionable. Most people in love feel that they do not want and do not need any other person to fulfill their romantic and sexual needs beside their beloved. However, the phenomenon of loving two people at the same time, which is quite common (see here), is in opposition to this.

The claim that all our needs should be met by the beloved leads to a considerably reduction to the complexity and quality of our life, as very few people can excel in all realms. Someone who provides the most profound psychological support or financial assistance to a certain person is not necessarily the one who is the best partner in terms of satisfying the intellectual curiosity, generating the most profound spiritual fulfillment, or being the most desirable sexual partner for that person.

To sum up, love can do wonders and might have a crucial role in a happy and fulfilling life, but love is not everything and we need more than love for a happy and fulfilling life. We do need love, and the fact that we need other things as well does not belittle the value of love.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, if you realize that even God cannot fulfill all your needs ( as such needs might conflict with each other or be morally wrong, for example), how can you expect me to do so?"

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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