In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Unchain my heart, baby let me go

Unchain my heart, baby let me go

"Unchain my heart, baby let me go,
Unchain my heart, because you don't love me no more" (Ray Charles)
"Please release me let me go,
For I don't love you anymore" (Engelbert Humperdinck)

Love is often considered to be the most profound expression of freedom-you let your heart lead the way to what you really want. But often love is considered to be a kind of restrictive chain that prevents you from doing what you really want to do. Why should someone want to be unchained from love, the greatest pleasure on earth?

Chains are characterized as a restrictive obstacle that prevents people from getting what they want. The lexical definition of such chains is "conditions that limit your freedom, especially unpleasant responsibilities or bad conditions that you live in." (Macmillan Dictionary) However, Ray Charles refers to chains having a positive nature-as being indicative of immense love for someone else.

We can divide the main types of such chains according to two major features they possess: whether they are actual or possible, and whether they are negative or positive. The most common meaning of the romantic chain refers to an actual and negative one. Thus, when a man wants to watch football on television and his wife forces him to be with her friends, she binds him with an actual chain that compels him to do something he considers as negative. Actual positive chains are present, for example, when someone is in a "golden cage" or in a "honey trap." These actual chains, which seem at first to be positive, are actually negative in light of certain negative circumstances associated with them. Possible negative chains are common as well. They are expressed, for instance, in one's fear of flights. Possible positive chains are present, for example, when a woman's love for another person makes her unable to be satisfied with her husband.

In modern society the chains that are concerned with possible and positive romantic situations have become more significant and prevalent. In previous periods the major romantic chains were actual negative chains preventing a person from leaving a marriage and pursuing another relationship that was perceived to be more gratifying. Today, the weight of such negative chains has been considerably reduced, as it is easier to get out of an existing relationship and enter a new one. These days, the most significant and common chains are the possible and positive ones. Those positive chains are so significant that they prevent people from being satisfied with their own lot. The negative chains of being tied to someone with some negative characteristics are easier to become accustomed to than are the positive chains of not pursuing the attainable adorable person, who seems to want you as well.

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The possible positive situation in itself is good. Love in itself is good; some even describe it as "heaven on earth." So why should paradise be regarded as a chain that one wants to shake off?

Love is not floating freely in the air; it is associated with various circumstances that could make love be perceived as a chain that is hard to bear. This kind of chain can be present in situations such when there is a risk involved in acquiring new love or when romantic rejection, lack of reciprocity, and fear of losing control are expected.

Love can burn in the heart of lovers, but if pursuing it is risky and costly, fear is likely to be generated; accordingly, the lover may consider his love to be a chain that restricts his ability to enjoy his life. In this case, the lover might wish to relinquish his love in order to eliminate the fear that it generates.

Another type of chain in love is the typical presence of ups and downs. The enjoyment of being in the exciting paradise of love could be seen as an unworthy restraint when considering the price of being in hell once that love fades. Some people might consider the upheaval of love as a chain that prevents them from enjoying the calm and control of a convenient life. Consider the case of Nancy, a married woman in her early forties, who candidly describes her attitude toward love: "It is good for me not to be in love... I don't want to be carried away and lose myself. I feel good when I'm in control."

The chains of love are also present when love lacks reciprocity. The lyrics from the two songs quoted above express the absence of romantic reciprocity. In Ray Charles' song, the lover does not love him anymore, and in Engelbert Humperdinck's song, he no longer loves her. The chains in the first song are harder to endure. Not pursuing one's love is very difficult; hence, he asks her to unchain his heart, thereby releasing him from his love for her. The situation of the lover in the second song is better as his chains are not psychological positive chains but negative chains, to which it is easier to accommodate oneself.

People in love occasionally feel chained by external constraints that prevent them from acting in accordance with their wilder passions, yet they are ready to let their beloved rob them of their liberty. They are happily to be chained to their beloved since they consider themselves to be acting in accordance with their loving heart, and for them this seems to be the greatest expression of freedom. Since our values, attitudes, and emotions construct and yet constrain the boundaries we set, our freedom is similarly both expressed and constrained by these values, attitudes and emotions. We can speak here of a self-determining freedom: I am free when my decision is based upon my values and constraints rather than upon external factors. Consequently, in genuine profound love restricting oneself to one person is not considered a chain.

To sum up, chains are part of our lives, which are full of boundaries and ideals. There are various types of chains and the most complex ones in our times are the possible positive ones that prevent people from being satisfied with their own lot. These positive chains make people discontented with what they have and create an ongoing state of frustration stemming from their inability to pursue the positive possibility.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, my love, when being with you I feel no chains as I love you so much. I wish you would feel those chains when you are with your lover."

 

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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