In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

I Am Not Hopelessly Devoted to You

Love and romantic devotion should not be blind

"But baby can't you see, there's nothing else
for me to do, I'm hopelessly devoted to you." (Olivia Newton-Jones)

"I'll never hurt you, I'll never lie
I'll never be untrue
I'll never give you reason to cry
I'd be unhappy if you were blue." (Everly Brothers)

Devotion to someone we love is an essential virtue in romantic relationships. But can we say that all kinds of devotion are positive? I believe that one does not want to be hopelessly devoted to any person.

What's important here is to distinguish between one-sided, passive, and unconditional devotion ("I am hopeless devoted to you") and a reciprocal, dynamic, and, conditional devotion ("You can count on me, I'll never hurt you, I'll never lie, I'll never be untrue, I'll never give you reason to cry").

Being "hopelessly devoted" reflects claims of the Romantic Ideology which says that ideal love is total, as in comprehensive; uncompromising, as in inflexible;, and unconditional, i.e., unaffected by the conditions of reality. Being hopelessly devoted implies a lack of control, responsibility, and reasoning by the lover. The one who is loved, in return, is lacking those human characteristics of one who interacts with the lover on an equal basis with mutual responsibility. The hopelessly devoted lover is not in a genuine loving relationship with the beloved regardless of any other circumstances. The hopelessly devoted lover is, in a sense, blind and irresponsible for her actions. Moreover, the beloved has no significant responsibility because no matter what he does, the lover's activities will not change.

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Being hopelessly devoted may be a suitable attitude toward God, whose activities are not to be questioned. Even after the Holocaust, when millions of people died, Jewish people were not supposed to question, but rather to bless God. Applying this attitude toward humans puts both lovers in an impossible one-sided situation which is atypical of genuine love.

The dynamic devotion that the Everly Brothers speak about is different. It is a responsible and sensitive devotion. The lover does his best not to hurt the beloved and to make her happy. It is not blind devotion, but reciprocal one. The lover sees reality and does his best to make the beloved happier.

Because love is not blind, romantic devotion should not be blind. Each partner has characteristics that his/her partner loves - and those that are not as attractive. Looking at those qualities is a complex task which carries with it a great deal of responsibility. It is not arbitrary assignment, as it should be based on reality-otherwise, reality may hurt-but it has some subjective elements expressing the lover's values and preferences.

To sum up, devotion, like reciprocity, is crucial to romantic relationships, but devotion should not be hopelessly blind.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, you know that sometimes I treat you like God; for example, I never use Google when you are around because I feel that you know everything. But our love has nothing to do with hopelessness but with ongoing growth. My love to you can't die because I'm not blindly devoted to you."

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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