In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Does Steve Jobs' Logic Apply to Love?

The rejection of settling is valuable but can be costly

"And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle." — Steve Jobs

In his motivational "Don't Settle" speech, Steve Jobs puts forward an ideal that we should aspire to fulfill. Can we follow his advice and not settle on issues of love and work? Should we distinguish between the two and settle on one and not the other? The answers are not apparent as there are in this regard both feasibility and normative concerns.

There is no doubt that fulfilling Job's advice concerning both love and work is somewhat easier these days. An essential condition for doing so is the greater feasibility of mobility in both our working and romantic lives. One must settle, or compromise, when one does not have a viable alternative with which to replace the current one and accordingly cannot achieve a situation that can become "better and better as the years roll on."

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Labor and romantic mobility are indeed on the rise in modern society (see here). This is even more evident concerning labor mobility as many occupations have now become obsolete while new ones have emerged. Mobility is now easier and more tempting in terms of both the reduced cost and increased benefits. This situation is also evident concerning committed romantic relationships such as marriage. To a large extent, this has occurred because of two major developments in modern society: (a) the lifting of many of the constraints that once prevented marriages from dissolving, and (b) the apparent presence of so many attractive alternatives that offer the promise of replacing any given marriage. Nowadays, getting out of a committed relationship and getting into a new one is much easier.

This greater labor and romantic mobility enables people to follow Jobs' advice and to keep searching and not settling. But is it also advisable to follow Jobs' advice?

Constant (at least until the desired situation is found) mobility and change each have a price attached to them. If one finds what one is searching for in a relatively short time, then the search can be considered worthwhile; but if the search is very long or never even finds the desired love or work, then the search can be costly and risky.

Dan Ariely argues that people have an irrational tendency to keep their options open for too long and hence wind up chasing impractical options. We want to taste and experience every aspect of life, regardless of its price and risk. Another risk in such behavior is that some options disappear if we do not invest enough resources to keep them alive.

Leaving all options open is in a sense disregarding reality, since reality has its own limitations and our resources are limited. Love requires such a great investment (time-wise and in other ways) that leaving all our romantic options alive can spread our required investment too thin.

The wish not to leave any door unopened is related to the natural curiosity of humans. Our imagination plays a crucial role in our life (and love), and we have an innate tendency to see and experience what is beyond our present circumstances. However, opening every door that beckons to us can have costly ramifications.

Even if one can bear the cost and the risk of continuing to search, there is the normative moral issue of such a search. It might be generally true that with regard to work, there is very little if any moral value in remaining in the same type of job, as our workplace is not a living creature toward which we have moral obligations. Organizations do not have the moral status of people. Of course, when we change our workplace or our job, we should not hurt those who remain behind in our old workplace, but our major responsibility at work is usually to the organization and not to a particular person. In marriage, one's main obligation is toward one's partner and family and not toward the institution of marriage itself.

The obligations toward one's spouse are not absolute. In most modern societies, there is no moral obligation to stay within a marital relationship that is dead, but there is some kind of obligation to make the effort to stay in a marital relationship when there is a chance that a profound loving relationship can be established. There is a normative demand that each partner should make compromises that will bring the two closer together. However, there is also a desire to be in a loving relationship in which both people are happy with each other. The notion that one will be with one's partner for a long time is an essential part of ideal love. However, when this love is absent, staying together can harm both partners.

People who are in profound loving relationships expect their romantic relationship to last for a long time. But they should also be aware of the possibility that it will end. The death of love, although often associated with death in general, is certainly different. The death of a particular love can be the seed for generating a new and profound love.

Jobs' rejection of settling, or compromises, in love and work is a commendable ideal, but it is not practical and not appropriate in all circumstances. Jobs is right in claiming that in matters of the heart, you know what you love when you find it, but there is no money-back guarantee that you will indeed find it. Sometimes you must settle and compromise and gradually build what you love. At other times, you need to realize your limitations and settle for the optimal alternative—in love and work. No one can promise you a rose garden in all circumstances.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, please try to convince yourself that I am the best you can have, as if you try to search for another love you may lose the little love you still have for me."

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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