In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

How's Your Romantic Intuition?

Sometimes you just know.

"Maybe it's intuition, Something you just don't question...I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life, I knew I loved you before I met you, I have been waiting all my life, There's just no rhyme or reason, Only a sense of completion, And in your eyes, I see the missing pieces, I'm searching for, I think I've found my way home" -- Savage Garden

 

Can we love someone before meeting them? I believe we can, in the same way that we might "know" that we will not love someone even before we've met her or him. Our love is often based upon our romantic intuitions, which have developed before we meet someone.

Is such intuition helpful?

Romantic intuition is not a mysterious sixth sense. It is based on previously-formed evaluative structures, schemata that have been set during evolution and our own personal development. Our individual and evolutionary history is embedded in these structures. Hence, we may be predisposed to love a certain type of person even before getting to know a specific individual. Thus, someone may tend to love wise, caring men with an ironic sense of humor and preferably a British accent. Meeting an individual who matches (to a great extent) this pattern activates our inbuilt schemata and enables us to benefit from this implicit knowledge.

As Steve Jobs said: "As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

The romantic intuition that is activated in loving someone before meeting them is somewhat similar to love at first sight. However, while love at first sight mainly involves an activation of an aesthetic schema, the intuition in loving before actually knowing is broader and is a response to perceived admirable character traits.

The initial fit to our preferences does not guarantee the growth of profound love, which depends on developing joint activities that promote the lovers' flourishing. It also does not guarantee the long-term duration of this love; with better knowledge of the person, gaps between our ideal image and the individual's reality might become apparent, or the schemata may change as we grow older. However, the initial fit is a considerable boost to the establishment of long-term profound love.

Should a romantic relationship be recommended only if you have such a romantic intuition? I don't think so. Very few of us are fortunate enough to know who the person we will love is before meeting them. In order to find love, many people may need to change their notion of an ideal lover, or to make romantic compromises and be satisfied with someone who does not perfectly fit our given schemata.

Consider the true story of Rosa, a single mother in her fifties, who said: "I am looking for perfection and I have been mistaken in my choices. I turn down opportunities to be with men because I judge them to be far from perfect. As I get older, I seem to be softening, but I also seem to be getting clearer about what I like and want. I don't want superficiality—but for the first time in my life, I am considering having sex with someone I don't see as partner material."

The romantic intuition expressed in loving a person before meeting them is indeed unusual, and many people have failed to find such love. Consider the true story of Elena, a married woman in her early forties who read many romantic novels and collections of love letters, and so wished to fulfill the ideal love described in these writings. She thought that her failure to achieve such ideal love stemmed from personal faults, either her own or her partners'. Consequently, she engaged in numerous affairs while searching for her ideal beloved: “What I have been doing is wandering around the world in search of a home for my heart, and every one of my efforts made clear only one thing, which was that home was elsewhere. The most prominent feeling in my life was the feeling of loneliness, even when, or especially when, I was with another man.”

We should not waste our lives searching for a certain ideal that may not exist; instead, we should invest more effort in making our actual relationship as close as possible to the ideal and be prepared to make some compromises and revisions to our ideal while not giving up the essential aspects of romantic love. As Tom Robbins said: "We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”

Finding true love often involves a rocky road, and the destination is not always known. Not everyone is lucky enough to "find" a person they love before they even meet, or wise enough to stick to a good enough partner when they find him or her.

To sum up: We should not mistrust our romantic intuition, but we should also not base our relationship decisions on such feelings alone. But just as Intuition by itself can be wrong, so can intellectual thinking. So listen to your heart, take into account other perspectives—your own and others'—and then make your decision. Intuition is an excellent starting point. It cannot replace thinking. It can, however, be of great value in the romantic decision-making process.

 

The search for profundity is indeed crucial for finding love that will remain fulfilling over time. (See my article, Endless Love.)

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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