In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

I Want to Know Where Love Is

Is it in you, me or somewhere between us?

"Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same." Flavia Weedn

The issue of which bodily organ underlies romantic experiences is no longer in dispute today: We know that it is the brain, rather than the heart. An interesting twist in this dispute is the recently popular view that love is not located within the individual's body, but resides within the connections between the two lovers. Does this view make sense?

The “location” of love

“Come live in my heart and pay no rent.” Samuel Lover

Although it is obvious that, like other emotions, love is related to the brain, in everyday usage the heart is still perceived to underlie emotional phenomena in general, and love in particular. Flavia Weedn and Samuel Lover, in the quotations cited above, even describe the loving heart in graphic terms associated with police search and real-estate terms.

We may discern three major views concerning the location of love: (a) love is the unity (fusion) between the two lovers; (b) love resides in each lover; (c) love resides within the connections between the two lovers.

(a) The first view assumes that lovers fuse into each other to form a single unit, as if they were two faces of the same coin. Plato already noted that the search for love is essentially the search for our missing half. The notion of unity may be associated with the fact that in sexual intercourse, corporal penetration literally fuses the two bodies. Lisa, a married woman in her late fifties, describes her feeling toward her married lover in terms that support this view: “I so want him to feel and know every single one of my thoughts and dreams; I never want to hide anything from him; I so want him to be one with me, as he is part of myself” (Ben-Ze'ev & Goussinsky, 2008).

(b) The second view seems intuitively true: like other mental states, the emotion of love is the property of an agent. This view can explain the phenomenon of unrequited love in which love is a property of only one agent. This view is also in accordance with the way we commonly describe one-sided emotions, such as when we say that “I am in love with you”, “he is envious of me,” “she is happy with him,” and so forth. We also describe other mental states as properties of agents (including animals). Thus, we say that the agent thinks, imagines, and remembers. Similarly, we attribute to the agent not merely emotions but other phenomena of the affective realm, such as sentiments, moods, affective disorders, and affective traits (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000). The problem with this view is that it does not sufficiently explain the unique connectivity between the two lovers. In order for this view to be valid, it needs to incorporate an explanation of the nature of the unique connection.

(c) The third view is more sophisticated and it involves a serious attempt to explain the unique connectivity between the lovers. In this view, love resides within the connections between the two lovers. Thus, Barbara Fredrickson (2013) claims that love is not located “within a person’s boundaries, confined within their mind and skin.” She suggests defining love as "positivity resonance": “Love unfolds and reverberates between and among people—within interpersonal transactions—and thereby belongs to all parties involved…. Love belongs not to one person, but to pairs or groups of people. It resides with connections.”

It seems that the first view, assuming a fusion of identity between the two lovers, is too simplistic in its ontological fusion assumption. The lovers are two separate individuals and perceiving them as one entity raises too many difficulties. The idea of fusion also raises a psychological problem, as it constitutes a kind of Siamese-twin model, implying not merely a loss of freedom but also each lover's loss of self-identity. Yet neither loss is typical of profound love, which provides optimal circumstances for personal flourishing to two separate agents with different self-identities.

The second and third views have some valuable aspects that can explain romantic connectivity, provided that they are revised in certain ways. The second view needs an additional explanation of romantic connectivity. The third view needs to remove the obscure ontological status of love as residing in the connection between the lovers.

The second view is correct in claiming that love is basically a mental state that is a predicate of an individual agent—mental states do not float freely in the air without being the property of a certain agent with mental capacities. However, romantic love consists of more than mere wishes and feelings; it consists of shared activities that take place over time. The third view incorporates an explanation of such activities. This view captures an essential aspect of love: reciprocity, which is expressed in functional harmony and romantic resonance. However, its understanding of the “location” of love is questionable. My discussion here will focus upon this more complex view; however, it is difficult to take this view seriously as long as its problematic ontological assumption concerning the “location” of love is not clarified.

Barbara Fredrickson (2013) provides ample empirical findings indicating the importance in love of resonance with the other person. This in itself does not prove that love is located in the connection. Love is a psychological experience and as such it is, strictly speaking, a property of the agent and not of the interaction between two agents. The interaction itself may be the cause of the experience of love or a central constituent of it, but the experience itself is a property of an agent. The agent can love even if resonance does not exist. However, over the long term, profound love typically requires such resonance. Similarly, the fact that when a lover thinks about his partner, he might become sexually aroused does not locate his sexual desire in the connection between the two; it is a property of the agent who desires his partner. Romantic resonance is a property taking place in both agents, and in this sense it “resides” in both agents, but it does not reside in some mysterious entity called their “connection.”

The harmony underlying romantic resonance exists precisely because there are two separate individuals who are so close to each other that their activities and feelings are not merely compatible with each other (that is, do not negate each other), but are also in harmony with each other (that is, promote each other). This does not mean that we can assume an ontological fusion between the two. We can speak about shared emotional states; however, we cannot abolish the separate existence of two individuals who have distinct, although similar, psychological states.

The term “location” is unfortunate as it is too mechanistic; Fredrickson uses the more appropriate term “reside”, but this still does not solve the main problem. The term “reside” has various meanings, for example, to live in a place, to be situated, to be present as an element or a quality, and to be vested with the power of right. While these meanings are less mechanistic than those of "location," it remains doubtful whether love actually resides in the connection and not in the agent. One may agree that, in some metaphorical way, love is situated in or a quality of the connection (or more precisely, the connection is quality of the love). However, this metaphorical usage should not obscure the literal fact that the emotion of love is mainly a psychological property of the agent.

The nature of love

"Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." Ursula K. Le Guin

The strength of the third view is not in its ontological assumptions, but in its description of the nature of love. This description can still retain its value even if we recognize that love is first and foremost a property of an agent. This is compatible with Angelika Krebs's argument that love is not about each partner having the other as his or her object; rather, love is about what happens between the partners. It is dialogical. Lovers share what is important in their emotional and practical lives. Krebs further claims that loving somebody means to meaningfully enjoy this kind of sharing, whether it is talking, hiking or making music together. In loving somebody, you enlarge yourself through closely interacting with and responding to the other person. We do not flourish as individual entities; our nature is social. In joint action, the participants are integrated into a (psychological) whole, which is more than the sum total of two individual actions. In joint action, both participants contribute (though not necessarily in the same way or to the same extent) and their contributions fit together to actualize the common good (Krebs, 2002; 2014).

Krebs’s main concern is the nature of love; accordingly, she refers to the conditions and circumstances required for profound love to flourish. This view does not necessarily claim that love resides outside the agent in the space between the lovers; it focuses on shared and joint activities without proposing a heavy ontological load concerning the location of love. The emotion of love can be, as the second view suggests, a property of an agent, but the expression and conditions of typical profound love imply a psychological space in which the lovers’ mutual activities take place.

The notions of “functional harmony” and “romantic resonance” are particularly relevant to this view. Profound love involves shared intrinsic activities, which fulfill essential needs that are constitutive of the flourishing of each lover and of the couple's long-term flourishing. The affinity between such lovers is a kind of functional harmony in which personal identities are not merely retained but further developed. An essential feature of functional harmony is romantic resonance, that is, meaningful responsiveness to the beloved. Resonance is clearly evident, for example, in flirting, where each partner’s emotions are stirred, thereby enabling the two partners to resonate with each other.

In light of the essential role of reciprocity and caring in romantic love, responsiveness is crucial. Indeed, in profound love the responsiveness underlying reciprocity and harmonious activities is of great importance. Thus, lovers develop similar preferences, for example, enjoying music to which they were previously indifferent, or even wearing similar clothes. These lovers often testify that they frequently have similar thoughts or that they understand each other even before the other speaks. Their love is part and parcel of their personality and activities, and it cannot be said to reside merely in the connection. The loving attitudes in both lovers are similar, but they do not reside outside the agents.

We have seen that resonance is not located within or outside the agent; it is rather a property of the agent, with certain cognitive and evaluative structures. The resonating experience can, but does not have to, be shared by the two agents. In profound love, such resonance is quite observable and is important for maintaining and nurturing the relationship.

References

Ben-Ze'ev, A. (2000). The subtlety of emotions. MIT Press.

Ben-Ze'ev, A. & Goussinsky, R. (2008). In the name of love: Romantic Ideology and its victims. Oxford University Press.

Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: Creating happiness and health in moments of connection. Plume.

Krebs, A. (2002). Arbeit und Liebe. Die philosophischen Grundlagen sozialer Gerechtigkeit. Suhrkamp.

Krebs, A. (2014). Zwischen Ich und Du. Eine dialogische Philosophie der Liebe. Suhrkamp.

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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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