Does Love Always Win?
The conflict between love and life.
Posted January 10, 2018
“There is love, of course. And then there's life, its enemy.” —Jean Anouilh
“The fact that you breathe doesn't mean you're alive.” —Advertisement for Alfa Romeo
Romantic love is a many-splendored thing. It does not merely add sweet tastes to our life, but it also contributes greatly to our health and flourishing. It does not merely let us breathe, but makes us alive. A life without love is a miserable life. However, not everything is glowing in the romantic kingdom. Relationships do not float freely in the air; they take place in the midst of the unpleasant constraints imposed by the circumstances of our lives. Adapting to these circumstances sometimes requires compromises when choosing our long-term partner.
Is love all we need?
Romantic love is not all we need in life. We need much more. In particular, we need to maintain our personal flourishing (which also includes self-fulfillment).
For love to flourish and endure, our living framework should typically function in a satisfactory manner. When romantic love thrives, it can enhance the flourishing of our life. In other circumstances, the needs of love and life can conflict, and we have to compromise by settling for situations that might not completely fulfill our ideals, but are relatively close to them, or at least the closest we can get in the given circumstances.
The decision of whether to give preference to love or to life is usually not straightforward; typically, it involves many considerations, each of which carries different weight. Such a decision takes place on a continuum between two extreme ends — sacrificing life for love (as when committing suicide due to unrequited love), or sacrificing love for life (as in the case of marrying a rich, old person, or when the relationship is loveless or even hostile). Most cases fall between these extremes; the precise location on the continuum is determined by the strength of the love, the nature and extent of the demands of life, and the degree of the conflict between them.
The conflict between romantic love and life increases when intense desire is perceived as the core of romantic love. Such desire is essentially brief and decreases with time. Life, on the other hand, endures much longer. A lover cannot be blind to life, and love does not always win. In any case, love cannot replace life. In the struggle between love and life, love almost always loses, especially when it is based on intense desire. In the long run, maintaining and enhancing love is made possible by nurturing the connection between the lovers and ensuring that each can flourish. In such circumstances, the ties to the living framework are augmented.
The importance of life in love
Love is a significant aspect of a flourishing life; hence, it should not be neglected. However, a flourishing life is also a part of profound love. Many people will not stay in a romantic relationship that inhibits their personal flourishing. Romantic intensity is not always part of romantic profundity. Princess Diana once remarked, “They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?” Similarly, one might claim that it is better to be poor and in love than rich without love, but how about a compromise like being moderately rich and just loving (rather being madly in love with) each other?
Compromises can be characterized as involving the dissatisfied acceptance of a gap between a perceived feasible desire and our actual situation. In romantic compromises, we give up a romantic value, such as great, passionate love, in exchange for a non-romantic value, like the wish to live comfortably without financial worries. In such compromises, we are in a situation that we have chosen, but one we would prefer was different. Our choice stems from the fact that we are limited creatures; we cannot always meet our norms or achieve our ideals. In order to survive, we sometimes have to settle for something less than we might want.
The prevailing romantic ideology is essentially mistaken in always preferring love over life on the basis that “love always wins” and “love always finds a way” (Ben-Ze’ev & Goussinsky, 2008). Life might not be the greatest enemy of love, but it often involves practical considerations that conflict with or oppose the romantic ones. To admit that in some circumstances life should take precedence over love is to admit the necessity of romantic compromises. As Soren Kierkegaard rightly said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced." It is a reality to take into account.
Overcoming complex hurdles
The romantic road requires us to overcome a variety of complex hurdles, but it will provide an interesting, meaningful, and often enjoyable journey. Coping with the complexity of romantic love is by no means simple: sometimes we need to open our eyes and sometimes to close them; sometimes we have to remember, and sometimes we need to forget. As Ingrid Bergman noted, "Happiness is good health and a bad memory." Since in our current romantic environment “better” love is always in the air, relinquishing a romantic opportunity and considering your present romantic situation to be good enough is extremely difficult.
We are condemned to keep yearning for a constant star, while realizing that sometimes the heart needs steering. Setting one's mind at rest, while maintaining some kind of striving, is often, though not always, an optimal solution to the conflict between love and life.
Ben-Ze'ev, A. & Goussinsky, R. (2008). In the name of love: Romantic Ideology and its victims. Oxford University Press.