Full transcript here. This month, Julia Liu and I talk to Aaron Ben Ze’ev (University of Haifa) about romantic love: what it is, what makes it last for a long time when it lasts for a long time, what makes it end when it ends, and so on. Click here to download Episode 121 of Elucidations.
As a culture, we have a lot of conflicted feelings about romantic love. Sometimes we think it’s the most important thing there is to any human being—we talk like we’d do anything for it (though it’s interesting project to try to unpack what it would mean to do something ‘for love’). Other times we talk about it like it’s corny, cheesy, sappy—the stuff of trash television or pulp fiction. Sometimes it can feel like the pendulum is just swinging back and forth between these two different types of rhetoric. But which is correct?
Neither, in the view of our guest. He wants to give romantic love the seriousness it deserves: we do structure large portions of our lives around the project of building romantic relationships with other people, and having them is often a centerpiece of living well. But he also wants to challenge mainstream Western romantic ideology, which tells us that having a lifelong romantic relationship is a necessary and sufficient condition on living a good life, and that a healthy, fulfilling romantic relationship is only possible with the ideal partner.
On the contrary, he insists: there are people who live a great life without any romantic relationships, and people with healthy romantic relationships who live terrible lives. Furthermore, romantic relationships involve compromise: they require you to weigh your partner’s positive and negative features and accept the whole package. They may or may not last your whole life, and they may not come until you reach a late age. Contra romantic ideology, both of those things are just fine.
Other topics that come up include: is love a feeling or an activity? Is it privately experienced by an individual or does it emerge out of the behavior of two (or more) people? We know it’s possible to think you’re in love when you aren’t, but is it possible to be in love without knowing it?
Tune in to hear our guest’s perspective on this underexplored topic!
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Aaron Ben Ze’ev’s new book, The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time, is out now from The University of Chicago Press! He also has an extensive blog at Psychology Today dedicated to the topic. And finally, you may be interested in his two earlier books, In The Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims and Love Online: Emotions on the Internet.