love. week three.
city. new york city
Imagine waking up one morning and finding that every person on earth has disappeared and you’re the only one left.
How long will you go on living until you decide… well, until you decide that there’s just no point?
Is it a week? A year? A decade??
Really think about it. Think about how you spend your day, and whether any of it would make any sense if there was not a single other person alive.
I’m trying to imagine what I’d like to do. I suppose that I’d spend some time doing the things I already enjoy: reading, listening to music, traveling, having new experiences, watching movies.
And then I’d spend some time trying to be creative: learning how to play instruments, develop inner peace, writing poetry and philosophy (but for myself? I'd stop after a few days), and focus on arranging my environment until it’s perfectly efficient.
And finally, I’d spend a lot of time incredibly high. But that’s just to say that I wouldn’t be ‘spending’ that time at all.
And if I fast forward past all that, is there anything that can be ultimately meaningful without the possibility of ever having someone to share it with?
I suppose that if I reached a point of pure mindfulness, something like nirvana, then I would be content to just exist. But all that tells me is that nothing matters without another person. In other words, the best that I can find would be to enjoy doing nothing at all. (Which suggests that perhaps that’s already the best that I can find, but let’s leave that for another time.)
Let’s consider the opposite scenario. I wake up and lying beside me is the perfect partner (whatever that means). Can there be anything in the world which is not worth doing together? If I have the perfect person to share it with, I can count grains of sand all day long and still be the happiest man alive.
What does this tell me about the nature of ‘value’? What does this tell me about the nature of happiness? Socrates said that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, but actually it seems like it’s the lonely life which is most unfortunate.
Which brings me to my next thought: having a relationship with another person is not black and white, it’s a matter of degrees.
I have a relationship with my neighbor; we pass each other in the hallway and nod hello. I have a relationship with my friends; we hang out and have fun together. I have a relationship with my family; we are always there for each other and have spent way too much time together.
So, here’s what I think.
1: The more I share with another person, the more rewarding that relationship becomes.
2: The more open I am with another person, the more I share with them.
3: The more vulnerable I am with another person, the more open I am with them.
4: The more trusting I am of another person, the more vulnerable I allow myself to be.
And the inverse.
1: The less I share with another person, the less rewarding that relationship becomes.
2: The less open I am with another person, the less I share with them.
3: The less vulnerable I am with another person, the less open I am.
4: The less trusting I am of another person, the less vulnerable I allow myself to be.
If this is true, then (a) the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And (b) love, almost by definition, implies vulnerability, which itself implies risk. It’s impossible to love safely. And, finally, (c) there are two ways to develop love for someone: either by finding someone who I trust, or by learning to trust those who I find (or both).
In retrospect that all sounds obvious. But I guess it just feels good to think it all through.
I passed an artist smoking a cigarette outside of the Eric Firestone Gallery and stopped to ask him a question:
“What’s the connection between beauty and love?”
He thought for a moment and said:
“Kant defines beauty as something which gives off the appearance of having a purpose, without actually possessing any purpose at all. It just looks purposeful.”
[I looked it up when I got home, and here are Kant’s exact words: Beauty is the form of purposiveness in an object, so far as this is perceived in it apart from the representation of an end.]
“So,” he continued, “we can say the same thing for love. It is a social relation that has the appearance of having a purpose without actually having a purpose. All other social relations are in order to accomplish something: money, food, sex, power. Love alone is a relationship solely for the sake of the relationship itself, just as beauty is only for its own sake.”
I thought about this and responded:
“Okay, if beauty is regarding appearances and love is regarding social relations, then what about activities? What do we call an activity which seems to have a purpose without actually having one?”
“That,” he chuckled, “is what we call playing.”
(Full disclosure: I made this story up. I did pass an artist smoking outside the gallery, but I was too shy to talk to him.)