Existentialists in love


Richard Marshall interviews Skye C. Cleary over at 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You’ve linked existentialism to romantic love. Can you sketch the broad contours of this idea; what is it that makes you think that existentialism can help us explore and understand romantic love fruitfully?

SC: How we love is shaped by so many external factors – friends, family, pop culture – that it’s easy to forget about what’s meaningful for the people in the relationship. It’s also so easy to be swept away in a frenzy of romantic intoxication and sexual infatuation which, of course, is one of the best things about love. But it can become a problem if lovers neglect other important parts of their life (like their career and personal ambitions) or make major life decisions (like marriage) based on a transient rush of dopamine. The early stages of falling in love are euphoric, like being addicted drugs. Yet, also as with drugs, the rush gets less intense over time, and we’re forever chasing the love dragon. While may be possible to re-spark that flame, it gets harder, but there’s no need to be too upset if relationships evolve into something else because deeper, more stable, longer-term relationships can be great too. So, an existential approach to romantic loving shows that once we free ourselves from externally-imposed expectations about how we ought to be in relationships, as well as from being slaves to our passions, then we will be free to reinvigorate love in authentically meaningful ways.

3:AM: What do you mean by romantic loving? Has it a history – or is it something decisively contemporary and linked to modern sensibilities and socio-political and economic conditions?

SC: Romantic loving is a fairly new concept. Sure, humans have been falling in love for as long as we know, but until recently, it was rarely the case that you could spend your life with someone you were passionately in love with. ‘Romantic’ was a term that became popular a few hundred years ago when things like art, architecture, and music were described as Romantic (with a capital R), because they were grand and heroic and adventurous, like the Roman empire. In the 19th Century love started to be described as romantic too. And with industrialization, the need for economic and power alliance-based marriages dissolved because domestic production declined, and there was less of a need to keep the family business going within the family. With romance literature reaching a mass market, the allure of the love story spread. The ideal of marrying the person with whom you are in love, to be together forever, is a seductive narrative.

More here.