Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Love Hypothesis

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who posited the following hypothesis:

Love is about control. That which you control and dominate, you tend to love. Likewise, that which dominates and controls you, you also tend to love.

I found this hypothesis to be instantly repugnant at first. It seemed to violate something deep within my soul. Yet, I was unable to articulate why. My friend went on to give the example of a dog. There is no reason for people to love their dogs, or the dogs to love us. We love our dogs because we absolutely control and dominate them. Our dogs, in turn, love us because we dominate and control their existance.

I understood where the philosophy came from, and I hated to admit that there did seem to be some validity to it. I still couldn't shake the feeling that something was being left out of this Love Hypothesis. I have quietly reflected on the matter for days, and I am convinced that the original hypothesis is too cold and simplistic to boil down a concept like love so easily.

Going with the pet motif, I offer the example of a cat. Before I rile up any cat lovers, I know they make wonderful pets, and some are quite loving, etc. More often than not, though, cats tend to be solitary creatures, often ignoring their "masters" unless it's time to be fed, watered, or have the kitty litter changed. Even with kitty litter, sometimes, Kitty will simply take a dump on the master's bed to show displeasure. Cats clearly do not love their humans like a dog does, although they seem to recognize that humans control the food supply. Still, if the Love Hypothesis as stated was correct, cats would adore their humans as much as dogs do.

So what's missing? I think it is true that when we dominate and control something, we have a tendency to love it. I also think it's true that if you are dominated or controlled by someone, you tend to love that as well. Think of the Stockholm syndrome where a kidnap victim starts to identify with his/her captors and behave in ways that would indicate to most of us having a "love" for those captors.

The Love Hypothesis is missing the characteristic of emotional intimacy. This is the idea that it is safe to make yourself vulnerable to another person. If you simply love someone because you dominate and control them, it does not follow that you are emotionally intimate. In fact, there would be no reason to be emotionally intimate since that would threaten your control. I suggest that love based through domination and control is not love for that person at all; it is merely love of the situation. You love BEING controlled or CONTROLLING another person. You are not emotionally intimate with them, so you cannot really LOVE the person at all. You don't even really know the person in those situations.

When I think of love, I do not think of control unless it's in a fluid sense within the relationship. Sometimes you will control things, and other times, the other person. When you both try to control, conflict can occur, and you have to negotiate that. What makes love worthwhile to me is knowing that someone has my back, knows my secrets and still thinks I'm a good person to be with, and with whom I can be emotionally vulnerable and know that it is safe to do so.

That last part is the real kicker for me. I find it difficult to trust that a love interest is not going to use my vulnerability against me. I also find it hard to trust that such a person is being "real" with me, and returning the favor of emotional trust. Part of this is through personal experience, and some of it comes from watching what has happened to friends. For me, to really be in love with someone, I have to feel completely comfortable that he is not going to just leave me on a whim. I need to know in my heart that even when I mess up badly, he will still love me (even though he might be really angry with me for a while) and will not abandon me lightly. And I would want him to know the same thing about me. It's much like how I feel about my family. I know they will be there for me and love me no matter what. Even when if I did something horrible, they wouldn't abandon me. That's a real comfort, especially in a world where it's so easy to feel alone and isolated.

So, I would add emotional intimacy to the mix to explain love. The domination piece can and does play a role, but that alone cannot explain why people love. You have to be able to expose your innermost self without fear of ridicule, betrayal, or descruction. That goes for the "dominant" person in the relationship as well as the "submissive" person, and it goes double for relationships where neither person really dominates.

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