[February 13, 2003]

A Valentine's Day Love Experiment

by Wayne Dunn

We've all heard that love should be selfless. But not only is selfless love impossible, it's undesirable. You wouldn't want it if you got it.

Don't take my word for it though. Put the "love-is-selfless" notion to the test and see firsthand. And I can't think of a more appropriate time than Valentine's Day.

Go out for a romantic dinner with your significant other, cozy up and coo, "Honey, I love you selflessly. I have no personal interest in you. I gain nothing from our relationship. My love for you is a selfless service dutifully rendered. I'd rather be with another, but I have sacrificed that selfish desire in order to be with you, instead."

Good luck finishing that "ode" before getting a drink thrown in your face--or worse.

If selfless love is so wonderful, so virtuous, why be disgusted at receiving it? After all, our little Valentine's experiment merely applies to real life what our parents, teachers, and clergymen dinned into us: that personal gain tarnishes love.

So are all those people wrong? Or are we wrong for preferring to hear this from our lover: "I profit in a thousands ways from being with you. My life is far better with you in it. Nothing is more to my self-interest than loving you, and I hope you feel the same."

Why would that confession likely earn you a kiss--or better? Why would he or she not storm out, screaming, "How dare you profit from our relationship! Pure love is non-profit! You're only with me because it's to your self-interest, not because it's a sacrifice."

Selfless love is an oxymoron. As Ayn Rand wrote, "To say 'I love you,' one must first know how to say the 'I.'"

People mistake love as selfless because it often entails helping those you love. But to call that "selfless" implies that self-interest means being indifferent to the people you value. It implies that watching idly a loved-one suffer or perish benefits you, but that acting to uphold him doesn't.

In truth, it's to your selfish interest to cherish your loved-ones, because your own welfare and happiness is intertwined with theirs.

So who originated this nonsense about selfless love? Well, in the West at least, Christianity has preached it for over 2000 years.

Jesus says to love not just whomever you choose, but everyone, even enemies--which truly is selfless. He would have us turn the other cheek, forgive, "bless," and "do good" to those who harm us. In practice, this means that instead of trying to blow up Osama bin Laden, we should blow him a kiss. Instead of punishing Laci Peterson's abductor, we should send him a valentine.

But human beings are not platonic love machines pumping out adoration for anyone with a pulse. Love cannot be commanded into existence. Love is an emotional response to one's highest values, just as hate or fear is an emotional response to those values being threatened. One should no more love enemies than hate friends--not if the concepts "friend" and "enemy" have meaning.

Love is too valuable to be awarded indiscriminately, like popcorn strewn before pigeons. Of what use is such "love?" A proper reply upon receiving an "I love you" from a member of the "love-should-be-universal-and-unconditional" crowd is: "So what if you love me? You love everyone. Heck, if someone slit my throat right now you'd love him, too. You're a regular love-inator."

The choice is not to either love your fellow man or hate him. The choice is to either be rational or irrational. And a rational person has standards, conditions. You should no more expect or grant unearned, causeless love in the spiritual sense than in the romantic sense. You should no more love a stranger or an enemy than crawl into bed with one.

Love merits exclusivity, and should be selfishly safeguarded.

My fiancee agrees.


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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by Wayne Dunn