Doubtlessly, we are a long way from seeing the above title appear on a Hallmark card. Even so, that phrase embodies the very spirit of love, true love, as it is meant to be. Rather than the altruistic form of love that seems to be worshipped by our culture today, I advocate a different kind of love – selfish love – which I believe would solve many of the problems concerning our relationships if properly followed.
If I am correct, those of you who have read thus far probably already formed your opinion at the words “selfish love,” but before you begin furiously typing out a response, hear me out. Selfish love is a philosophical concept that leads to incredible happiness in one’s relationships while altruistic love, meaning a self-sacrificing, self-denying love, is irrational and leads one towards emotional strife.
Before we discuss love in particular, we should first examine the idea of “values.” Our values are conceived in our psyche through our rational perception of certain things to be immensely good or bad by their very nature. Often, this rational process is not carried out consciously but instead operates on a subconscious level. For example, we can reasonably admire Mt. Rushmore because of the value we place on the incredible time, effort, and skill it took to sculpt, while a landfill would evoke no such sense of rational wonder (save maybe one of profound disgust), but it takes no conscious mental activity to make that sort of judgment. Our values serve as a sort of guide for the things that we should seek, and oppositely avoid, in life. Virtues, in this sense, are human characteristics which we value (e.g. honesty, reason, self-esteem) over corresponding negative traits or vices (e.g. dishonesty, irrationality, self-contempt). In turn, our emotions are responses to our value system – good emotions arising from achieving our values and bad emotions from being kept from our values or having them taken away from us.
Consequently, love is a response to coming in contact with our most sacred values, or at least that is how it should be. Instead, we are told that love is inexplicable, that it needs no reason, or that it simply “happens.” Furthermore, we are told that love withstands any suffering or abuse that can be thrown at it, but is that really the kind of love we want? Who would really want their significant other to say, “I’m loving you as a favor to you; I’m getting nothing out of it?”
As ridiculous as it sounds, that is how many people view love. Countless individuals throughout their lives engage in relationships in which they claim, and maybe even force themselves to believe, that the happiness of their significant other is more important than their own. These are the “self-sacrificers,” the ones who live each and every day to please someone else regardless of the personal cost to themselves. Those who would spend their income on gifts they begrudgingly give, those who would sacrifice their time on events they hate attending, and especially those who would compromise their own convictions for those which they do not believe all fall into this category. In a very general sense, self-sacrificers believe that they are not worthy of their partner’s love and forever seek to please their perceived “greater” half rather than treating one another as equals. They feel like they are receiving the affection of their partner as a favor that must be compensated for by more favors. In the end, the self-sacrificers end up broken and unhappy even if their significant other is thrilled, and they still defiantly stand before the world asserting that they did it all for love – that the only thing that really matters is their partner’s happiness. Furthermore, it should be noted that many of those who receive the gifts, time, and ideological concessions feel equally miserable, knowing that their partner is not doing it because they want to but because they feel compelled to.
On the other end of the spectrum, there exists the “demanders.” Rather than being the one making the sacrifices, these are the kinds of people who require the sacrifices of their partner as proof of love. These are generally those who feel that their own love is provided as a favor to their “lesser half,” a favor that must be repaid. Should, for example, their significant other choose not to cater to their every whim, the response of the demanders is usually, “Don’t you love me?” As is common in our culture, this is an attempt by one person to impose their personal values upon someone else through the guilt of not living up to the personal standards of the former. Essentially, the demanders wish that their partners wanted what they want, and they seek to impose these values upon their partners through the claim of altruistic love. Again, the self-sacrificer is made unhappy by self-denial, and the demander is made unhappy knowing that the reality they seek to create is not reality as it is.
It is important to point out, however, that an altruistic relationship does not always consist of a self-sacrificer and a demander. In fact, a relationship can be composed of two self-sacrificers, each futilely trying to make the other happy while both rejecting their own happiness, or two demanders, each trying to achieve happiness through denying the reality of the differences between their own and their partner’s authentic values. In actuality, most people are a mixture of these two forms of altruistic lovers: they both deny their own happiness and demand, by the principles of altruistic love, that their partners do the same. Essentially, they claim to be solely concerned with their partner’s happiness while also claiming that their personal happiness should be their partner’s center of attention. In their heads, they are neither deserving of their partner’s love, nor does their partner deserve their love. Naturally, this presents a contradiction, and contradictions do not exist. Those who accept contradictions as reality deny reality.
Selfish love accepts no contradictions. It neither makes demands nor concessions. It accepts reality as it is and does not seek to escape from it. Selfish love is true love. Rather than trying to force another to live up to one’s own standards or denying one’s own standards to live up to those of another, selfish lovers seek to find individuals like themselves that fulfill their values without coercion or self-denial. Selfish lovers are aware of their own emotional needs and that denying themselves the right to attempt to satisfy those needs is innately self-destructive.
“So,” you might be wondering, “does this mean selfish lovers never make sacrifices for one another, ever?” Correct. Selfish lovers do not make sacrifices for nor request sacrifices from one another at any time.
Yes, you may call it cruel, unfeeling, heartless, or any other adjective you wish, but not before understanding me fully. You see, just because selfish lovers do not make sacrifices for one another does not mean that they “go Dutch” in every aspect of their relationship from paying for dinner to buying a house. Instead, because of the high value they place on their counterpart’s virtues and character, selfish lovers do things for one another because it is they who want to, because they have a selfish interest in doing those things. Naturally, by giving gifts, offering up personal time, or providing some other sort of sign of affection (but never giving up personal convictions), the receiver of these actions may be made happier by them, and will be made happier provided that the giver truly picked a proper mirror of his own values and acts in accordance with them, but this does not make the giving altruistic. Rather, the giver provides such things because he has a selfish interest in, and receives selfish pleasure from, seeing the receiver happy. Indeed, even selfish lovers who take bullets for one another do so only because the selfish desire of knowing that their loved one is safe is greater than that of avoiding the personal physical pain and potentially deadly consequences – they certainly do not do it because they do not care one way or another about what happens to the original intended target. Unlike the self-sacrificers, the selfish lover is concerned with the happiness of his partner insofar as it makes him personally happy, thereby making both lovers ultimately happy through shared values and emotional needs.
So, let’s review:
Altruistic lovers “fall in love” thinking either that they are either giving a handout of affection or are receiving one, or even both. Selfish lovers fall in love with those whom they consider their equals, a near-perfect reflection of their own values.
Altruistic lovers expect each other’s happiness to be of the greatest importance, each denying their own, making both individuals necessarily unhappy. Selfish lovers are concerned only with their personal happiness and emotional needs and do not enter into relationships with others who cannot meet the standards of their personal values, making both happy through their voluntary association with someone who does fulfill those requirements.
Altruistic lovers give to one another only because they feel that they should, regardless of their personal desires. Selfish lovers give because they want to.
Altruistic lovers try to make their partner happy because they feel it is required of them, even if the means to do so are contrary to their own interests. Selfish lovers try to make their partner happy because it selfishly makes one happy to see the other happy.
In essence, the creed of each kind of lover is as follows:
The self-sacrificer laments, “I don’t deserve you.”
The demander affirms, “You don’t deserve me.”
The selfish lover declares, “We deserve each other.”
To be loved as an equal, to be the embodiment of everything one holds dear in this world, the physical manifestation of one’s highest values, most treasured virtues, and deepest desires, to be appreciated for your greatness and not your faults by someone who mirrors the greatness that they see in you, and to be loved for who you are rather than what you sacrifice is the purest, most honest, and most powerful form of love that can ever be offered from one human being to another.