What room in a theory of happiness is there for love?
In Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon casts a spell in which Titania falls in love with the first person (or nonperson) she sees. Shortly thereafter, Titania becomes smitten with Bottom the Ass. Nineteenth-century novelist George Eliot grew close to biologist Herbert Spencer, he shied away, and she argued for his heart as follows: “I am worthy of your respect and tenderness.” [see Lehrer, Proust was a Neuroscientist, ch. 2]
As irrational as Shakespeare’s fairy world may appear, as earnest as Eliot’s complaint may be, when it comes to the human heart, falling in love with an ass may be the more fitting description of the process. The love-struck brain invokes a rational argument, but the impetus for the initial affliction was not rational. How likely is reason to engender a reciprocal affliction in the beloved?
To be loved may be a happy accident. To share love reciprocally is a rare bliss. To perpetuate such a state is perhaps the most elusive endeavor we can imagine. Yet we set to it with intensity. Perhaps it is only natural that we employ a framework that may be ill-suited to the task. The utter futility of seeking to cling to something that comes and goes of its own accord somehow escapes us. The fear of this kind of loss is one of the most profound sources of unhappiness.
The question arises: How might one feel the pleasure of loving and being loved while avoiding dread of impending loss? It seems possible that we may gather up and celebrate the various times and ways in which we receive and give love, while enduring the moments of ebb with a sense of philosophy. By appreciating love when it happens, and when we are able to give it, while refraining from insisting that love be present whenever we demand, we may achieve some kind of resonance between this intangible bliss and the way our lives actually unfold.