I and Thou

Some Topics

An Existential View of Love

There are existential love problems. As soon as a couple falls in love, the freedom of each is constrained. The progression of the bond requires the exclusion of other mates and is regulated by a destructive cognitive/emotional complex, jealously. The lover’s problem is not letting the other person exist as a free being. As humans become more conscious and more sophisticated in their understanding of relationship, a deep paradox emerges. Jean Paul Sartre described the problem many years ago:

“the lover... wants to be loved by a freedom but demands that this freedom as freedom should not longer be free. He wishes the others freedom should determine itself to become love –and this not only in the beginning of the affair but at each instant – and at the same time he wants this freedom to be captured by itself, to turn back on itself as in madness, as in a dream, so as to will its own captivity.”

Possession and dependency are the themes of many relationships. Free beings become each other’s prisoner and neither is going to be happy. The desire of lovers to possess each other exclusively is a potentially self-destructive pact that may lead to death, metaphorically and symbolically, or in actual fact.

There is an alternative to the free choice of a mate and that is "fate". Lovers often believe that their encounter had to be; there was no choice. We are soul mates. We have to get married. God and the universe declare this match was made in heaven. No one else can be considered a potential mate. This fateful version of mating is delusional but appears to solve the paradox of freedom leading to bondage by removing freedom from the equation. Fate can be a cruel tyrant and fateful lovers may become prisoners in their own story.

Sartre's idea of a free unattached individual is idealistic and a more realistic view recognizes that seldom are lovers free unattached beings, but rather, each lover is a member of one or more social groups. The apparently free individual has a family, friends and others who will intrude into the budding romance sooner or later.

Love intoxication liberates lovers briefly from their other social entanglements, but the bonds, obligations, and duties associated with other relationships emerge as the lovers awaken from their enchanted dream. The usual course of romance is to pass through a brief stage of exclusivity when the paradox of freedom and devotion is most intense or the notion of fate is most believable. The couple then moves into a more mundane and enduring social contract such as living-together, marriage or they separate.

Marriage is supposed to confirm fateful bonding by insisting on a binding contract that forever limits the freedom of both lovers. Marriage ceremonies often declare that the free individuals that approached the ceremony are now dead. A new entity, a couple is born. In traditional societies marriage, is a binding contract that discounts individual freedom. Adultery is punishable, sometimes with death.

The problem of freedom versus captivity continues to plague more insightful married couples and is not resolved by the marriage ceremony enforced by moral authority that insists on life-long fidelity.

Women will often feel trapped in servitude and will hunger for more self-determination.

Men will feel trapped and obligated to relinquish most personal choices in favor of wife and children.

A person who is no longer free replaces the more desirable and alluring person with the freedom to say "no" to an aspiring mate.

Even deeper challenges facing couples involve the underlying assumptions of the self. Every human has an overriding sense of his or her own importance. There is prevailing sense that I am the center the center of the universe and what I believe to be true is true always and forever.

When two people form an intimate, dyad they confront each other with this deeply imbedded premise. Their interactions are necessarily tense because each has the same conviction that "I am center of the universe." The primordial conflict among self-centered human beings is about whose version of the universe is the most valid.

Falling in love is only a temporary reprieve from isolation, but then couples return to the constant tension built into every human. Couples are furry bipeds linked together and separated at the same time by individual needs, thoughts, feelings, gestures and language.

Their needs will often be out of synch, their desires will diverge, their biological rhythms and tendencies will be different and the differences will tend to enlarge if they have increasingly divergent experiences.

Home should be the refuge where each family member feels safe but often becomes the battleground where diverging interests and experiences conflict. The suburban family formula sends males and females on divergent paths that guarantee little common ground. The urban career formula sends spouses on divergent paths unless they work together and discrepancies in work schedules or interruptions for travel and other business activities will upset the feeling of rapport and intimacy that all couples desire.

The different worlds are also full of other humans who may be attractive and will often appear to be more compatible and available because they share work interests, schedules and environments.

There is no couple commitment that blocks interest in other potential mates. The search for an alternative mate and fantasies about other lovers continue daily in the minds of every happily married couple.

As discrepancies in the couple's experience accumulate and conflicts escalate, the partners create distance that protects each from the other.

Once the home is no longer a safe refuge, dysphoric feelings dominate and the relationship is in peril. Other potential mates look increasingly attractive.

Most humans will tolerate unsatisfactory relationships for a while, but eventually a threshold of no-return is reached and the relationship collapses. This is an avalanche effect. The timing of the avalanche is unpredictable, but once it starts to move, no one can stop it and the relationship is over.


  • I and Thou focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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