Flat White

Love is in the air?

14 February 2022

9:00 AM

14 February 2022

9:00 AM

The love between a man and a woman is one of life’s great consolations, and one of the universe’s great mysteries.

A man can endure almost anything if it is for love; and he will give up almost anything in pursuit of it.

A woman will sacrifice her world for love; and the whole world is hardly enough to compensate her when it is missing.

In a finite world, there are no limits to what love will do.

That most famous of all romantics, Meatloaf, famously sang, ‘I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that…’ And yet was at a loss as to what ‘that’ was.

Love will drive a manly man to write a poem and cause a gentle man to go to war. True love can tame the most independent woman, while Hell itself hath no fury like a woman scorned.

The thrill of love has inspired a billion songs. The pain of love lost, a billion more.

Give me a love story over any other kind. Wait. Is there any other kind?

The Apostle John insisted ‘God is love’, which made English poet W.S. Gilbert’s quip that ‘love makes the world go round’ seem far too modest.

Love rules the universe.

So Valentine’s Day – the celebration of love – is a glorious paradox; the commercialisation of that which cannot be commercialised without being destroyed.

Commercialisation is the compliment entrepreneurship pays to virtue. If something is good then it is worth celebrating … en masse, with a teddy bear, or a dozen red balloons, or a rose or an overpriced dinner at an oversubscribed restaurant. Why not?

That women love to receive red roses – and that men love the reaction of women upon receiving red roses – is all the reason one needs to import millions of red roses and make them available today at $70 each.

It’s not exploitation of love so much as recognition of love. And, of course, recognition that there is a tidy profit to be made. Australians are expected to spend almost half a billion dollars today.

The irony is that business’s ‘what can we make out of this?’ approach to Valentine’s Day is at complete odds with that which is being celebrated.

Most of life runs on the utilitarian principle – that the best human actions are those that are most useful. And this principle typically governs the way in which we behave. We weigh our choices in light of how much benefit they provide us.

So much of life is like this that we can inadvertently approach relationships in the same way. A person is valued in terms of how much they can help us achieve our goals, or even according to how much fun they can provide.

If we are free at the weekend and a friend asks us to a party, we typically reply that we will get back to them closer to the day. The reason we don’t commit right away is obvious. We prefer to keep our options open. And the reason we don’t decline right away is because the invitation is a handy backup if a more enjoyable option fails to eventuate.

This outlook is as common as it is dangerous. It reduces people to objects who serve a purpose.

Aristotle posited that there are three kinds of friendships. First, there is the friendship of utility wherein we both get something we want out of the relationship, and it is this mutual benefit that unites us.

And then there is the friendship of pleasure, where we are united by mutual fun. Let the good times roll. And for as long as they do, so will we.

While these relationships are the most common, they are also the most fragile. When the mutual benefit or the shared pleasure ends, so too does the relationship.

A billion people splash around in the shallows of shared utility and mutual pleasure, experiencing the ecstasy of something like love crashing over them and the emptiness of it receding just as quickly: sometimes floating, sometimes left high and dry, always in a state of flux.

But love, according to Aristotle, was not about shared utility or mutual pleasure. It was about daring to subordinating our preferences and agenda to another person. It was about caring so much for someone else that we would see what was good for them and adopt it as for ourselves.

And when two different people consciously choose to do that for each other, well then that is true love.

That people motivated by self-interest would do this is a great mystery.

That we get to experience something so wonderful is a great consolation.

And that it is Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to remind ourselves once again that ‘greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend’.

And at $70 a rose, it sure feels like it!

Editor’s note: it should be acknowledged that no amount of poetry or philosophy will save a bloke if he forgets to buy chocolates and/or roses today. Commercialisation or not.

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