Guest Post by Eric van Zwol: Towards a Phenomenology of Romantic Love

Our fifth guest blogger is Eric van Zwol.

What is needed to address ‘the metaphysics of romantic love?’ A comprehensive framework no doubt, and a rudimentary understanding of love itself. But where do we turn for a practical understanding of being in romantic love? To a book: the Symposium, maybe, or the Phaedrus? To the great poets? To ourselves: being in love with our lovers?

Romantic love is, first and foremost it seems, a phenomenon, one in which people find themselves. I find myself being in love with something or someone. Rather than asking if the word ‘love’ corresponds to anything real, it might be more fitting to explore the phenomenon itself (like Plato exploring eros in the Symposium and Phaedrus): that is, explore how it affects us, where it drives us, and how we find ourselves being with our beloved. The loving itself as phenomenon, unless expressive in the most inspired poetics, is generally not a discursive activity, even if talking can be part of love.

It is self-evident that there is such a phenomenon as romantic love, yet one might ask, as Jonny Blamey does, whether the phenomenon “exists” mind-independently or whether it is merely something (subjective) in our heads that we project onto objects. As Blamey mentions, however, we are brought up in love, and most of us have been in love in one of its many forms. Love is as common a state of being as being angry or anxious, which are at least real enough to be conditions in which we find ourselves being with ourselves and other people.

There then seems to be a mistrust within an analytic grasp of “subjective” phenomena. This may however, be due to a particular stand on the meaning of phenomena and our access to them: our subjectivity, the very thing that essentially matters to us in our everyday being, is swept aside as inessential. Do all analytic methods say that what we have before us in being in phenomenon is not really what matters? Is the proposed framework (some form of the analytic method) best suited to making the phenomenon of romantic love clear, and pointing out how we find ourselves involved in it? How else might one approach the metaphysics of romantic love? The phenomenon we are after is one which we surely already (practically) understand in our being, having been in the swing of it. So why not begin with a phenomenology of its various forms? 

This seems to make a call on the researcher in that they themselves must already be familiar with the phenomenon they are researching. From description of its structure, one may turn to more existential questions about why or how love exists as this phenomenon (such as questions about why or how this phenomenon has such a powerful affect on us, and how it can matter to us such that a social practice even makes sense in the first place).

One might worry that we then are merely describing our social condition, and that we somehow miss the love that possibly underlies the socially conditioned forms of love in which we can find ourselves. This might be so, but to find out, one initially turns to the phenomena themselves. If a phenomenon is not available, because one has not been in love or because of continued worries that their own experience lacks rigour, maybe one can turn to the description of great poets that in their deepest love, came to express their love in poetics.