The Romantic Mystique?

This week I had the pleasure of visiting Boston University to talk about the metaphysics of love. During the presentation, I mentioned something that's been on my mind for a while, namely the fact that, in the social contexts in which I find myself, both of the following states of affairs seem to have become normalized:

  1. Romantic love is really important; it is often pivotal in people's life plans, and it is a focal point for value (of many kinds, including personal, ethical, and political values).
  2. There is very little understanding of, and still less agreement concerning, what romantic love is. And indeed, this lack of understanding sometimes seems to be glorified or revelled in, as if it were itself part of the value or specialness of romantic love.

Normal though each of these half of this combination seems to have become, I think the combination is really troubling, both intellectually and practically. Basing our life plans on, and focusing our values around, a phenomenon that we do not even pretend to understand, and perhaps even revelling in that lack of understanding ... this strikes me as a serious problem.

Something that occurred to me during the Q&A after my talk in Boston is that, in some respects, the glorification of our poor understanding of love mirrors the idea of a feminine mystique: that is, the notion that femininity and/or women are inherently mysterious and incomprehensible. Here too, the idea that this very lack of comprehension is part of what is valuable or special (in this case, about femininity and/or women) has been prominent.

I think this analogy could be helpful for understanding love's social role; I'm planning to explore it more in my book. (More book news soon; watch this space!)