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Phenomenology of Love

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  • Pages: 12
  • Word count: 2806
  • Category: Love

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The experience of love begins from the experience of loneliness. The experience of loneliness is basically a human experience. Because man as man is gifted with self-consciousness, there comes a point in the stage of man’s life that he comes to an awareness of his unique self and the possibilities open to him. He becomes aware that he is different from others, that he is not what others (like his parents) think him to be. As a child, his gaze was turned towards things; toys and candies made up his world. As a child, people were mere extensions of his ego, mere satisfactions of his desires. But as he grows up to become an adolescent, his gaze is gradually turned inwards; he questions the things that were taught to him by his parents and teacher; he searches for his own identity. “Who am I?” become more important than the toys and candies that once were objects of his desires. Too old to be identified with the child and too young to be considered an adult, he feels misunderstood, unwanted, alone.

His natural tendency is to seek out his fellow adolescents for understanding and acceptance. Together they invent their own language, their own music. It is in the barkada that he finds equality. But then what has equality come to mean? It has come to mean uniformity, sameness in actuality. The adolescent groups himself with his barkada because they happen to have the same likes and dislikes as he. Very often, he has a different barkada for sports, a different barkada for movies, another barkada for work and study. Very seldom does he find himself in a group who will take him for all that he is, different from the group.

Until this equality will mean oneness in difference, the person will remain lonely amidst a crowd. Loneliness is possible even if one is immersed in the crowd. In an attempt to conform to the group and hide one’s individuality, his loneliness eventually expresses itself as an experience of boredom.

To overcome this boredom and loneliness, the person many times resorts to drinks and drugs or any form of heightened sensation. The effect of these artificially created sensations is to involve one’s total being in some kind of a trance reminiscent of the primitive man’s ritual and dance. It provides to the lonely and bored person a temporary escape from reality, temporary because the trance, the “happening” is transitory and periodical.

Another resort to overcome the experience of loneliness is to keep oneself busy with creative activity. Keeping oneself occupied with all sorts of activity diverts one’s attention from oneself – but only for some time. One eventually will tire himself out. Moreover, it is not any activity that can be fulfilling one’s emptiness – the activity has to be creative, something that the person himself has started, developed and finished to the end. This kind of activity is rare nowadays. And even if one discovers himself in this creative activity, in the end he still has to come to face with the anguish of being alone.

The answer to the problem of loneliness is the reaching out to the other person as an other. Love is the answer to the problem of loneliness because it is only in love that I find at-onement and still remain myself.

Love is a union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellowmen, which unites him with others, love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet, it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. (Fromm, p. 21)

The Loving Encounter

Loneliness ends when one finds or is found by another in what we will call a loving encounter.

The loving encounter is a meeting of persons. The meeting of persons is not simply bumping into each other, nor is it simply an exchange of pleasant remarks, though these could be embodiments of a deeper meeting. The deeper meeting here in love happens when two persons or more who are free to be themselves choose to share themselves. It presupposes an I-thou communication, a communication of selves. (This is possible even in groups of common commitments although the meeting of persons may be harder due to the expectation of roles.)

First of all, the loving encounter necessitates an appeal, an appeal of the other addressing my subjectivity. The appeal may be embodied in a word, a gesture or a glance – all these can be signs of an invitation for me to transcend myself, to break away from my preoccupation with myself.

Very often in the daily run of life, I ignore these signs. I am too absorbed or too conscious of the roles I am accustomed to play in daily life as a teacher, a student, an employer, a priest, that I fail to see the appeal of the other. To be able to see the appeal of the other, I need more than eyes; more than mind – I need an attitude, a heart that has broken away from self-preoccupation.

What is the appeal of the other?

The appeal of the other is not his corporeal or spiritual attractive qualities. I can conceptualize the other into a list of beautiful qualities (which I myself may lack) but they can only at best give rise to enamoredness, a desire to be with the other. But once the qualities cease to be attractive, love also ceases. Love is more than mere infatuation, more than mere liking such and such qualities of the other. The other person is more than his qualities, more than what I can conceptualize of him. And love is the experience of this depth and mystery of the other and the firm will to be for him.

Nor is the appeal of the other an explicit request coming from the other. The explicit request of the other may just be a sign of a deeper appeal, yet if I base my reaching out to the other simply on this need, it may well be because of a certain pity, and not really out of love. Or, it may be possible that I can satisfy his request because I just want to get over with it and not be bothered anymore. In such a case, even if I have satisfied the request of the other, he may go away dissatisfied because my heart was not in it.

The appeal of the other is himself. The other in his otherness is himself the request. The appeal of the other is the call to participate in his subjectivity, to be with and for him.

While it is true that I need an attitude that has broken away from self-preoccupation to see the appeal of the other, the converse also holds: the appeal of the other which is himself enables me to liberate myself from my narrow self. It reveals to me an entirely new dimension of my existence, that perhaps my self-realization may be a destiny-for-you. Because of you, I understand the meaninglessness of my egoism. Perhaps, I am not meant to be alone, perhaps I can only be truly myself with you.

If the appeal of the other is himself, what then is my reply?

Since the appeal of the other is not his quality or an explicit request, it follows that my response cannot be an outpouring of my qualities to the other or the satisfaction of his request. Compatibility is not necessarily love. Neither is submission necessarily love. Sometimes, refusing the request of the other may be the only way of loving the person in a situation, if satisfying it would bring harm to the person.

If the appeal of the other is himself, then the appropriate response to that appeal is Myself.

As a subjectivity, the other person is free to give meaning to his life. His appeal then to me means an invitation to will his subjectivity, to consent, accept, support and share his freedom. Love means willing the other’s free self-realization, his destiny, his happiness. At times it may mean refusing whatever could impede or destroy the other’s possibility for self-realization. When I love the other, I am saying, “I want you to become what you want to be. I want you to realize your happiness freely.”

Love, however, is not only saying it, it is doing it. Love is effective, it takes actions. (“Action speaks louder than words.”) Since the other person is not a disembodied subjectivity, to love him therefore implies that I will his bodily being, and consequently his world. Love is inseparable from care, from labor. To love the other is to labor for that love, to care for his body, his world, his total well-being.

Willing the happiness of the other, however, also implies that I have an awareness, though implicit and at time vague, of the other’s destiny. I have a searching for and a partial finding of his way in the world. And whatever opinion I have of the happiness of the other will influence and give direction to my affection for him. It will open certain worldly roads for him and also close others, those that would not bring him closer to his destiny. Love then necessitates a certain personal knowledge of the other.

Of course, the possibility exists that I could be mistaken as to what will make the other happy. The temptation is also very great that I may impose my own concept of happiness on the other. I can go on labouring for the happiness of the other, where in reality I am simply fulfilling my own needs. The other has become an extension of myself and has become absorbed by my own person. If love is not to become domination, it must be balanced by a certain respect, respect for the uniqueness and otherness of the other. Respect does not mean idolizing a person; it simply means accepting the person as he is, different from myself.

Accepting the other as other, as he is, is not to be taken in a static sense. The other is also himself in his potentialities, in his becoming. But his becoming may have a different rhythm from my own. His pace of growing may be faster or slower than my own. In such a case, respect also means being patient. Patience is harmonizing my rhythm with his. Like a melody or an orchestra, my music life must follow his own tempo. Patience requires a lot of waiting and catching-up, a waiting that is active, ever-ready to answer to the needs of the other, and a catching up that is spontaneous and natural.

Reciprocity of Love

From our description above of the loving encounter, it seems that love is wholly concerned with the other. What happens to myself? Am I not all concerned with myself in love? Am I not at all interested in being loved in return? Here we touch upon two important questions on love: First, what is the relationship of love of the other and love of myself? Secondly, what happens with unreciprocated love?

In the loving encounter, my response to the appeal of the other which is his subjectivity is myself. I will the other’s free self-realization. In other words, I offer myself to him by placing a limitless trust in the other. This opening of myself to the other is a defenselessness. It becomes a call upon the love of the beloved, an appeal to him to accept the offer of myself. This appeal of the lover to the beloved is not the will to draw advantage from the affection for the other (upang magkakaroon siya ng utang-na-loob). It is not compelling, dominating or possessing the other. Love wants the other’s freedom: that the other himself choose this safe way and avoid that dangerous path.

There is indeed an element of sacrifice in loving the other which is often understood by many as a loss of self. In love, I renounce the motive of promoting myself. I have to break the provisional structure I have given to my own life, and this is painful. Entering into a friendship is acceding to my friend’s wishes which may not be the same as mine. The pain lies in abandoning my egotism, my self-centeredness.

But this does not mean the loss of myself. On the contrary, in loving the other I need to love myself, and in loving the other I come to fulfill and love myself.

In loving the other, I have to be concerned with myself if my love is to be authentic. Since in the loving encounter I am offering myself to the other, the gift of myself must first of all be valuable to myself. If I despise myself and give myself to the other, my giving is a throwing away of myself. I have made the other a garbage can of my despicable myself. In the development of man, this love of self takes the form of being-loved. I am first loved by my parents, teachers and friends before I learn to give back that love to others. The joy I first experience in life is the joy of being loved.

And yet this value of myself remains unconfirmed, the joy of being myself a hidden joy. I need to go out to others, to accept and value them as they are to discover the value of myself. In giving myself to the other, I discover my available self. In willing the happiness of the other, I experience the joy of giving. In giving, I also receive. Just as the teacher is taught by his students and the actor is stimulated by the appreciation of his audience, so in loving the other I cannot help but also be fulfilled. In love, giving is also receiving, and receiving is giving.

Consequently, there exist in loving the other the desire to be loved in return. I cannot love the other if I am one hundred percent sure my offer will not be accepted. One does not give something he knows the other will not receive. The desire is essential but should never become the motive for loving, otherwise I am “loving” the other not for what he is but for what I can get in return, for myself.

The primary motive for loving the other is thus the other himself, the “You”. The “you” is not a “he” or “she” I talk about. The “you” is not just another self (just a rose among other roses, a fox among other foxes), but the you-for-whom-I-care. The “you” in love is discovered by the lover himself. It is not that the lover is blind to the objective qualities of the other but that he is clear that the other is over and above his qualities. The motive of love is the “you” that is seen not only by the eyes or the mind but more by the heart. “I love you because you are beautiful and lovable, and you are beautiful and lovable because you are you.”

Since the “you” is another subjectivity, he is free to accept or reject my offer. This is the risk of loving, that the other may reject or betray the self I have offered to him. What happens to unreciprocated love?

One cannot of course erase the possibility that the rejection of the beloved could be a test of the authenticity of love. If the other rejects my offer and I persist in loving the other inspite of the pain, then perhaps my love is truly selfless, unmotivated by the desire to be loved in return. But granted that the rejection is final, what can one say of the experience? No doubt the experience is painful, and it will take time for the lover to recover himself from the experience. Nevertheless, the experience can provide him with an opportunity to examine himself. It can be an opportunity for self-reparation. The experience of being rejected can be an emptying of oneself which would allow room in oneself for development. In this sense, an unreciprocated love can still be an enriching experience.

Indeed, the risk and reality of love being unreciprocated proves that there is no shop in the world that sells love.


[ 1 ]. Excerpt from Manuel B. Dy, Jr., Philosophy of Man, (Makati: Goodwill Bookstore), pp. 219-228.

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