Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Is Love?

There are many splendid arrangements driven by love.

But where human mating habits are concerned, there are really only two motives anyone has for choosing to "love" anyone else.

1) Conquest
2) Companionship

You can think of them as stages that comprise a continuum.

You can think of them as competing desires.

You can think of both.

The Conquest Motive has, at its core, the urge to discover.

For some, discovery is an end in and of itself. They love in order to learn about themselves. To learn about other people. To learn about processes. This application of discovery would seem to contradict the word "conquest." But if you channel Derrida for a moment, you can zoom in on descriptors like "acquire" or "gain mastery of" and the idea of a conquest meant to nurture starts to sound pretty feasible.

For others, discovery is the means that leads to some sort of triumph. The literal application of "conquest." I don't know if people still make notches in their bedposts every time they've finished a new lover, but that's kinda how this one works. Maybe you know the concept as a "Cooch Count" or a "Peter Meter." Whatever the case, this application of discovery is all about victory and volume.

Meanwhile, the Companionship Motive is self-evident.

Most people don't like to be alone. Most people prefer familiar company to share...well...pretty much everything. It can start with a laugh and build up to an entire life. Some of it may be compelled by customs. Like, you're just supposed to get married and have kids. Much more of it is inspired by an innate need for simple human contact that is most efficiently fulfilled by choosing a partner who will promise to provide you that point of contact. Maybe it's a permanent arrangement. Maybe it grows out of whatever is most practical at that moment. Bottom line: people need people.

Of course, there are the unlucky ones. The people who genuinely wish to be alone. Those people don't really have a place in this theory. They are evil and heartless. Sub-human, even. And they are known by their scientific name: the San Antonio Spurs.

Now that we understand each of these motives, how exactly do they work?

If we consider them as stages, at some point every person's hormones will scream at them to go out and discover what that thing is that is making the spine tingle, the belly flutter or the heart pound. Which means that Conquest usually comes first. After a person has discovered enough things, their emotional architecture can transform to house a yearning for shared intimacy. That shift signals the kicking in of the Companionship Motive. Basically, Conquest colors adolescence and Companionship is the driver during adulthood.

However, the motives are not exclusive to those two life stages. Which, in short, is why love is messy. But not for everyone.

Some people do all their discovering. Then they get boo'd up. And they're good.

For a lot more people than that, the motives wage something of a civil war. They want to conquer, but they also need a partner. Or maybe the partner doesn't provide the right degree of human contact. So the urge to discover overpowers that unsatisfied desire for fellowship. Or maybe a person realizes there was more to conquer than they had conquered before they opted to jump the broom. Or maybe they picked the wrong partner, the pairing ended and now they're left to go back to the discovering stage whether they really want to or not. The scenarios for this kind of conflict really are endless.

So...that's love. In a nutshell. It's a whole lot easier to type than it is to do. But it's not nearly as perplexing as it might seem.

It's just a matter of understanding why you're doing whatever it is that you're doing.


tremaine said...

I can't say that I disagree with the two reasons at all. They cover everything in between for finding love or loving.

the_capital_t said...

I'm glad to hear that.
It took me a long time to reach these conclusions.
During that time, I couldn't recall hearing anyone define the reasons we love as succinctly and comprehensively as I had tried to.
Someone probably has. And I was probably not in a state to understand them. Or I was watching a ballgame.