Being young, I don't have as much experience with love as others, yet the ideas around it keep me up at night. Often, I've thought it might be productive to write some of them down.
Romantic love has always been one of the most controversial subjects when it comes to understanding the nature of human action. From birth, we seek love from others - from our parents during our childhood, in a romantic relationship when we are adults and, ultimately, from our children and grandchildren during old age. However, we don't seek love from everyone in the same way. There are, indeed, different traits by which we pick some people over others when it comes to love. Love can be so complicated that sometimes I wonder why we even have it.
Do we need love in order to survive as a species?
My quick answer is no. Some people argue that love is primarily a biological need, as it leads to the reproduction of mankind and, therefore, evolution. Additionally, love has been attached to human need in multiple ways. To quote Erich Fromm, "Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says 'I need you because I love you'." In other words, 'mature love' results in the need after feelings of love have been experienced. Either way, love is regarded as a need.
I think there's confusion between visceral needs - such as food, air and even sex - and conscious, intellectual choices for love. Human beings do not need love in order to survive and, unlike animals, we have a mind and the capability to use it in order to to improve our existence. We also have the choice to think and determine our standards for love. Compare these choices with physiological needs such as food. Food is a basic need for human survival. Empirical data demonstrates that an average person won't survive without food after 28 to 40 days. However, a person can survive and, perhaps, even thrive without experiencing or practicing love. One might argue that someone could lose the desire to eat while dealing with pain. Taken to the extreme, he could then die from starvation. However, that would not be the direct result of a lack of love, but the consequences of an irrational approach of life.
It is true that love plays a role in human evolution as it leads to procreation. But I think that is a confusion between sex and love. Sex is a pleasurable act and leads to the reproduction of mankind. But sexual intercourse does not always imply love (been there, done that). What do you think Friends with Benefits are anyway? So, whereas I think you could properly claim that sex is a biological need, I am not aware of any research that would support a claim that love is a biological need.
Assuming for a moment that love is not a biological need but, rather, an intellectual choice, what could possibly be its source? It is easy to point at happiness as the source of our desire for love and I do think that happiness, like sex, is a biological need. Furthermore, I think we can safely say that the pursuit of happiness is generally the ultimate goal of mankind - almost everybody likes to be happy, even though people take different approaches to achieve it. But, to me, that leads to another question: does real happiness actually come from romantic love?
Is love what makes us happy?
Although I've gone back and forth on this, I don't think so. I have the conviction that self-fulfillment - and not love - is the primary source by which man accomplishes happiness. Self-fulfillment is driven by productiveness and, ultimately, by achievement.
For example, let's say you dream of becoming a doctor (like I often have) and, consequentially, you study medicine to achieve your goal. Assuming you earn your degree and become a doctor, you will feel happy about your personal accomplishment and professional status. Both will provide you the means to help support your biological and emotional needs. However, if you didn't study medicine or didn't graduate or weren't able to get a job as a doctor, you would feel disappointment, frustration, and regret. In other words, your happiness is achieved by having goals and achievement. Your satisfaction comes from earning your own life through your hard work and the development of your own abilities.
Now, compare that with love. Sure, you could have a goal to fall in love. And, as I'm someone who thinks that love should be earned, I think it's correct to say that you could earn that love. But I think the problem here is that earned love does not earn your life. To me, love isn't a skill or ability that you trade to sustain your own life. So, ultimately, you have to rely on someone else to sustain your life instead of yourself. I have a hard time imagining people being happy when they are relying on others to sustain their lives.
We certainly feel happiness when we are with those whom we love, and we feel sadness once they are gone. But, does that mean our happiness is reliant upon them? To me, happiness that relies on others is dependence. Dependence is the emotional response of a man who lacks self-love and the courage to become worthy of himself. Instead, he relies on others for his own happiness - which is an illusion - acting like a parasite who feeds off a host. So, I don't think happiness is the reason why we seek love. I think love is based on the recognition of one's virtues and an intense desire to look up to a person of the same character. This emotion can only be experienced by someone who earns his own life and whose happiness is only reliant on himself. Therefore, dependence and love are complete opposites.
Indeed, the more values we are capable of exchanging (i.e., the more self-made we are) in the context of romantic relationships, the richer those relationships will be. However, many times we are still in the process of working towards the achievement of the totality of our set of goals, yet we still love others. If we understand that romantic relationships are a trade of values by which we can complement our happiness, this will all make sense. Therefore, love is not dependency, or the attempt to fulfill the emptiness in our lives, but the selfish pleasure that others bring us as an additional advantage to our own happiness (an emotional state that must be achieved on our own).
So I think that love does not necessarily make us happy if we haven't accomplished our goals in life. In fact, I think it limits our capabilities to interact with our beloved within the values that we both share. Love is a trade of value for value since both people benefit from the relationship and produce something the other wants.
But, in order to trade with others, you have to produce something of value. So you have to accomplish something first before you have something to trade. And, if you don't achieve for yourself, not only will you not have anything to trade, you will also not think much of yourself (i.e., have low self-esteem). People with low self-esteem are not content with their lives and are not happy - with or without love.
Real love requires self-esteem
I find many people describe romantic love as something mystical that occurs in the soul; something inexplicable, irrational, and even unconditional. To me, the root of romantic love is entirely rational and definable - it is the identification of our highest values and the acknowledgment that we are our own highest value because we have earned it (by achieving all or most of our goals in life). Or, as Carl Jung said more poetically, "The soul cannot exist in peace until it finds the other, and the other is always you." As a result of earning our lives, we think we deserve the selfish pleasure from the enjoyment of the virtues of another man. Again, to me, love is, essentially, the emotional response of someone - who has self-esteem - to the admiration of their highest values in someone else.
There are certainly those who consider themselves in love who don't possess self-esteem by any valid, objective standard. However, I think this is just an illusion of love and, ultimately, a feeling of dependency. By definition, self-esteem means "confidence in one's own worth or abilities." But, for a man to have real confidence in his own abilities, he must acknowledge their nature without faking reality. That implies integrity as an approach of life, and the conscious recognition that he is worthy of love.
A man with self-esteem will expect the value he deserves from others because he knows he is capable of trading equally for the things he wants. Therefore, in order for a man to be capable of loving, he must have integrity and live based upon his values. Otherwise, his standards for life would be a fallacy and so too his love. For example, someone who claims that morality is an essential aspect of his life, yet physically maltreats his child, has no integrity and no sense of morals. Such a person will love hypocritically as well.
The more we achieve, the better we love
Sometimes we are still in love even though we haven't yet accomplished all of our goals. Whether or not we have accomplished all of our goals does not directly eliminate our ability to love, but it does limit our range of action and level of fulfillment in a relationship, as we haven't reached *all* of the values we would like to trade. For instance, someone whose highest value is heroism (e.g., changing the world), yet hasn't accomplished that goal, still may have feelings of love (based on admiration) for those who are heroes in his eyes.
However, I don't think romantic love is solely shaped by admiration. Romantic love is about taking action and being capable of actively loving somebody. Essentially, love is like the marketplace. It is the selfish choice by which man's highest values are equally exchanged. A man has to be able to produce something that others want, and trade it for what others produce that he wants. Consequently, the feelings of love are created by the interaction of two people of the same character who get value from one another and give an emotional payment in return. Since the act of loving equals a fair trade for a greater value, it makes sense that the values we admire in others are generally the ones that we ought to achieve in order to be fulfilled. For instance, someone whose highest value is honesty should always be honest and expect the same in return. It would be silly for someone to want to trade for another's honesty if that person also wasn't honest.
To conclude, I think that sharing our achievement with those worthy of it can be a thrilling experience, as well as learning from those we admire. So, essentially, love is an independent value that comes from the mental and physical interaction between two people of the same character. It is not the root of happiness, but it extols the feelings of pride, admiration and happiness up to their highest levels. Seeking love is the choice of looking for an extra value in our lives.