Imagine a film script containing the following scene:
Sun, sea, a deserted beach, a man, and a woman.
The man Darling, you're so quiet. Anything wrong?
The woman It's nothing.
He Come on, tell me, what is it?
She I don't know how to make you understand.
He How to make me understand what?
She (After a pause) I want to leave you.
He Another man?
He Are you sure you love him?
He More than you love me?
She I can't go on without him.
He (Puts his arm around her) How wonderful.
She What did you say?
He I said, that's wonderful. Go ahead — with him.
She You're glad?
He Why shouldn't I be?
She Then you no longer love me?
He On the contrary.
She You still love me?
He I love you, so I want you to be happy. What did you expect?
At this point in the scenario, if not sooner, the producer reading it picks up his phone and dials the author.
'Are you out of your mind?' he asks. He had ordered a love scene, but this certainly was no imaginable love scene, was it? In a real love scene the man would at this point crack his wife's skull, or at least give a good imitation of doing it. Then, he would leap into his car, drive off with tires screeching, to beat up his rival.
But the author is not inclined to make any changes. If the man really loves his wife, he would behave as outlined in the script. True love is selfless by definition.
If the producer is willing to debate the matter, the discussion would presumably turn on their being two kinds of love: forgiving or vengeful, self-sacrificing or possessive, the love that gives or the love that takes...
Is it so? Are there really two kinds of love, opposite in nature, between a man and a woman? Or is only one of these the real thing, the other a fake?
How is it possible that an experience every adult must have had at least once in his life, a phenomenon thoroughly explored by generations of psychoanalysts, the favorite age-old theme of writers, composers, artists, can still be the subject of so much misunderstanding?
What is love?
If we are going to speak of love, we must begin at the beginning: that we live and find ourselves surrounded by life must be based on certain principles. Where there is life, in other words, on this or any other planet, there must be some process that tends to create life out of dead matter. Now if we mean, by life, the general principle of change — what Darwin calls variation and selection — then death, or destruction, must be part of the process, or else we would quickly run out of the stuff upon which change subsists. A living being must, accordingly, fulfill at least three 'basic principles' of life:
- sustain its own life (self-preservation)
- pass on its own life to another organism before death, so that life can go on (reproduction)
- preserve the life of its offspring until it becomes capable of taking care of itself (nurture of the young)
A human being's life depends as much as any other upon these principles of self-preservation, reproduction, and nurture of its young. Without them it could not exist.
The instinct of self-preservation is asocial, in that it is concerned only with the self. Reproduction and nature, on the other hand, are social mechanisms. Reproduction — sweetened by the sex drive, perhaps because it is not a sufficiently powerful motive in its own right — cannot be accomplished without a partner. And the breeding or nurturing instinct is also directed outward, towards others.
Those others, whom we need to satisfy our social instincts, are — depending on which of these two drives they serve — our sex partners or our dependents, objects of our protection, protégés, wards, whichever.
Clearly these two social instincts are the biological basis of love, since their most intense and lasting manifestation — the attachment to a sex partner or to one's own child — is love. To have a lover or a beloved is happiness. The lover seeks out the beloved for the satisfaction of his sexual needs as frequently as possible, and says, 'I love you.' When the relationship breaks up, he-she suffers pangs of 'unrequited love.' This condition lasts until a 'new love object' is found.
When the love object is one's child, natural or adopted, one protects it. The protector will risk his life for his dependent, will want only the best for him-her, will assure him-her of his love. To lose the 'child' means great unhappiness. It means to have lost 'the thing I loved most in all the world.'
No matter which we are referring to — dependent or sex partner — we use the same word for what we feel: love. And yet the same word designates two radically different kinds of bond. To arouse the protective instinct, the dependent must fulfill certain conditions greatly at variance with the conditions that make the sex partner attractive, and vice versa. The specific characteristics of the other person determine the nature of our biological response. Ultimately they determine the kind of love we shall feel for that person.
To arouse and attract the protective instinct, its object must fulfill three basic requirements. The protégé must be, compared with the protector
- physically weaker
- mentally weaker
- 'a chip off the old block' i.e. there must be enough of a likeness so that the protector can identify with the ward-to-be.
As regards the first two requirements, obviously there would be no sense at all in wanting to protect a physically or mentally superior being, or one's equal. The so-called generation gap also provides the best illustration of the kind of natural difference between protector and protected: that of the protective mechanism most commonly seen in action between parent and child.
The third requirement, a resemblance to the protector, is equally a matter of course. Physical and mental inferiority alone, in nature, may arouse anything but protective feelings — it may bring out the predator in the stronger creature. It is only when the stronger creature is moved to identify with the weaker, to see something of him or herself to be saved and strengthened here, that the protective mechanism sets to work. 'Group egotism' may be nature's simplest, most effective, and even 'fairest' way of distributing the available protection to those most entitled to it. Number One must come first when survival is at stake, without benefit of social legislation or ideologies.
The power of identification based on some kind of likeness has been observed in animals, in cases where the mother has rejected her newborn because it was 'unlike' her. The likeness need not be in looks. It can be something as peripheral — from the human standpoint — as smell. The resemblance can be only partial, but it is a matter of life and death that there be enough of it, where it counts. Every child knows that it must not put back a fledgling that has just fallen out of the nest with its own bare hands, for the strange human smell now present would cause the mother to push it out of the nest again at once. To get a foster mother for the orphaned young of any animal species, a kind of deception is necessary. She must be tricked, somehow, into recognizing herself in it. This alone will induce her to take care of the 'cuckoo's egg.'
Human beings also operate on this principle of similarity. Identification with her young is of course easiest for the mother: she has felt it inside her for months, she has known it come out of her own body, it is 'flesh of her flesh' i.e. herself. The father, by comparison, depends on hearsay; he is therefore likely to be rather indifferent at first. Despite the repeated assurances from everyone around him that the newborn is his 'spitting image' it is not easy for him to see this. It is only some time later that he begins to accept the resemblance and to love the child.
A woman's predisposition to identify with the infant at once, to a degree impossible for the male, has won her the reputation of being the more selfless parent. Since she instantly accepts the newborn as her charge and actively devotes herself to its care and feeding, a mother's love is held to be stronger than that of a father. Actually it is only a matter of time lapse between two equally powerful emotional attachments, based entirely upon biological causes.
That fathers are capable of loving their children just as much as mothers, and that the male nurturing instinct is in no way less developed than that of the female, is amply attested by the exchange of parental roles in various primitive cultures, as well as by the experimental knowledge of modern sociology.
Man is not only an animal, he does not only follow his instincts like an animal: he can recognize them, make himself aware of them, look at them objectively, modify or generalize them. For instance, a man can extend the principle of resemblance, and see himself in creatures of another species or kind which are in need of his protection. He can decide on purely rational grounds that human beings whose skin color differs from his own are nevertheless like himself, despite anything his instincts might say to the contrary ('Whites are human, too,' 'Blacks are human, too') and that physical or mental cripples are like healthy people. This 'humanization' of the nurturing instinct, restricted by and large to mankind, is what we call loving our neighbor, or altruism. Altruistic love is the nurturing or protective instinct cultivated through insight.
Altruistic love thus rests upon instinct, but none too securely. The object of its protectiveness lacks the prerequisite of 'biological' likeness to the protector. It does not automatically evoke protectiveness. It takes considerable persuasion, and often costs much 'self-denial' to con the primitive need for self-identification into compliance with one's 'superior judgment.' Which is why altruistic love is considered a virtue.
So far, not even Christian countries can claim much success at putting into practice, to any great extent, the rationalization of the nurturing instinct first propagated by Jesus. His teaching, to regard one's neighbor as one's self and act accordingly, replaces a biological equality by an intellectual one. It goes against the biological grain, for it labels the instinctual as 'evil' — much as the Marxist principle of equality does. Precisely because this rationalization is morally out of the reach of our instincts, it is a matter of 'higher values,' and value depends on rarity.
As a rule, human beings will take on a non-instinctual charge only for a reward; payment, not necessarily in cash. The reward can be material or ideal: money, an inheritance, companionship, social recognition, eternal life in paradise.
The most frequent variants of the non-instinctual charge (protégé, dependent) are:
- the unrelated physically weaker: the sick, the poor
- the unrelated mentally weaker: mental patients
- the weaker on both counts: other people's children, women
Women as a non-instinctual object of man's protectiveness will be dealt with at length elsewhere.
Another kind of protégé must be mentioned here which, were it only human, would fit the bill perfectly: psychologists are convinced that pet dogs are chosen on the basis of identification, because of an affinity the owner recognizes as a resemblance to himself. This is why dogs, especially the smaller breeds, enjoy the status of personal offspring.
To qualify as a protégé, then requires the greatest possible resemblance to the protector, together with the greatest possible physical and mental inferiority to him, as best exemplified by the respective differences between the generations.
To qualify as a sex partner calls for exactly the opposite. What is wanted here is the greatest possible contrast between the partners, who should be polar opposites in every respect they regard as sex-specific — physical traits in the broadest sense — as well as the greatest possible likeness between them in all respects not considered specifically sexual — psychological traits in the broadest sense.
All those qualities that underline the difference between myself and a member of the opposite sex improve my chances of becoming his sex partner, assuming that we 'understand each other' i.e. we resemble each other in all respects other than the specifically sexual. Our sexual differences can be more or less general, or more or less individual i.e. they may be typical for the whole sex or for only an individual member of that sex. Men with a vigorous growth of beard, hairy chests broad shoulders narrow hips, big penises, for example, are generally more in demand as are, conversely, women with delicate skin, big breasts, wide hips. The more individual polarity exists in any given case, the more ideal the sexual relationship is likely to become. We all do what we can to emphasize our sexual differentiation from the opposite sex — or with respect to a specific member of the opposite sex — as skillfully as possible. Whoever is not strikingly male or female will do everything possible to seem so by, for example, developing his biceps through gymnastics, pad her bra, style the hairdo, etc.
The same motivation also underlies the so-called 'typically masculine' and 'typically feminine' kinds of behavior: it is always a conscious or unconscious parading of sex-specific characteristics. To smile rarely or often, talk much or little, swing the hips or not in walking, makes people 'more manly' or 'more womanly.' This kind of behavior is simulated, as shown by the fact that it is subject to fashion and can be dropped at will. The 'womanly' mannerisms of the stars in the old movies are markedly different from those we see in films by Truffault or Godard. To behave like a movie vamp of the twenties today is to appear not womanly but ridiculous.
Biological law decrees a mixture of opposite hereditary factors in each offspring. To ignore or evade this decree — to lack expressly female or male sex characteristics and refuse to simulate them — is to forgo one's chances of attracting the opposite sex and thereby one's chances of propagating one's kind.
Polar opposition in the sex-specific areas, then, is combined with resemblance in all other respects. The man will usually be physically stronger than the women, a sex-specific difference that makes them attractive to one another. But as soon as this difference becomes too great — as soon as the woman is so weak, or pretends to be so weak, that the physical difference can no longer be regarded as sex-specific — the stronger partner's protective instinct may seriously interfere with his sex instinct. He may refrain from sex in order not to hurt his partner. If, in addition to being physically inferior, she is also mentally inferior, the weaker partner tends to become increasingly the object of his protection. The sex act — normally a kind of combat at close quarters — under such conditions involves considerable self-restraint, and loses something essential in the process. Equality on the intellectual level, combined with polarity on the physical, is therefore a condition sine qua non of full-scale love between a man and a woman.
A good guarantee for the necessary resemblance of the partners in the nonsexual realm is their belonging to the same generation. By a generation we mean the time span between the birth of an individual and the birth of its first offspring — about twenty to twenty five years. Sexuality is in any case for adults, but if one partner is more than twenty five years older than the other, and thereby belongs to the generation of the other's grandparents, the chances for a mutually satisfactory sexual relationship are relatively poor. There are of course cases in which a particular person's special dynamism can bridge this biological gap for a time, but such exceptions only confirm the rule. The frequent alliances between young women and men who are their seniors by more than a generation are no proof to the contrary; they always depend on the same factor: the wealth or social status of the much older man. If it were a biological mechanism that drove attractive young females into the arms of old men, a poor old pensioner might occasionally have a chance of marrying a rich young girl.
Just as a man can rationalize his protective instinct and make it function as altruistic love, he can also rationalize his sex instinct. Unlike an animal, a man can decide to give up sex for a time, or even permanently, for cultural or religious reasons, for fear of consequences, or for the sake of advantage — a socially advantageous marriage, for example. Instead of repressing his sex drive altogether, he can modify it, resorting to substitution or transposition. He may, for example, desire X, who has certain specific attractions for him, but if he cannot get X he can make do with Y, whom he finds less attractive, but better than no satisfaction at all. This kind of adjustment we call rational love — love based on reasoning rather than primary instinct, or as some might say, based on 'higher insight.'
Like the object of altruistic love, which can never be other than an inadequate child-substitute, the object of rational love can never be more than an inadequate sex partner. The person involved is either insufficiently differentiated physically — too unmasculine or unfeminine, not attractive enough or too unlike the lover mentally, too stupid or too intelligent. Such an inadequate sex partner is usually in the running only until a more attractive partner turns up, or as long as there is some extraneous reward involved, of whichever kind: money, companionship, prestige, the wish for offspring, etc.
Extreme forms of such rational or rationalized love are, for example, visits to a prostitute, masturbation, pornography, voyeurism. Actual love becomes abstracted to the extent of being totally replaced by symbolic actions.
To sum up: the qualities that arouse the protective instinct are the opposite of those that attract a sex partner.
Protector and protégé are outwardly alike; sex partners are complimentary opposites. Protégés are physically and mentally inferior to their protectors; sex partners are physically and mentally equals. These three sets of qualities, opposite and mutually exclusive, of protégés and sex partners, determine the basic attitudes towards each, also opposite and mutually exclusive. And yet we call these profoundly different emotions by the same name: love. Love has become of necessity, then, the most dangerously misleading word in the language.
To go back to our beginning, that difference of opinion between our hypothetical film producer and script writer about the nature of true love: if the man truly loves his wife, said the writer, he will let her go to his rival without struggle, because true love sets the beloved's happiness above one's own. He is right, too — if we are talking about altruistic love, caritas or charity, Christian love. And such a love can certainly exist between a man and his wife. But it has nothing whatsoever to with the sexual love between a man and a woman. Selfless tolerance, self-sacrifice, an attitude of giving without expectation of a reward, all are part of the protector's orientation towards the protégé, regardless of sex — it is what thousands of Americans are feeling towards the orphans of Vietnam they are adopting. Our scriptwriter is confusing this with sexual love only because the protégé in his scenario is a woman — as indeed is often the case when men are moved to play the kind Samaritan.
But why the confusion between altruism and sexual love? Why do most people consider altruism the important element in sexual love, and tend to look down upon the simple, natural, demanding, egalitarian sexual love as unworthy? Why the pangs of conscience when a man does not feel towards his sex partner what he feels towards a charity case — selfless, self-sacrificing, forbearing — and the shame, in the very act of making love, in the belief that this can't be 'real' love?
It is all so uncomplicated, as long as we follow our instincts: we have sex with our partners, we protect our children. But a man, unlike an animal, can see his instincts for what they are i.e. he can take a detached view of himself and manipulate them for 'reasons' that have nothing to do with biology. For such 'superior' reasons, he is of course capable of making himself the guardian of inadequate protégés and coupling with inadequate sex partners, choosing to treat his sex partners as protégés and vice versa.
When the love between a man and a woman becomes shot through with altruism, violence is being done to the principles of nature. WHO is responsible? Who, that is, could possibly profit from such manipulations? And who has the power to make it stick?