Is romantic love worth the risk?

Today it happened for the second time within a week that a good friend of mine told me about how the person he felt very smitten, for not say in love with simply turned their back on him and how his feelings seem to have led him into a situation where, after opening up, he is faced with having to close a chapter in his life which just seemed to have started. How could this have happened? And given the potential for incurring such a high emotional cost, is falling in love really “worth the risk”?

Well, something similar happened to me before, and not just once. I guess most people can probably relate to this situation: there is someone who makes you feel special, who seems to be perfect, who you would do anything for, but as much as it might seem so at first, in the end the feelings are not reciprocated… I do not wish to speak to the exact details of my friends’ recent experiences. Instead I am again thinking about, and to some degree trying to decide, how much those emotions can be trusted.

Emotions in general seem helpful in “making up our minds”. Several researchers have looked at the quality of decisions that are either based on “our gut feeling” or on careful deliberative processed. And overall, it seems that our instinct and intuition are fairly useful and indeed goal oriented when it comes to making decisions. But particularly when it comes to this both extremely wonderful but also potentially hurtful thing we call love, they equally often seem to fail us…

A few weeks back I had a long conversation with another very good friend, and we were debating about what exactly makes up the feeling of “romantic love”. And although we didn’t really get anywhere definitive, I remember two of the key elements that emerged from our train of thought:

For one, falling in love seems to require a person to allow him or herself to become vulnerable. As long as you “play it safe” you might feel attracted to someone, you might very well desire to spend lots of time with that person and flirt, but there seems to be no “sparkle”. When it comes to making a definite move, you need something else. The willingness to make a fool of oneself, or more generally speaking to give oneself up, even as far as being willing to die should the significant other person’s life be at stake, has also caught the attention of Helen Fisher, who studies love scientifically.

For another, falling or being in love also seems to focus our attention solely on positive aspects we experience in a relationship. So, whatever negative, or at least possibly conflicting or usually discouraging information we might normally pick up on when it comes our way, we seemingly are just not receptive for that. Whether the person we have a crush on shows no real interest, or they even show signs of disrespect and hostility, as long as we are “in love” those aspects are invisible.

Both these elements clearly go against what a deliberative process would dictate: only exposing oneself as much as is necessary and certainly keeping an eye out for trouble. So, ┬áif romantic love makes us vulnerable, and at the same time seems to prevent us from even noticing that we are indeed being hurt, wouldn’t it be better to just forget about the whole thing?

Well, naturally this is something I can only answer for me, personally. Here is my reasoning, both emotionally and cognitively, why I would not want to live in a world without this particular kind of love:

Despite the risk, mostly that of falling in love with the wrong person of course, romantic love allows us to explore parts of our innermost self which are normally kept too well guarded to become visible. During the times I was “madly in love” I realized many of the qualities that I have come to cherish about myself. At one time, I for instance created a piece of music for a guy I had a crush on, although we had never talked to one another. For those of you who know the story: silence is golden, OK? But, honestly… That was stupid, huh? Well, maybe so, but I also realized how good I can be at composing music. The effort I put into this piece didn’t have any precedent. In other words, being in love made me see my, and maybe can make us all see our full potential. Why? I would argue that, besides the thrill of romantic love, there are only a few other situations I can think of that could motivate me to “shine” and bring out the best in me just as much. And some of these are probably even riskier…

Naturally, the feeling of one’s heart being broken, which undoubtedly occurs in anyone’s life if falling in love is part of it, is nothing to be “desired”, but given the choice between having the opportunity of extending my limits at the possible cost of feeling that pain and a life without love as well as pain, yes, I choose a life that allows me to explore those limits. Does that make me a hopelessly romantic guy? If so, I can live with that!

Now, are there any precautions one could possibly take to lessen the risk? Maybe, but my intuition tells me that any attempt at doing so, at least when it occurs prior to falling in love, simply means that my love would never be as genuine, as pure as it has to be for me to truly explore my limits. But I do believe I can ensure that, should disaster strike, I will at least be “OK” in time to come:

Having friends who know me, as good as can be, who know what I feel for that special person, who have shown their support in the past seems like a good start. And as much as it saddened me to hear what those two friends of mine are currently going through, I am at least glad that they felt close enough to talk about it. I sincerely hope that I can “return the favor” and be there as a supportive friend. In my life I have quite a few good friends who have listened to and supported me in my romantic endeavors. If you are one of them and I never said it as clearly as in this blog post, please accept my deepest thanks for being there for me, it would have been much harder without you!