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#107 A PHENOMENOLOGY OF LOVE

by TASYO
February 22, 2005

A PHENOMENOLOGY OF LOVE
by Manuel B. Dy, Jr.

What is love? The question has been asked since the time of Plato, not only by professional philosophers
but by people from all walks of life. Much has already been written on this subject, answers to the
question have been given and many more questions posed; and yet the reality of love has not been
exhausted. The very fact that this question of what love is, is still being asked seems to show that love is
part and parcel of man's life, and a philosophy of man is incomplete without a philosophy, of man as
loving.

Many of us have the tendency to equate love with romance. The world "love" rings a sweet melody to the
ears, brings to the imagination the image of two lovers whispering sweet nothings to each other in the
park or on the telephone, unmindful of the rest of the world as if only they matter and exist at all. "Love is
a many splendored thing," so the song goes.

On the other hand, love is pictured many times as an act of possessing, of being possessed by another
person. People fight and struggle in the name of love. "I love you" has come to mean, "You are mine" and
"I want you to do the things I want, I want you to be what I want you to be." Or else, it has come to mean,
"I am yours, and you can do whatever you want to me."

For many young people, love has become synonymous with sex. To love another means to be
passionately attracted to her and bring her to bed with me. This equation of love with sex has led to the
idea that friendship is not love, that when two lovers break up, they may settle down for friendship as if
friendship were inferior to love.

People say, "Love is blind and lovers don't see". This has come to mean that to love is to attracted to the
good qualities of the other. Sometimes this is earned to the extreme of attributing attractive qualities to the
other even if they are not there. Love has come to be equated with admiration.

Erich Fromm in his famous book "The Art of Loving" mentions the fact that the popular notion of love at
present is "falling in love". People have the misconception that there is nothing to learn about love that
love hits a man like lightning. Either the arrow of Cupid strikes you or you are not. He attributes this
popular notion of love to three reasons:

1) The emphasis of "being loved" rather than on "loving". This is evident in the many books written and
sold on "how to win friends and influence people," "how to be attractive," "how to have sex appeal," etc.

2) The emphasis on the object loved rather than on the faculty of loving. People talk of the "ideal girl," "the
ideal boy," "the ideal husband," "the ideal wife." And it seems the right object to love follows the same
trend as the fad in the market.

3) The confusion between the initial state of falling in love and the permanent standing - in love. People
mistake the initial feeling of infatuation as love. Two people finding themselves strangers in a country and
feeling lonely easily fall for each other. If they simply based their love on this feeling of loneliness their
love will not last.
Our phenomenology of love must first set aside all above preconceptions of love. Now, let us go back to
the original experience of love.

Loneliness and Love

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 becomes aware that he is different from others, that he is not what others (like
his parents) think him to be. 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 teachers; he searches for his own identity. "Who am
I?" becomes more important than the toys and candies that once were the 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 adolescent 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 comfort to the group and
hide ones individuality his loneliness eventually expresses itself as an experience of boredom

To overcome this boredom and loneliness, the person many time resorts to drinks the drugs of any form
of heightened sensation. The effect of this artificially created sensation is to involve ones total being in
some kind of a trance reminiscent of the primitive man's ritual and dance provides to the lonely and bored
person in 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 ones attention from one's self- 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 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 is still has to come to
face with the anguish o being alone.

The answer to the problem of loneliness is the reaching out to the other person as another. 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 union under the condition of preserving one's integrity, one's individuality love is an active power
in man, a power which breaks though the walls which separate men from this 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 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 of the other addressing my subjectivity. The
appeal may be embodied in word, a gesture or a glance- all these can be signs of 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 to 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 enamored
ness, 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 other 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 the 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 subjectively, 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 seem 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. ("Actions speak louder
than words.") Since the other person is not disembodied subjectively, to love him therefore implies that I
will his bodily being, and consequently his world. Love is inseparable from care, from labor. To love 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 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
laboring 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. Patient
is harmonizing my rhythm with his. Like a melody or an orchestra, my music of 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 concerned with myself in love? Am I not 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 the 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 eh 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 be 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
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 be the appreciation
of his audience, so in loving the other I cannot help by 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 be 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 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 be 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 in spite 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 love to recover himself from the experience. Nevertheless, the experience can provide him
with an opportunity to examine himself. It can be an opportunity to examine himself. It can be an
opportunity fro 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 not shop in the world that
sells love.

Creativity of Love

When love is reciprocated, love becomes fruitful, love becomes creative.

Granted that knowing the other person as he is necessitates loving him, still there is a distinction between
knowing the other as other and loving him as he is. In knowing, I actively let reality be by opening myself
to I, but this letting be of reality demands a certain respect and acceptance of reality which is somewhat
passive. Loving the other, however, is willing the other's free self-realization, and willing demands a
"making" of the other. In fact, in every encounter, there is making of each other: the teacher makes the
student a student; the student makes the teacher a teacher. In the loving encounter, we also make each
other be. What then is created in love?
To understand more clearly the creativity of love, let us try a brief phenomenological sketch of the
experience of being-loved: what does the other make of me when he loves me?

When I am loved, I experience a feeling of joy coupled with a sense of security. The feeling of joy is the
sense of being valuable, of being accepted and consented to. I no longer feel the fear of being myself and
the anxiety of trying to be someone else. I experience an exhilarating sense of freedom. At the same time
I feel secure, secure because the lover participates in my subjectivity such that I no longer walk alone in
the world but that I walk together with him. The other by his love has made me fully myself, not just by
being what I am but also by being what I can become when I am with him. What is thus created in love is
a being-togetherness, a "we". I can no longer say, "I did this or he did that" but "We did this and that."

Concomitant with the creation of the "we" is the creation of a new world – our world. No longer do we live
in two different worlds, but our worlds have become one.

Such a feeling's coming over me


There is wonder in everything I see...
Everything I want the world to be
Is now coming true especially for me...
And the reason is clear
It's because you are here
I'm on the top of the world looking
Down on creation and the only explanation I can find
Is the love that's found ever since you've been around?
You almost put me at the top of the world.

'My life is very monotonous,' he said. 'I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike and all
men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun
came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other
steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And
then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat
fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how
wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the
thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat...'

Union of Love

The "we" that is created in love is the union of persons and their worlds. The union of persons is not an
objective union: when two things are united what results is a composition or assimilation: the two
elements are no longer distinguishable from each other--they have each lost their identities. The union in
love, however, does not involve the loss of identities. The "I" does not assimilate the "you" or vice versa.
On the contrary, the "I" becomes more an "I", the "you" an other. We become more of ourselves by loving
each other. This is the paradox in love, the many in one, one in many. Says the poet E.E. Cummings,

"One's not half two.


It's two that are halves of one."

The Gift of Self

It is not our intent here to explain this paradox of love, the paradox of one in many and many in one. That
would call for metaphysics of love. What we can do on a phenomenological level is attempt to clarify and
deepen this paradox by means of a description of love as essentially a gift of self.

What is the nature of a gift? A gift is causing another to possess something which hitherto you possess
yourself but which the other has no strict right to own. If the other has paid for that which I have give him,
this is not gift-giving but an exchange or selling. It is of the very essence of gift-giving that it be
disinterested, that is to say, I give not in order to get something in return.

Love is essentially a disinterested giving of myself to the other as other. The giving in love is not a giving
up: I am not being deprived of something when I give in love because the self is not a thing that when
given no longer belongs to the giver but to the given. Nor is the giving in love the giving of the marketing
character because as we have said, in love I do not give in order to get something in return. Furthermore,
the giving in love is not of the virtuous character: I do not give in order to feel good. I do not give with
reporter and photographer surrounding me. Why then do I give myself in love?

The answer can be seen in what is essentially given in love and to whom it is given-the Self. To give
myself in love is not so much to give of what I have as of what I am and can become. And this self that I
am and can become is given to the other as other, not so much of what you have but of what you are and
can become. I can of course express this giving of self in the giving of what I have, in the giving of sex or
material things, but when I do so the thing has become unique since it has become a concrete but limited
embodiment of myself. When I pick up a rose from a garden of a hundred roses, the rose I pick ceases to
be a rose among hundreds of roses-it has become unique, a symbol of myself. But what does it mean to
give myself? It means to give my will, my ideas, my feelings, my experiences to the other-in short all that
is alive in me. Love is sharing myself to the other. And why do I share myself to the other? Because I
experience a certain bounty, a certain richness in me, and this richness cannot help but overflow to the
other. The giving in love comes from a productive character.

But why this particular other? Why did I choose you and some other? Because you are lovable, and you
are lovable because you are you. I see a certain value in you, and I want to enhance and be part of that
value.

The value of the other is the value of his being a unique self. In a sense then, everyone is valuable and
consequently lovable because everyone is unique, original, irreducible and one of its kind. Thus, if I am
capable of loving- this particular person for what he is, I am capable too of loving the others for what they
are.

Love is Historical

The gift of self is offered to another self. Love is thus essentially interpersonal (between persons). But
human persons are not disembodied souls. They beings-in-the-world, living in time and history. If love is a
disinterested giving of myself to the other as other, then it follows that love is historical.

Love is historical because the other who is the point at issue in love is a concrete particular person. Love
is not love if it is simply love of humanity in the abstract. Indeed
It is easy to love mankind in general but so difficult to love unique individual persons. As one cartoon of
Peanuts ironically puts it, "I love mankind, its people I cannot stand!" It is so easy to shout in the streets
"for the masses" but the "masses" is an abstraction. The farmer in the fields, the beggar in the streets,
and the laborer in the factory are "parts" of that humanity. If I really love the poor masses, then I must
have shared their poverty, have lived with them, have labored in the fields with them to be able to work for
the enlistment of their impoverished condition, and not simply shout and preach.
Fyodor Dostoevsky put in the mouth of the doctor, a character of his novel The Brothers Karamazov, the
inverse relationship between the inauthentic love for humanity and the authentic love for persons:

I love humanity, but I can't help being surprised at myself: the more I love humanity in general, the less I
love men in particular, I mean, separately, as separate individuals...I become an enemy of the people the
moment they come close to me. But, on the other hand, it invariably happened that the more I hated men
individually, the more ardent became my love for humanity at large.
The concrete other is not an ideal person but a unique being with all his strength and weaknesses. If we
examine the friends we have, they are far from being ideal persons. Christ did not choose perfect people
to be His friends-they were fishermen and tax collectors. Such being the case, to love the other does not
mean improving him, although in the course of the relationship it does happen that the other becomes
more his authentic self. Many parental loves are based on the motivation of realizing their own frustrated
dreams in their children or in making their children copies of themselves. "I love you because I want to
improve you" is making an object out of the other person.

To love is to love the other historically. To love the other as other, as an individual unique being, I have to
use places, times, singular events. It is not strange that we associate songs and places and happenings
with people we love or once loved. Friends remember exactly the time, place and circumstances of their
first meeting. In the Gospel of St. John, the old St. John recounts his first meeting with Christ and ends
that account with the words "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon (John 1, 39).
And when friendship is breaking down, and one wants to reconcile, one begs to remember things they
have done together. Friendship remembered involved events.

'You are beautiful, but you are empty, ' he went on. 'One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary
passer-by would think that my rose looked just like you--the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone
she is more important that all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered;
because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the
caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have
listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is
my rose.'

Love thus involves no abstraction. Everything in love is concrete. In contrast, loneliness, the absence of
love, lives among shadows, involves that nothing is real.

Equality in Love

If love is essentially between persons, then it follows that love can only thrive and grow in freedom. In
loving, I do not surrender my liberty and become a slave to the beloved. Love is not a bondage but a
liberation. In the case of parental and filial loves, at the beginning of the affection may be natural and not
personally willed, but later on I have to make this love personal: the father or mother is not just an
authority-figure but a friend. In the case of the wife being submissive to her husband, this submissiveness
is done in freedom and recognition of the husband's position in the family.

There exist therefore an equality of persons in love, the equality in what they are, as subjects, as
freedom, and not in what they have. Cicero says, "The great thing in friendship is being equal to an
inferior." The bridges of love can be built between persons of different age, race, sex, status, nature. (Of
course, for a man and wife to live together for life, they have to be compatible. But compatibility is not yet
necessarily love.)

The union of unique persons results in a community. Unlike in a society where the bond comes from the
common purpose to be achieved and thus necessitates an organization, the bond in a community springs
from the persons themselves and an organization is not necessary. Nevertheless, the friends in a
community can have a common project to express and substantiate their unity. And likewise, the
members of a society in the course of their doing their individual functions can get to know each other as
persons and not just as functions.

Love is Total, Eternal and Sacred

Man as a person is not a bundle of qualities and functions. As a person, he is indivisible and persists
through time and space. As a person, he is unique and irreplaceable.
As such, love as a gift of self to the other as self cannot but be total. In love, I cannot say to you, "you are
my friend only insofar as you are my classmate." The "you" in love is indivisible and thus love is an
undivided commitment to the other. It is offered from the totality of my being to the totality of the other's
being.

Love is eternal. The gift of myself to the other is not given only for a limited period of time, otherwise it
becomes a loan and not a gift. When I make friends with you, I do not say to you, 'let us be friends only
for two years, for as long as we are in the same class.' True, friendships can be broken, yet people do not
become friends on the understanding that they will be friends only for a limited time. Love implies
immortality. In love, we catch a glimpse of eternity. In the marriage vows, I say to you, "I shall commit
myself to you, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer till death do us part." And yet love even
conquers death. As Gabriel Marcel would say, "I love you" means "you shall not die."

Love is sacred. The persons involved in love are unique, irreplaceable beings and as such are valuable in
themselves. A person has a dignity no money or material wealth can buy. And since love is the gift of a
person of his own self to another person, their relationship is also sacred. Thus friends and lovers share
secrets and intimacies not for public consumption. They have a common world that may include others
but can never be made vulgar. The greatest tragedy that can happen to a lover is when this trust is
betrayed, when the self that is entrusted in confidence to the other is disclosed and thrown to the public.
"When a confidence is betrayed, something fine and beautiful dies." Like a broken glass, it becomes
almost impossible to patch it up again.

After having written so many pages on love, I feel I have really said nothing of the experience of love.
Love is to be practiced rather than talked about. What can love do to one's life? The answer is better left
to be experienced rather than enumerated. Try it anyway and see if without love, you can be anything at
all.

"Without love, you are nothing at all."