Is love a good idea?

post by adamzerner · 2014-02-22T06:59:16.874Z · score: 3 (31 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 85 comments

I've searched around on LW for this question, and haven't seen it brought up. Which surprises me, because I think it's an important question.

I'm honestly not sure what I think. One one hand, love clearly leads to an element of happiness when done properly. This seems to be inescapable, probably because it's encoded in our DNA or something. But on the other hand, there's two things that really make me question whether or not love is a good idea.

1) I have a very reductionist viewpoint, on everything. So I always ask myself, "What am I really trying to optimize here, and what is the best way to optimize it?". When I think about it, I come to the conclusion that I'm always trying to optimize my happiness. The answer to the question of, "why does this matter?" is always, "because it makes me happy". So then, the idea of love bothers me, because you sort of throw rational thinking out the window, stop asking why something actually matters, and just decide that this significant other intrinsically matters to you. I question whether this type of thinking is optimal, and personally, whether or not I'm even capable of it.

2) It seems so obsessive, and I question whether or not it makes sense to obsess so much over one thing. This article actually explores the brain chemicals involved in love, and suggests that the chemicals are similar to those that appear in OCD.

Finally, there's the issue of permanence. Not all love is intended to be permanent, but a lot of the time it is. How can you commit to something so permanently? This makes me think of the mind projection fallacy. Perhaps people commit it with love. They think that the object of their desire is intrinsically desirable, when in fact it is the properties of this object that make it desirable. These properties are far from permanent (I'd go as far as to say that they're volatile, at least if you take the long view). So how does it make sense to commit to something so permanently?

So my take is that there is probably a form of love that is rational to take. Something along the lines of enjoying each others company, and caring for one another and stuff, but not being blindly committed to one another, and being honest about the fact that you wouldn't do anything for one another, and will in fact probably grow apart at some point. 

What do you guys think? 

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comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-22T10:32:17.480Z · score: 27 (27 votes) · LW · GW

The obsessive part of love only lasts for three or six months, so it's not important in the long term. Think about it as an extra motivation to pay the initial costs of establishing the relationship. It would be evolutionarily maladaptive to become forever obsessed with your significant other, unable to focus on tasks of daily survival.

This is the part of love that most people get wrong: basicly anyone who gets their important life lessons from Hollywood movies. Hollywood describes the obsessive part as the "true love". People following this definition get into the predictable cycle of forming a new relationship, enjoying it intensely for a few months, noticing their obsession disappearing, interpreting it as an evidence that this actually wasn't the "true love", breaking apart and starting a new relationship... which again follows the same schedule; and some people can do this for decades. -- If this is what you noticed and want to avoid, you have a good point, but you are taking it too far.

(Some people express it cynically by saying that the main difference between eternal love and casual fling is that the casual fling lasts longer.)

I don't think about love as a blind precommitment forever, but rather like this: I found a person who cooperates with me in a Prisonners' Dilemma, so the game theory is telling me to keep cooperating... if the other person keeps playing by the rules, possibly forever, because that's the winning strategy. Of course there is some imperfection in humans, and some noise in human communication, so I'm ready to forgive some minor problems. But that's still because I am profitting in the long term. -- If I would realize that my significant other abuses me, I would get out of the relationship. The important part of love is finding a person who is able and willing to reciprocate love. (Many beautiful people aren't.) Also, being that kind of person. (It's a learnt ability.)

As a data point, living with my girlfriend makes almost every day of my life better. Just eating breakfast with someone else is better than eating alone: if I multiply it with the expected remaining days of my life, that's a huge stack of utilons; I would be stupid to give it up. And that's just the fucking breakfast. On a boring ordinary day. Which happens automatically, without me having to do anything special; even on days when I am tired or busy. -- For me the conclusion is obvious. But it took years of learning and experimenting.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-02-22T13:48:57.215Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The obsessive part of love only lasts for three or six months, so it's not important in the long term.

There seem to be huge variations. For example I didn't fully loose infatuation until the breakup (after 14 years). But on the other hand it wasn't very 'obsessive' from/in the beginning either.

comment by MixedNuts · 2014-02-22T22:39:49.264Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The obsessive part of love only lasts for three or six months

I've never been in Mature Adult Love. Is it a real thing, or just having no particular feelings but deciding you like the company? What is it like?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-23T11:43:00.219Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It is a real thing. You can find more detailed explanation on Married Man Sex Life blog, but essentially there are three things people can mean when talking about "love", and each of them is driven by a different set of chemicals.

a) obsession
b) closeness
c) sexual desire

The obsessive love is A + C, or sometimes just A. The mature love is B + C, with a smaller intensity of A returning shortly once in a while, usually when you break your stereotype in a good way, e.g. go together on an exotic vacation, or go dancing.

You probably already have the experience of B without C. It's what you feel towards good friends (the ones you feel safe with), family members, or perhaps your pet. And what you will later feel towards your children. The feeling increases if you touch someone in a non-sexual way (e.g. hug, or dance with), or if you look deeply in their eyes (assuming you already feel safe with them).

Now imagine this, in a high intensity (but only when you think about the given person, usually when you are with them, not obsessively all the time), with the sexual undertone. (The sexual undertone doesn't have to be there all the time; however its long-term absence is a frequent failure mode.)

To protect this mutual feeling: Act in a safe way; don't ever hurt the other person physically or verbally. Express your love verbally (no need to be dramatic, just make frequent casual nice remarks) and non-verbally (short but frequent affectionate touches and hugs). In nice circumstances, look each other in the eyes. Be sexual once in a while, but not all the time (send a message that both modes are great with you). -- Read this book about individual differences, because I described what works in my relationship.

Typical mistakes: Acting safe doesn't mean you should stop joking and teasing. Actually, you shouldn't; you just need to calibrate and stop immediately when it becomes inconvenient for the other person. Just because you feel safe with the other person, don't make them your psychologist. It's okay to share some of your problems, but don't put the whole burden on a single person, just because the person is there and it's convenient for you. (Specifically for men in heterosexual relationships: make your partner feel safe and loved even when she is not in a mood for sex; but don't let too many days in a row pass asexually, because her mind can switch to "I love him, but I'm no longer in love with him" and suddenly you are friend-zoned and/or waiting for a divorce. Sex is part of the package, even if it doesn't include penetration.)

There is a role of deciding here -- you have to decide to act in a way that allows this feeling to develop, and to refrain from acting in a way that would destroy it. But the feeling is emotional, chemical, you feel it, not just tell yourself that you have it. Maybe for people coming from healthy loving families the decision component is invisible, because that's how they behave naturally. If you were less lucky, you have to pay attention. It's probably good do understand it explicitly, anyway, to prevent a random screwup. Also, this is how your partner should behave, too... if they don't, tell them... if they don't bother to listen, unfortunately I have a bad news for you. The good news is there are other people out there. Sometimes people need time to learn, but usually that also includes a change of partner.

comment by lucidian · 2014-02-23T19:29:45.132Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This description/advice is awesome, and I mostly agree, but I think it presents an overly uniform impression of what love is like. I've been in Mature Adult Love multiple times, and the feelings involved have been different every time. I wouldn't necessarily reject your division into obsession, closeness, and sexual desire, but I think maybe there are different kinds (or components) of closeness, such as affection, understanding, appreciation, loyalty, etc., and any friendship or relationship will have these in differing degrees. For instance, for a lot of people, family love seems to involve a lot of loyalty but not as much understanding.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-24T07:21:45.752Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree completely.

This classification is (aims to be) "hardware"-oriented; the three groups should be supported by different sets of hormones. (I am not a biologist, I merely copy the info from other sources; mostly the Married Man Sex Life blog. The author is a nurse, so I trust his expertise.) I can imagine that the same "hardware" foundation could be used to implement multiple different "software" emotional flavors in the brain.

Actually, I believe there might be even some cultural variations; if nothing else, the mere belief that some two emotions should go together, or that some emotion should be felt in some situation, would create a cultural difference.

comment by MixedNuts · 2014-02-23T19:52:41.103Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think your classification is missing something. I've had close trusted friends I had sexual desire for (whether I acted on it or not) without wanting to date them. B, as lucidian suggests, probably contains more sub-components.

Because of this, I can't understand the rest of your post. Thanks for the advice; it's good, but not new.

Does a normal good relationship happen like so?: "You develop obsession and (possibly later) desire, then closeness, then the obsession fades." (I'm not sure many people agree that Mature Adult Love takes less than six months to develop!) What is it like when the obsession fades?

Everyone says "three to six months" (with a few outliers saying one, two, or three years), and I'm starting to think this is evidence they trust what everyone else says over their own experience, rather than separate observations matching, because reported experiences differ wildly. In particular, many people think of love as intense friendship plus sex, while many others have a completely distinct romance drive.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-24T08:23:38.998Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What I described is what works for me, so I'm not going to generalize.

I've had close trusted friends I had sexual desire for (whether I acted on it or not) without wanting to date them.

Happens to me, too. Yes, there is some important component missing that I haven't described. (Trying to think about specific examples: Sometimes the sexual attraction was there but not high enough; I would rather have sex with the person than not, but I believed I could do much better. In a polygamous society they would probably be a great secondary partner. Sometimes the life goals were so incompatible, I couldn't imagine living together; or there was a great understanding in some issues, but also a vast lack of understanding in others.)

But still, this is almost a subset of what I tried to describe. Sometimes I even thought that if it would be possible to split people into components and arrange them differently, I already had enough material to build a perfect partner for me.

What is it like when the obsession fades?

You start noticing that other things exist, too. You are able to enjoy a good book, even if the person is in the same room. You realize there are things you liked to do before you met this person, then you completely forgot about those things, and now you miss them.

If you don't understand what is happening, and especially if the other person is still in the obsession phase, you may feel guilty for not loving them enough, or gradually become angry that they are "suffocating" you, because they want to take all your attention, but you now also want to focus on your hobbies. (An irrational person with lack of introspection may even blame the other person that they made them abandon their hobbies; but it's more likely that during the obsession phase they gave up their hobbies voluntarily, and now they are just editing the past to fit into a better narrative.) The other person probably feels ignored, not loved, and may suspect you found someone else instead of them.

If the other person is already out of the obsession phase, and you get out later, it simply means you can both enjoy your hobbies again. Though, if you are not familiar with the process (and your model of love is based on Hollywood movies), you may have doubts about whether everything is okay, even if technically there is no problem at the moment.

I'm not sure many people agree that Mature Adult Love takes less than six months to develop!

It could depend on how much "practice" from the previous relationships you have. Or maybe it's faster if you already knew each other before you fell in love. Or maybe that's the gap that you have to overcome using your conscious decision to behave nicely to the other person even if at the moment you don't feel emotionally compelled to.

The obsession phase also depends on how much opportunity you have to be together. Generally, obstacles (that seem surmountable) make the obsession last longer. There may also be individual differences.

many people think of love as intense friendship plus sex, while many others have a completely distinct romance drive.

This very likely could be a typical mind fallacy, but I believe the "distinct romance drive" is just rationalizing the obsession (often using a supernatural explanation).

Again, this is a model that works for me, and I am not sure how much it applies to other people. I try to be helpful, because years ago I didn't understand this model, and I probably suffered pointlessly because of it. But I don't insist that everyone is the same as me.

comment by MixedNuts · 2014-02-24T20:26:45.433Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! That doesn't match my experience at all, so it's nice to learn about.

maybe that's the gap that you have to overcome using your conscious decision to behave nicely to the other person even if at the moment you don't feel emotionally compelled to

Crushing fear of being abusive, and guilt about having hurt them in the past, works really well for this.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-25T12:26:07.704Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Something feels to me really wrong about that last sentence. Not that it hypothetically couldn't be technically true, but it's certainly not a way I would recommend to anyone. Associating love and closeness with fear and guilt... that's how I model a strongly religious person or a victim in an abusive relationship... and it's a state of mind I definitely do not endorse. (I try keeping an open mind that there may be some specific situation where it isn't as bad as it seems to me, but I give it a low probability.) For me, feeling safe is an opposite of fear, so an idea of a "crushing fear and guilt" as a way towards love makes as much sense as stabbing oneself with a knife as a way to achieve health (yes, there may be a very specific situation where...).

Considering this and your previous comments, I update towards belief that you simply don't have an experience with the emotion, and the verbal explanations just don't click because there is nothing to connect the words with. (Alternatively, you may have the experience with the emotion in some other context, but something in your mind prevents you from even imagining it in the context of a sexual relation.) Which sounds like a horrible thing, so I'd recommend trying... uhm... a) speaking about this topic with a psychologist; b) finding a couple with a good long-term relationship and either ask them or just spend a lot of time around them to learn by copying; c) speaking about this with someone you trust, e.g. on the next LW meetup, but personally, not online, because an online debate does not transfer emotions well.

(I apologize if this offended you, of course there is a chance that I am completely wrong, but the value of information is possibly very big here.)

comment by MixedNuts · 2014-02-26T20:42:52.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, you mean actually feel safe, as in you can relax just as much as when you're alone with a good book, not just be aware that the person is allied to you? How does that jive with "using your conscious decision to behave nicely to the other person even if at the moment you don't feel emotionally compelled to"?

I was abused as a child. You seem to be very distressed about this, so let me make it clear that my life is pretty good and I don't have any awful traumas or anything. But all sources of advice about how to move on and go on about one's life insist on this: abuse screws up attachment. If I ever (ever, not "before I've healed enough") drop my CONSTANT VIGILANCE!, I will hurt people who love me for the power trip (this is confirmed by experience), and I will be abused again by someone who notices I'm an easy victim (this isn't; Shiny Boyfriend is astoundingly ethical).

There's probably a better way to keep those bad tendencies in check than through fear and guilt, which is why I brought it up. But your version of love seems incompatible with having bad tendencies in the first place.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-27T13:03:47.733Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

you mean actually feel safe, as in you can relax just as much as when you're alone with a good book

Yes. Well, almost; nothing is perfect. There are some sensitive topics and situations, but the longer we are together, the less sensitive they become, because our expectations of "if a person does X, they will probably also do a bad thing Y" are repeatedly proven wrong.

How does that jive with "using your conscious decision to behave nicely to the other person even if at the moment you don't feel emotionally compelled to"?

Two things. First, sometimes my emotions are irrational, but I am aware of it, and I decide not to act on the emotion. As an example, some people get angry at work because of some problem at work, then they come home but the frustration is high in them, and then they start screaming at their family members because of some trivial mistake they made. (Often the mistake is something real, but the emotion and the reaction are hugely disproportional.) I try to be aware of this, try to be fair, and rather to err on the side of calmness. Sometimes I make a note of the topic I wanted to discuss, and I mention it later when the strong emotions are gone and we are able to discuss it calmly. This all happens rarely (once in a few months), and is less frequent the longer we are together. But even if it's rare, if I had reacted otherwise, it would certainly have bad long-term consequences.

Second, sometimes I decide to do something small and nice even if my feelings at given moment are neutral. It's like the rule that when you start smiling, even if you don't feel happy, the act of smiling makes you a bit more happy -- I'm just doing it to other person and starting a small positive feedback loop of nice feelings. For example, thinking for 10 seconds about "is there something nice (and true) I could say about the other person now?" Another example, if I am happy or satisfied with something the other person did, my natural reaction would be to enjoy it quietly; but instead I take the extra step of saying "thank you". Even when it's something trivial. I don't comment the trivial things all the time, but in random moments. (Maybe this part is just compensating for my character flaws; other people may do this automatically without thinking about it.) The important thing is that this part doesn't cause me any stress at all. I'm not doing this from a sense of duty, but as a rational strategic decision. I just have to keep reminding myself, because I keep forgetting.

I was abused as a child. You seem to be very distressed about this, so let me make it clear that my life is pretty good and I don't have any awful traumas or anything.

That's what I expected, but didn't want to say it directly without better evidence and without knowing how you would react. That's very good you can admit it; some people didn't get even this far. And it's good to hear that you succeeded to have a good life. -- Without pushing you, I just want to say that it possibly could be even better. Maybe you missed some skills, and you manage to live successfully without them; but learning them anyway could give you more options and get even more happiness.

all sources of advice about how to move on and go on about one's life insist on this: abuse screws up attachment.

I agree with this, but it doesn't have to be like this forever, and certainly not with the same intensity. Using the materialist framework: your brain synapses keep changing all the time, and there exists a finite amount of change that would solve your problem. Yeah, I know that without specific numbers, we can't estimate how much time would it take; and even if we knew which synapses need to be changed, that's easier said than done. On the other hand, most people are not strategic, so just by acting strategically, your chances should be better than usual. I'm not able to make an estimate, but I believe that if there is 50% chance of success, and it would take 10 or 20 years, it's probably still worth trying.

Switching from the role of an abused person to the role of abusive person, that's probably what most former victims do. I mean, it's the shortest inferential step: you keep the model of the relations, you only change your role in the system. That's hundred times more easier than following a new model, especially if you haven't experienced it, so you would have to invent it yourself. If we assume that people do the best thing their models allow, being an abuser is the best thing in the model that only contains two roles. (This is why I recommended "finding a couple with a good long-term relationship and either ask them or just spend a lot of time around them to learn by copying". To build a better model, on the intuition level.) Also, if you learn a new thing, it is completely natural to screw up a few times.

But your version of love seems incompatible with having bad tendencies in the first place.

Everyone has some bad tendencies. I may seem like a nice person, because that's how I present myself here, but there are people around me who have been hurt by my dark side. I'm not saying it's the same degree, just that it is a scale, not a set of distinct categories. And an important part of becoming a good person is to try hard. Some people don't. You already do.

Okay. I'm not telling you to try something that seems dangerous to you. Just... keep observing and learning, even if you don't try it immediately. (Perhaps try loving-kindness meditation -- just the exercise, without the religious theory.) Good luck!

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-02-24T04:35:57.864Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(It's a learnt ability.)

(And like all learnt hard-to-quantify abilities, be sure not to fool yourself about how much of it you have.)

This should be seen as an opportunity, and in no way tedious, though some will give up for it is easier to kiss the lover than become one. The lower regions crawl with these souls, caves of shallow treasures, meeting in places to testify by way of extension, when love is only satisfied by a considerable (incalculable) effort.

–– Vivec

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2014-02-22T10:52:36.638Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just eating breakfast with someone else is better than eating alone

When talking about such considerations, it's better to taboo/unpack "love" (which is generally useful for poorly defined concepts). In this case, you seem to be talking about the benefits of share housing with a well-chosen housemate.

comment by shminux · 2014-02-22T18:27:40.049Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I have a very reductionist viewpoint, on everything

As a reductionist you utterly failed to even define the phenomenon you describe. There are huge variations in what people mean by love, even if you only include the so called "romantic love". You probably have some vague model in mind, but without writing it down, giving a few examples and counterexamples to sharpen it up, you can hardly figure out whether the question you asked, "Is love a good idea?" is even meaningful.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-22T19:19:14.847Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're right. I wasn't specific enough in what I was talking about, and I think that the model in my mind is indeed too vague (contributing to my confusion), and that writing it down and thinking through examples will help.

Anything "absolute" doesn't make sense to me. Meaning intrinsically valuing the SO (rather than valuing them because they make you happy), permanently committing to this person "for better and for worse", thinking that the SO is like the best person in the world and is perfect for you etc.

When I think of the alternative to these absolute scenarios, I get: "I like you a lot. You make me happy. But there's probably at least tens of thousands of people in the world that can provide me with what you're providing me. So you're replaceable, and if we broke up, I'd get over it after a few days/weeks and find someone else. Also, I do like you and care about you (more than a big majority of things), but not nearly as much as I do about myself. And not nearly as much as I do about knowledge, understanding, and my ambitions. So I might get obsessed about these things, stop caring about you as much, and consequently, break up with you. In fact, there's a lot I'm confused about and for that reason, I can't make anything close to a commitment. I don't know if I should be trying to be happy, being an effective altruist, combatting death, or trying to seek knowledge and understanding of the world we live in. So basically, I like and care about you now, and for that reason want to be with you, but there are things I care about much more than you, and I don't know if they'll end up pushing you out."

That doesn't sound like love to me. When I see people talk about love, it seems that they imply that they care about the SO more than any sort of other (non-human) interests, that the SO is special (that there aren't tens of thousands of other potential SOs), that they are committed to their SO (barring any unusual circumstances), and that they stop being strategic because they stop considering alternatives to the monogamous relationship they have with their SO. None of this seems rational to me.

comment by eggman · 2014-02-24T05:30:11.445Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"I like you a lot. You make me happy. But there's probably at least tens of thousands of people in the world that can provide me with what you're providing me. So you're replaceable, and if we broke up, I'd get over it after a few days/weeks and find someone else.

Mr. Zerner, a problem with your counter-argument is that you aren't actually going to meet the tens of thousands of hypothetical people who could satisfy all the same desires and needs as a current romantic partner is meeting. You won't even meet one hundred, or, like, thirty. If you're lucky, you could meet a dozen other people who satisfy you romantically as much as any one romantic partner you loved the most satisfied you. . You could take an approach of shallowly connecting with as many women you think are very compatible with you as you can find. However, unless you're some Casanova, that seems like a poor strategy for creating a loving relationship, or several of them (rapidly). So, that doesn't seem like a sound argument for "sorry, my darling, but you're replaceable". I believe this would hold true for almost everyone who would make this case.

Also, it doesn't seem like you qualify how much you (would) love a given significant other. Depending on how much value the person brought into your life, it could take months, or even years, to overcome the loss of their companionship, rather than days, or weeks. It could also take you that long to find someone to replace her with, who provides just as much value to your life. I could generalizing too much from the example of my own experience, but it's the rare person who replaces the most significant romantic partner they've had previously with another in the span of only a few weeks, or a couple of months. I wouldn't be surprised that some people are quicker, or better, at this task, than the average. So, Mr. Zerner, unless you have great reason to believe you're above-average in this regard, don't discount the expected costs of finding a new partner so much.

Also, I do like you and care about you (more than a big majority of things), but not nearly as much as I do about myself. And not nearly as much as I do about knowledge, understanding, and my ambitions. So I might get obsessed about these things, stop caring about you as much, and consequently, break up with you. In fact, there's a lot I'm confused about and for that reason, I can't make anything close to a commitment. I don't know if I should be trying to be happy, being an effective altruist, combatting death, or trying to seek knowledge and understanding of the world we live in.

You're signaling that you have ambitions in life which are more praiseworthy, or laudable, or of a higher caliber, than just pursuing purely selfish ends. You're explaining to a hypothetical romantic partner what else you want to do in life. It seems like you're also trying to explain that to us as readers as well. The way you're asking if love is a 'good idea' seems to be about if committing all the time and effort to something like marriage would require is worth the opportunity cost of not being able to spend that time and effort (trying) to save the world.

I'm suspecting you're asking "how do I balance a commitment to such a lifestyle, while still appearing and being normal enough to do (many of) the typical things typical humans do to be happy?" I suspect you're asking these questions, not only in the interest of playing out an argument, but because, probably judiciously so, you don't have a 'gung-ho', confident solution to this personal conundrum.

You're not the only person with such concerns. I'm a nerd interested in saving the world while being awesome as well. I have similar concerns about committing too much to a single person, or to my family, at the expense of saving thousands of other lives, or whatever. Your concerns are shared by others in this community, and we don't have all the answers. It seems that other folks 'well on their way' to saving the world have encountered this problem as well, yet they haven't given up on making commitments to love others, or without giving up other things which don't broadly benefit others. We could learn much from them.

Ideally, I would prefer that the practical conclusions resulting from discussions on Less Wrong could generalize to, and be implemented within, as many of its readers' lives as possible. So, I don't mean for this response to be critical of your personality, and I hope me raising these points hasn't offended you. I believe it would be better if you were to clarify what your true concern here is though,, and summon the gumption to address it to us more directly. This is because we could have a clearer discussion, that benefits, and interests, more of us.

they stop being strategic because they stop considering alternatives to the monogamous relationship they have with their SO. None of this seems rational to me.

Maybe you really will need a significant other to rely on you less, lest they meet stringent conditions, or you cannot commit to them deeply. A small minority of people who commit themselves greatly to a cause are capable of that. It seems most people don't, not because they hate the idea, but because forgoing strong social bonds that most everyone else acquires makes them miserable. So, maybe loving someone so much seems irrational when that effort could be spent on other ideas which seem so much more valuable, on paper, than just loving one person.

We can discuss committing to both personally love others, and to making great accomplishments. That seems like a different discussion than this one, though.

Note: edited for brevity.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-24T08:59:54.863Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Side note/joke/context - I hope you didn't get your username from the ending to Annie Hall. When I watched it, I was about as frustrated and angry as I have ever been.

It's saying that there's a guy with a psychotic brother who thinks he's a chicken, and he doesn't want to turn his brother in because "he needs the eggs". So eggs are something that is clearly not real, and yet, the guy needs them. Then Woody Allen says that love is like that - it's crazy and irrational, but we go through with it because "we need the eggs". The way I see it, he's saying that we need the irrational to make us happy.

I think Paul Graham once said that the things that make us truly angry are things that we think might be true (you wouldn't get infuriated if I said that it's going to rain bananas tomorrow). I think that the reason I was so angry was because despite my tremendous commitment to truth, I suspected that truth might lead to net unhappiness. I also suspected that happiness might matter more than truth, and thus, being irrational... might... be... rational.

At the time, there was a girl I liked, which doesn't happen too often for me. I was sort of contemplating asking her out, which I have never seriously contemplated before. I decided not to because I knew that my liking of her was a product of some primitive brain structures, rather than actual compatibility, and that a relationship that isn't based off of real compatibility wouldn't be good (I know that you're probably thinking that this conclusion of mine was probably wrong and based on naive and impulsive thinking. I can assure you that it wasn't. I could tell what it would be like to be actually compatible with someone, and I wasn't actually compatible with her.). Anyway, I was finally becoming comfortable with the conclusion that I should forget about her, and when I watched this movie, it made me second guess.

"I like you a lot. You make me happy. But there's probably at least tens of thousands of people in the world that can provide me with what you're providing me. So you're replaceable, and if we broke up, I'd get over it after a few days/weeks and find someone else.

Yes, there are transaction costs (getting over it + finding someone new). But the point remains that people are replaceable, not just in the theoretical sense, but in a very practical sense. At some point in their lives, mostly everyone goes through a rather serious relationship, ends it, and starts a new rather serious relationship. So then, I don't think that it makes sense to pretend that they're "the one".

Best case scenario, your SO is an admirable person who you're compatible with and who brings happiness to your life. I think that this is fine, but that it strays from the absolute and romantic idea that people seem to have about love. I can't imagine any guy saying to his wife, "I love you. You're great. But you know, there are probably a good handful of people I've met in my life who I could have grown to love the way that I love you if I really got to know them. And there's probably many more people in this world who I could have grown to love the way I love you if I got to know them well enough. In fact, there are probably people in the world that I would be more compatible with than I am with you. You're great, but you're not the only one in this universe that is capable of providing me with what you provide me. That doesn't mean that I want to break up with you. I'm content with what you provide me, and I think that you're pretty good. The point is just that you probably aren't the best, and that you probably aren't the only one. Absolutes are rarely true."

The way society defines it, I don't imagine someone who thinks these things as in love. I don't see any relationships where people are open and honest about these facts. Some people in relationships might know these things. Sometimes both people in the relationship will. But it never seems acceptable (let alone comfortable) for them to be open about it.

So then, it seems to me that love involves thinking and acting like these ridiculous absolutes are true (or at the very least, pretending to think/act this way). Maybe I'm wrong though. Hopefully I'm wrong!! Are people really as committed to these absolute ideas as they seem? Are there relationships where both parties are comfortable admitting to each other that there are probably other people who they're compatible with, and that there are probably other people who they're more compatible with, but that they're deciding to satisfice with their love life? (A reducto ad absurdum argument seems most concise - thinking that there isn't anyone else who you would be more compatible with if you got to know them would mean that you found the 1 person in however many billion, which seems unlikely.)

You're signaling that you have ambitions in life which are more praiseworthy, or laudable, or of a higher caliber, than just pursuing purely selfish ends.

I don't know what my terminal value should be, but I suspect that it's my own happiness. Fortunately, my happiness is tied closely with doing good things. I see opportunity to do hugely great things. So I plan on doing them. If I'm right that I should be pursuing happiness... it'll accomplish that goal. And if I'm wrong and I should be acting as altruistically as possible, I'm doing that as well. That doesn't address knowledge and death though - I could be sacrificing those by pursuing altruistic causes. So I'll have to think this through some more, but I suspect that the right approach is to live a happy life, and divide my time between altruism and science.

It seems like you're also trying to explain that to us as readers as well.

Sort of, but not really. I think out loud a lot and don't have much of a filter.

I'm suspecting you're asking "how do I balance a commitment to such a lifestyle, while still appearing and being normal enough to do (many of) the typical things typical humans do to be happy?"

It's a concern, but not a major one. I don't care about altruism enough to sacrifice my happiness for it (well, I'd make some sacrifices, but I wouldn't live an altogether unhappy life).

The real objection is that love seems to dictate that your SO has to be the most important thing in the world to you. I can't imagine a husband saying to his wife, "I love you, and you bring me a lot of happiness, but I care more about my job than you. And I care more about science and technology than I do about you. But other than those couple of things, I think that I care more about you than anything else." So this is another aspect of love that seems nonsensical to me.

With that said, I do think that there should be some reasonable floor. Like you probably shouldn't care about more than a handful of things than you do about your SO.

Ideally, I would prefer that the practical conclusions resulting from discussions on Less Wrong could generalize to, and be implemented within, as many of its readers' lives as possible. So, I don't mean for this response to be critical of your personality, and I hope me raising these points hasn't offended you. I believe it would be better if you were to clarify what your true concern here is though,, and summon the gumption to address it to us more directly. This is because we could have a clearer discussion, that benefits, and interests, more of us.

I have the same goals. No offense taken. I apologize for any lack of clarity in my comments.

My main point is this: there seems to be this thing called love that society has invented. It requires a bunch of "absolutist" ways of thinking and acting. I think that these absolutist ways of thinking and acting are irrational, and thus I don't think that it makes sense to think and act in these ways. However, it seems that if you don't think and act in these ways, you aren't "relationship material". So then, in order to be "relationship material", you have to think and act in these ways. Which means that in order to be relationship material, you have to think and act irrationally. Relationship material ~ love. So then, in order to love, it seems that you have to think and act irrationally.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-02-24T10:01:41.079Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(This could have been a reply to a couple of your comments, but I was reading this one just now, so it goes here.)

Best case scenario, your SO is an admirable person who you're compatible with and who brings happiness to your life. I think that this is fine, but that it strays from the absolute and romantic idea that people seem to have about love. I can't imagine any guy saying to his wife, "I love you. You're great. But you know, there are probably a good handful of people I've met in my life who I could have grown to love the way that I love you if I really got to know them. And there's probably many more people in this world who I could have grown to love the way I love you if I got to know them well enough. In fact, there are probably people in the world that I would be more compatible with than I am with you. You're great, but you're not the only one in this universe that is capable of providing me with what you provide me. That doesn't mean that I want to break up with you. I'm content with what you provide me, and I think that you're pretty good. The point is just that you probably aren't the best, and that you probably aren't the only one. Absolutes are rarely true."

You seem to be both critiquing the "Hollywood" view of romance and love, while at the same time using it as your own view on how love and romance work.

Romance and love can be about total dedication to a single person, but it doesn't have to be. It's perfectly possible to be in a committed romantic relationship while both parties know (and are willing to discuss) that the fact that they're together is a rather random event, which has been influenced by a lot of factors and that if those factors were different, they would have ended up with different people.

So I can perfectly imagine a man saying that to his wife, and his wife accepting the explanation perfectly and it doesn't require two rationalists in a relationship. I'm pretty sure me and my girlfriend have had a conversation of that nature (anecdotal evidence alert).

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-25T11:02:57.375Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So I can perfectly imagine a man saying that to his wife, and his wife accepting the explanation perfectly

Bonus points for making it a popular song.

:D

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-24T16:24:38.462Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good to hear! If love doesn't have to involve the things I critiqued, then I have no problem with it.

comment by eggman · 2014-02-24T23:21:19.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While others have remarked that you're responding to a "Hollywood" conception of romance, I also want to point out that you aren't the only person who perceives romance this way. The surface perfection of romance is something people would like to signal about their relationships. Like, even in the cases where people are cheating on one another, or the relationship is falling apart, or mired by abuse, or conflict, they like to publicly signal that things are still going well, or at least not going horribly. If you searched for 'romance', or 'relationships', on Overcoming Bias, you could find some decent material on signaling within sexual relationships. Additionally, media besides Hollywood movies are shoving an archetype of romantic relationships down our throats all the time. So, only mostly perceiving all this, there are a great many people who view relationships in this manner. This is probably skewed towards younger people, although it's also been remarked in this thread that some people go through this for decades.

Mr. Zaman's comment seems to point out that a key to finding a relationship that avoids all these things about love which would frustrate you is that you can find the right person to do so. I don't know how to do that myself, per se, other than suggesting you try OKCupid, or altering your social circle to include more people who have a similar mindset, and then dating from within there.

I believe you're correct in that a substantial portion of relationships, one partner coming out to another, and stating (realistically) that they're not the best possible person, and that it could be quite possible to find another one, would be hurtful. I believe that might be hurtful in some relationships only because the other interlocutor won't understand why you're stating obvious but hurtful facts, like you're signaling something mysterious. I wouldn't worry about that, though. So, there are people who have fooled themselves into thinking relationships ought to be like an idealized romance. Perhaps you could try observing other relationship styles where you can, or read about them on some blog which is, I don't know, contra-romantic, and that could change your perception of people practically love one another.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T11:35:45.114Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can't imagine any guy saying to his wife, "I love you. You're great. But you know, there are probably a good handful of people I've met in my life who I could have grown to love the way that I love you if I really got to know them. And there's probably many more people in this world who I could have grown to love the way I love you if I got to know them well enough. In fact, there are probably people in the world that I would be more compatible with than I am with you. You're great, but you're not the only one in this universe that is capable of providing me with what you provide me. That doesn't mean that I want to break up with you. I'm content with what you provide me, and I think that you're pretty good. The point is just that you probably aren't the best, and that you probably aren't the only one. Absolutes are rarely true."

I can't either, but not because those things are false.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-03-01T17:47:19.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that it isn't acceptable for parties to relationships to admit/accept these truths.

I agree that it has some bad connotations, but you could override those connotations by saying that you don't mean anything further than what you explicitly said.

comment by eggman · 2014-02-24T05:44:02.197Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you try starting such a conversation, I suggest using more examples than you have thus far. If you don't feel comfortable providing personal anecdotes as examples, feel free to PM me. In that case, I'll start the conversation, because I do have anecdotes/examples I am willing to, and can, share.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-24T08:42:50.067Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate your consideration, thoughtfulness, and patience. I'm comfortable though.

And you're right, I should have used more examples. I just was having trouble articulating them, and I just wanted to get the conversation started. In hindsight, I should have took the time to think it through in order to make the subsequent conversation more productive.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T11:26:49.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Note: edited for brevity.

:-|

comment by eggman · 2014-03-02T05:20:28.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know, I know...I tend to write in a superfluous, and long-winded manner. Like, longer than the above comment. It was about 20% longer, so I edited out the material that I didn't believe would actually clarify the questions I was asking, or that I believed wouldn't be at all valuable to adamzerner. I was at a lack of words other than 'edited for brevity'. In terms of writing, I believe I'm decent at getting my thoughts out of my head. However, my ability to write more compactly is a skill I need to improve upon, and I intend to do so.

Also, I aim to be quite precise with my language, so I tend to provide more detail in my examples than I believe might be necessary, in an attempt to prevent as much confusion for the reader as I can.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-22T20:47:31.748Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But there's probably at least tens of thousands of people in the world that can provide me with what you're providing me. So you're replaceable, and if we broke up, I'd get over it after a few days/weeks and find someone else.

For those of us with more peculiar tastes, this isn't actually true.

For example there really aren't that many IQ 145+ reasonably fit/attractive men around my age who happen to be sympathetic to transhumanist values and also click with me personally out there in the world, let alone among those I'm likely to ever meet. I'm in college right now where the concentration of such men is the highest it will ever be in my life and I've met <10 of them, most of whom are disqualified for a relationship for various reasons.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2014-02-24T16:45:01.545Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

IQ 145+ reasonably fit/attractive men around my age who happen to be sympathetic to transhumanist values

You're not me, but if you are anything like me, this will probably be one of the things you change your mind about in the future.

After switching "men" to "women", everything in your comment would have rung true for me from a younger age (15-19) - I was primarily looking for someone highly intelligent (though my cut-off was more like 95% than your 99.9%) reasonably attractive, socially liberal and sex positive...and even though my requirements were way less stringent than yours, I still was turning down advances from people who, had I got to know them better, might have turned out to be perfectly acceptable. I'd say I considered maybe 1% of the people I knew well enough to judge as acceptable partners.

Once I actually started having experience with real relationships, everything changed. I'm equally picky for serious long term relationships now (though I'm more willing to do casual stuff now than I was in the past) but today my "bottleneck" criteria that most people fail have mostly have to do with kindness, communicative skills, and emotional resilience. I still care about things like intelligence and attractiveness, but not nearly as much. To me, intelligence is sexy signalling in the same way a fit body is - I'm instinctively drawn to it and a total lack of it will turn me off, but I don't attempt to consciously evaluate it as a relationship criteria anymore. As for ideology, I find that most people who possess the qualities I care about either already have worldviews which I find acceptable, or tend to alter their worldviews after discussion.

I wouldn't say my actual criteria changed, only my knowledge of what my true preferences actually were. Regardless of the criteria you think you have, your true preferences will shine through eventually in the form of break-ups and relationships that fizzle out before they start. But if you're working with a layer of false criteria on top of the true preferences, you might turn down the opportunity to connect with someone who does not meet your false criteria but does satisfy your true preferences.

(For reference on how to weigh this info, I'm 23, I've been in a happy relationship for 4 years with several shorter non-consummated interactions before and during, and the only major stumbling block has been different monogamy/polyamory related preferences)

comment by Capla · 2015-03-22T02:16:27.680Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm...I would very much like to know if my very stringent criteria for basic-possibility-of-a-relationship will change with time. I suppose I should evaluate my goals and why I have those criteria.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-24T18:57:04.987Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

*

comment by Prismattic · 2014-02-24T03:53:02.664Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Supposedly, the mean IQ on Lesswrong is around 140. (Assuming that there is some relationship between median and mean in these rather unusual environs,) do you really consider more than half of the participants on this site too stupid to engage in intellectually stimulating discussions with you? I mean, what's with the 145+ cutoff for IQ? Even granting that you have, arguendo, a 155 IQ, do you really think someone with an IQ of 130 is to much of a dullard for romance?

Further... most people don't emerge from the womb committed transhumanists. Presumably, someone had to persuade most of them at some point. Perhaps you should be concentrating, not on men who are transhumanists, but on men who score high on the "openness to ideas" part of the Big Five?

ETA: The above reads sort of plaintive, in hindsight. So, in case it's necessary to spell it out, I'm neither looking for a companion nor in your age bracket. Just making suggestions in the form of questions.

comment by trist · 2014-02-22T22:44:52.042Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
  • World Population: 7 billion
  • 145+ IQ (13/10000): 93 million
  • Male (1/2): 46 million
  • College-aged (1/10): 4 million
  • Normal weight (3/5): 2 million

Transhumanist values are probably higher than average in that group, but I have no idea of numbers there. Clicking with you and a more refined definition of attraction I can't speak to, but if you've come in contact with 5 in your time at college... There's still lots.

comment by gwern · 2014-02-22T23:07:43.424Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

145+ IQ (13/1000ths): 93 million

I'm guessing that's from a base of 100? If so, you're off by almost a standard deviation there: the mean world IQ is very far from Western normed 100s. IIRC, the population weighted estimate from the Lynn national IQ estimates puts the global mean at maybe 90. That's going to affect the tails like 145+ a lot.

comment by trist · 2014-02-23T14:20:07.735Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course... I thought 100 was meant to be the global mean. Lynn set Great Britian's mean, nothing like a flexible definition!

The (not very good) data doesn't bear out a 90ish global mean though, the sub-90 IQ countries are much lower population than over 90. To be pessimistic I'd take another half sigma. (92.5)

  • World Population: 7 billion
  • 145+ IQ (1/4200): 17 million
  • Male (1/2): 8 million
  • College-aged (1/10): 800 thousand
  • Normal weight (3/5): 480 thousand

Actually useful numbers may be able to be obtained by using more locale specific filters.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-23T16:51:48.008Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Who exactly cares about intelligent people half-way across the globe anyway, when personal relationships (and the possibility of finding people with whom those are possible) are the issue?

comment by gwern · 2014-02-23T21:27:15.913Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You can meet them online, or move to other countries. Personally, for such an estimate I'd be looking only at Anglophones: learning a language just to increase one's dating pool seems pretty far to go for love.

comment by trist · 2014-02-23T18:36:48.833Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hence the actually useful numbers bit! Yet I do care to some extent, if for some reason I end up there in future, just less then everyone here and now. Maybe one could weight populations by inverse distance?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T11:46:58.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OTOH, a linear combination of Gaussians with a standard deviation of 15 and different means will not be a Gaussian and will have a standard deviation larger than 15. So a naive calculation as in trist's comment below will be an underestimate.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-22T23:02:31.089Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

145+ IQ (13/1000ths)

That's not accurate; did you mean 13/10000?

but if you've come in contact with 5 in your time at college... There's still lots

Given that a couple were taken and a couple were incompatible for various other reasons, that I expect a higher proportion of guys to be taken as I get older, and that I will never be in such a high-density environment again... I really don't think 1 real prospect every couple of years, who may or may not work out as an actual relationship, is a high hit rate at all. Certainly not high enough that I would ever consider someone I was in a successful relationship with to be "easily replaceable."

comment by trist · 2014-02-23T14:57:22.173Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not accurate; did you mean 13/10000?

Thanks, fixed.

I have a hard time seeing people as replaceable, much less easially. Even between two people who fit some abstracted ideal, one won't replace another. Leaving that aside though, I think that the difficulty is more in finding the people who fit that ideal than their actual existence.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-24T16:43:43.981Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I expect a higher proportion of guys to be taken as I get older,

xkcd: Dating Pools

(Though this graph from The Case For An Older Woman on OkTrends suggests otherwise -- but I'm not sure a 40-year-old single guy is as likely to be on OkCupid as a 20-year-old one is.)

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-22T21:45:39.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For those of us with more peculiar tastes, this isn't actually true.

Good point. Personally, I'm the same as you - my tastes are particular enough where I've never even met anyone who I've felt compatible with. But I think that tens of thousands is a reasonable estimate for the general population.

I'm in college right now where the concentration of such men is the highest it will ever be in my life

I don't think that that's true. I'm in college now too (Pitt), and people all seem very average to me. I think that for you, it's more likely to meet people you're looking for by doing things you're interested in (rationality and transhumanist stuff), and you'll probably do more of that stuff once you graduate.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-22T23:22:24.360Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

*

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T12:06:48.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

that the SO is special (that there aren't tens of thousands of other potential SOs),

Doesn't it matter how few of said other “potential” SOs live reasonably near you, aren't already taken, and in turn view you as a potential SO for them?

comment by adamzerner · 2014-03-01T17:31:11.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My point was that it seems to me that people try to treat SOs as if they're the only one on the planet for them, which clearly isn't true.

But I agree, in a practical sense, the amount of potential SOs is definitely limited by those factors. For most people, I still think that there's enough of them where most people would find one in a reasonable amount of time. But for people with more particular tastes, it could definitely be the case that you've found someone who you're pretty unlikely to ever find someone like again.

comment by seez · 2014-02-22T08:50:10.868Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Several things:

Title is vague. You say "love", looks like you mostly mean early-stage romantic love, which is a small subset of love.

So then, the idea of love bothers me, because you sort of throw rational thinking out the window, stop asking why something actually matters, and just decide that this significant other intrinsically matters to you.

So, most non-rational people do this about everything, not just (or especially) about love, and I don't think rational people particularly do this with love.

This article actually explores the brain chemicals involved in love, and suggests that the chemicals are similar to those that appear in OCD.

Chemicals don't "appear in OCD." As the article states, OCD is sometimes associated with low serotonin levels, as are many other mental disorders and things that aren't mental disorders. The only behavioral pattern the article notes that they say resembles OCD is "attempting to evoke reciprocal responses in one's loved one" which is something that happens in almost all intense human relationships, including mother-infant ones, and also is not actually closely associated with OCD.

Also as the article states, romantic love often moves into a calmer, less obsessive state on its own, so worry about excessive obsessiveness may be unfounded.

The conclusion of this paragraph does not follow from the explanation:

Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke. Love, in other words, uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. “We are literally addicted to love,” Dr Young observes.

gut feelings+euphoria ≠ addiction.

comment by lululu · 2015-05-05T21:39:43.569Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While it is true that gut feelings+euphoria ≠ addiction, that doesn't preclude addiction from using the same brain circuitry. In fact some social psychologists, esp Helen Fisher, speculate that addiction neuron circuits were developed first to support the first stages of romantic love and then co-opted by addictive substances and behaviors.

This framework has been useful in my recent break up because it is intuitively true that addictive cravings are not necessarily a good impulse to follow and satisfying the cravings does not necessarily reduce them in the long term. When I'm ruminating it is handy to be able to mark it as "ignore: meaningless craving."

http://jn.physiology.org/content/104/1/51.short

http://jn.physiology.org/content/94/1/327.short

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=bUSRsXs2kGEC&oi=fnd&pg=PA87&dq=Helen+Fisher+addiction+love&ots=2HRkw3aRuM&sig=3Fvz0NYzaaxtk0l6meaz7jyN934#v=onepage&q=addiction&f=false

comment by blacktrance · 2014-02-22T08:16:14.822Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Throwing rational thinking out the window is not at all necessary when it comes to love. Nor is thinking that your significant other is intrinsically valuable. Irrationality in relationships is a common trope, but actually rational thinking and relationships go together quite well.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-02-22T11:10:40.633Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be operating under the assumption that "love" is something that doesn't help people get happy. If you're trying to optimize for personal happiness and love (in whatever form) enhances your ability to be happy and/or directly causes you happiness, love is a perfectly rational thing to do.

You say:

So then, the idea of love bothers me, because you sort of throw rational thinking out the window, stop asking why something actually matters, and just decide that this significant other intrinsically matters to you.

But that doesn't have to happen. You can keep thinking rationally about love, even when under its effects. It's not because we are wired to love by evolution that the love for my family, partner, friends... stops being valuable and gives me happiness.

And I don't know why I'm typing all this, because you seem to have a very narrow definition of love, namely the very specific timeframe in the early part of a romantic relationship. Love is a lot broader than that.

The obsessive part you describe is love, but so is:

Something along the lines of enjoying each others company, and caring for one another and stuff, but not being blindly committed to one another, and being honest about the fact that you wouldn't do anything for one another, and will in fact probably grow apart at some point.

And if I had to answer your opening question:

Yes, love tends to be a good idea, but you have to be specific about what type of love and to which degree.

ETA: After re-reading Feeling Rational, I think that the statement "Love is not something that can be destroyed by truth." works better than everything I wrote above and more or less sums up what I'm trying to get across.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-02-22T17:22:16.879Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What do you guys think?

My take is that coming to love X is a process whereby I extend my sense of myself to include X.

So when you say:

The answer to the question of, "why does this matter?" is always, "because it makes me happy". So then, the idea of love bothers me, because you sort of throw rational thinking out the window, stop asking why something actually matters, and just decide that this significant other intrinsically matters to you.

...you basically lose me. You're talking as though "me" refers to some kind of unchanging primitive whose boundaries remain perpetually fixed. That's not consistent with my experience at all.

You say you have a very reductionist viewpoint on everything. I wouldn't say that about myself; there are things I'm content to engage with as "black boxes" at a variety of different levels of abstraction, and I don't feel the need to constantly "drill down" into them. But in this particular case, I'm aware that my sense of myself is a not a black box; it's a psychological construct, and I'm typically aware of some of the things that contribute to and constrain it.

Some of those things include aspects of other people whom I love.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-02-23T00:12:19.708Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

the idea of love bothers me, because you sort of throw rational thinking out the window, stop asking why something actually matters, and just decide that this significant other intrinsically matters to you.

Not at all. It's not that rational thinking goes out of the window, only your system of values changes.

You can stay perfectly rational, it's just that now "making that other person happy" is a huge value for you. A terminal value.

And you can ask yourself "why it matters" -- the answer is that you have a new terminal value and terminal values are where the "why" process stops.

How can you commit to something so permanently?

You can't. It's an illusion. But it's a useful and pleasant illusion :-)

there is probably a form of love that is rational to take.

You don't take love. Love takes you.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2014-02-24T04:39:18.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Love is used not only as a constituent in moods and affairs, but also as the raw material from which relationships produce hour-later exasperations, regrettably fashioned restrictions, riddles laced with affections known only to the loving couple, and looks that linger too long. Love is also an often-used ingredient in some transparent verbal and nonverbal transactions where, eventually, it can sometimes be converted to a variety of true devotions, some of which yield tough, insoluble, and infusible unions. In its basic form, love supplies approximately thirteen draughts of all energy that is derived from relationships. Its role and value in society at large are controversial.

–– Vivec (emphasis mine)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-23T19:25:04.616Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Out of "Understanding Humans for Vulcans 101":

Humans have things that are called emotions. The word love refers to one of them. From the positive emotions that humans can feel it's a quite strong one.

Feeling positive emotions has been shown to provide a bunch of health effects.

Human who are deprived of positive emotions also tend to do a lot of very irrational stuff to feel well. Especially when they are intelligent they are usually good at rationalizing their behavior. Once basic emotional needs are fulfilled it's usually easier for humans to make decisions that are actually rational in other area's.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-02-24T12:54:10.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That book is sorely needed in real life.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-02-24T13:22:26.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of the many books in this section of a publisher's catalogue, there are several along these lines.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2014-02-24T13:35:34.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you very much. The list includes a homeopathy book, though, which seriously diminishes the credibility of all the others.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-02-24T14:13:05.990Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I noticed that one, but I don't think it's fair to judge all 600 books in the catalogue by association with the worst item in it, else who should 'scape whipping? Although by all means judge the publisher's judgement in publishing it.

comment by mare-of-night · 2014-02-22T14:30:01.189Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If your gut reaction is that romantic relationships aren't for you, being aromantic is a thing. It's uncommon, but it seemed worth saying.

Finally, there's the issue of permanence. Not all love is intended to be permanent, but a lot of the time it is. How can you commit to something so permanently? The impression I get from seeing friends' and acquaintances' relationships is that the average length of time they last is comparable to how long a person stays at a job (but with a greater standard deviation). Even when you're trying to build a relationship that would be permanent, you haven't committed to making it permanent just by attempting it, and people consider it acceptable to break it off if it's not working well for you. Ending a relationship can still be very unpleasant, of course, but I don't think a broken commitment is the reason for that. The breakup is just a cost you have to expect when you decide to start a romance.

Based on conversations I've had with non-rationalists about their romances, some of them make poorer decisions when romance is involved, and others don't. From what I've seen, it looks like the people who are usually the sanest under other circumstances are also the least prone to making poor decisions about romance and regretting it later. It really, really depends on the person.

So my take is that there is probably a form of love that is rational to take. Something along the lines of enjoying each others company, and caring for one another and stuff, but not being blindly committed to one another, and being honest about the fact that you wouldn't do anything for one another, and will in fact probably grow apart at some point. This sounds sort of like what I'm in right now (we're both rationalists). It also doesn't sound too different from my sister's relationships, and she doesn't pay any particular attention to rationality - it's just that she's in college and everyone in her social circle knows that people may go their separate ways because of personality clashes or the demands of starting a career. If you'd be looking for a relationship with someone who shared your values anyway, then making it a sane one wouldn't add many additional constraints.

In my experience, during the addiction-like phase, you get some pretty intense emotions, but you don't loose control of yourself or stop caring about other things. I get really happy about things that ordinarily wouldn't be a big deal (ex: person started a conversation with me in chat, which means they were thinking about me), and get tempted to invest more than I should, but that's about it. Given that most people in romantic relationships don't strain their other friendships or have difficulty at work because of it, I suspect my experience was similar to most peoples'.

I think the core issue here is that the stories we like to tell about how love and romances work are different from the reality. When you analyze the story closely, you realize it wouldn't actually be a good story to live. But the way romances actually go is different from the way humans like to say they go in most of the aspects you didn't like.

comment by WithAThousandFaces · 2014-02-22T08:57:12.830Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding your first point, which do you suppose is more likely: that love is a bad idea, or that having a very reductionist viewpoint is a bad idea?

Regarding the second, a lot of things are like "the brain chemicals involved in love." (The article only discusses low serotonin levels.) This doesn't provide a basis for thinking love is a bad thing.

Regarding permanence, "is lifelong commitment to a single person a good idea" is a different question from "is love a good idea?" Since you've asked, though, I think I disagree with the mechanics you describe. The benefit of a lifelong love isn't strictly limited to the loved one as an object, or the traits inhering to the loved one, but the interaction between you. This grows over time, while other interactions that you aren't having are likewise not growing.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-02-22T17:01:58.008Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It comes down to a definition of "love".

I, for one, think of love as a conscious choice to invest in the well-being and flourishing of another person. It is preferable that the person reciprocate, but not necessarily a requisite of my ongoing commitment. In this way, love is sacrificial, and I don't see how LW could make a case for it.

Of course, you could be in a romantic relationship where both parties benefit, creating a situation where the sum is greater than the parts in regard to fuzzies, utilons, etc. That's academic. To the extent you can keep the situation intact, you can reap the benefits.

You could, if you were malicious and willing, create a situation where you benefited from a romantic relationship in which your partner was not seeing any benefit. They added utility to you at their own peril. I think that happens a lot.

Anyway, I think love is best defined as the choice you make to sacrifice, if need be, for the sake of other people. In a traditional marriage commitment, that choice is lifelong, made to one person and exists "for better or for worse".

There are some personal benefits derived from honoring such arrangements. There are also some drawbacks. Is love good or bad for you in a utilitarian standpoint in the context of marriage? Depends on you and the marriage.

Is "falling in love" good for you? Depends on you. In my experience, it's been the most intense euphoria I've ever felt. But it also has been debilitatingly painful when it ends. You'd have to do the cost-benefit analysis for yourself based on your disposition, utility function, etc.

I'd personally recommend love strongly, even if it ends up yielding negative results in utilitarian sum total...But Choose to love, and don't spend to much time worrying about getting people to love you. Similarly, don't get the idea that love is ethereal, esoteric, magical woo. It can, and often, involves that, but it necessarily involves lots of intentional choice to benefit another person with no guarantee of reciprocation.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-22T17:47:00.933Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd personally recommend love strongly, even if it ends up yielding negative results in utilitarian sum total...But Choose to love, and don't spend to much time worrying about getting people to love you.

Uhm... What? Why on Earth, why?

comment by Brillyant · 2014-02-22T18:55:45.278Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To clarify, I should have said I recommend love even if it doesn't end up yielding a utility advantage for you. I've found it's a better choice than trying to "utilize" love for your own ends.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-22T19:10:09.907Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Still, you must be rather unusual if loving people who don't love you back works all that well for you.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-02-22T21:33:47.020Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There isn't anything you can do to make other people love you. You can make them need you, want you, like you...but people must choose to love, as I've defined it. This is why I said I don't think LW will ever be an advocate of love defined as such. It doesn't "work all that well" for people who are looking to "win".

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-23T10:50:59.835Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There isn't anything you can do to make other people love you.

You can increase the probability a little, though.

Even choosing to interact with people who have the capacity to love (the way you want to be loved) increases the chance your love will be reciprocated. It's probably easier to explain in reverse: if you only keep company of people unable to love (the way you want to be loved), your chances of being loved drop to zero.

Sometimes it helps to be a bit explicit. Tell the person you care about them, and you want to participate in their life goals. Just the fact that they spend a little more time thinking about you, increases the chance that if you are one of the possible candidates, they will choose you. If you have similar values, it is better to know about it.

Of course this all is within some given limits. You can't make (from 0% to 100%) the other person love you. But if there is a potential for mutual love, you can can increase your chances maybe from 0.1% to 10% just by being visible.

comment by Capla · 2015-03-22T02:29:56.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I chose to love regardless of how the other feels towards me.

comment by Nisan · 2014-02-22T16:55:11.360Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know we don't say this anymore, but your metaethics is vulnerable to several criticisms which appear in the metaethics sequence (and elsewhere, no doubt).

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-02-22T08:40:39.823Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

So, can I take it you've never experienced love?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-02-22T14:15:27.255Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this is a bad question to be asking, although I might have done it in a more neutral way, such as: "OP, what are your personal experiences with love?" This would still allow you to make your rhetorical point, just a bit later in the conversation.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-22T17:52:28.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure, but probably not.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-13T09:25:12.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Obsessions are BAD for empathy. "“basic” ToM abilities of OCD patients are generally preserved, but they show significant reduction in their “advanced” ToM abilities, which seem to be related to their reduced memory capacities. The possible reasons for the relation between memory and ToM impairments, as well as the clinical significance of ToM deficits in OCD are discussed."" I think empathy is a good idea - it's probably the foundations of my intuitive conception of moral reasoning.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-22T09:15:11.284Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I think about it, I come to the conclusion that I'm always trying to optimize my happiness.

Optimizing it keeping what constant? I mean, in the prisoner's dilemma what optimizes your score for a given strategy of your opponent is to defect, but if you and your opponent both do that you get a worse score than if you both cooperated.

Romance can be similar. See the xkcd comic “Drama”. (See also “Objective Versus Intersubjective Truth” by Nick Szabo.)

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-02-22T13:43:11.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't you please post such insightful links not in braces and without proper title but like this:

Objective Versus Intersubjective Truth; by Szabo

Had I not clicked out of sheer curiosity on that link I would missed it. It should be made into a top level post really.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-23T10:59:36.143Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You know, when I was a kid I was the first to decry the “Click here” syndrome, but now that I've grown ‘old’ I've succumbed to it myself out of laziness.

(Fixed.)

comment by Manfred · 2014-02-22T07:16:12.758Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations, you have violated Betteridge's law.

When I think about it, I come to the conclusion that I'm always trying to optimize my happiness.

Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

-J.S. Mill

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-22T07:23:10.563Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds like you're refuting my thoughts because they're based on the belief that I should optimize my happiness. If so, could you elaborate? Just quoting Mill isn't a refutation.

comment by Manfred · 2014-02-22T07:43:47.719Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I mean, you're free to optimize what you want. But I doubt you'd want to be turned into a pig in exchange for slightly more happiness. Humans are pretty complicated as a rule, and happiness is only one of many things we like. Valuing the well-being of other people is totally okay.

I forget where this quote is from: if humans were all alike, love would be the arbitrary elevation of one person over a billion equals. But each person is truly special; we in our limitedness merely only appreciate the specialness of those we know well.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-02-22T08:38:39.183Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

-J.S. Mill

I'd go further than that. Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a human being satisfied.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2014-02-22T17:03:37.259Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Huh?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-02-24T08:53:48.858Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much what MathiasZaman said. Or to put it a few other ways: if you're satisfied, you're not trying hard enough; contentment is a sickness of the soul; a man's reach should exceed his grasp; etc.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-02-23T13:56:57.013Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since no-one else has tried to alleviate your confusion, I think that RichardKennaway sees perfect satisfaction as wireheading or something similar.

comment by Darklight · 2014-02-22T22:23:23.409Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You say you're trying to optimize your happiness... Why not consider taking the leap into classical Utilitarianism and optimize happiness generally?

I actually recently made a Utilitarian argument for romantic love, on the Felicifia forums for Valentine's Day. You may find that an interesting little argument to consider, though I admit it isn't the most intellectually rigorous argument I've ever come up with.

As for the issue of the permanence of love, here's a copy of something I wrote, about just that, almost four years ago:

The Essential Tragedy of Love

Fundamental to the nature of all human existence is the irreconcilable temporality of all things. Thus, it is a dark truth that every single person one falls in love with is doomed to pass from this world in the unforeseeable future, short of some absurd change in the nature of human existence, such that eternal life becomes real.

However, in the shorter term, not all things are as temporary as others. Thus it behoves us that if we must fall in love, it should be for reasons more immutable than mere circumstances such as wealth and beauty, that can change on a whim, or will inevitably pass with time. Rather, if true love is what you seek, it is wiser to search for those immutable characteristics that will last perhaps as long as you will, things like kindness, intelligence, and the innate traits that are fundamental to a person’s being.

To do otherwise is to invite the situation where what you have fallen in love with has changed, and is no more. As much love is foolishly laced together with commitments binding very souls to unite, it is a terrible place to be in to be trapped with someone who is no longer what you loved. Worse still, it is preventable by simply refraining from such brash commitments until you are certain that what you love is in fact, an immutable presence in that person, and not something that will pass away beforehand.

It is therefore folly to have something such as love at first sight, since what superficial knowledge one can glean from first sight is unlikely to be sufficient to make such a responsible judgment with any sort of reason. Opportunities are transient and momentary, so it is equally foolish to simply wait around in the hopes that perfection is just around the corner. Rather one must balance risk and caution, and more importantly, one must take full responsibility for their actions, their words, and their promises.

Never make a promise you cannot keep. The harm that such bindings cause can be severe when used whimsically. It requires a maturity to know that what you seek to accomplish may never come to be, but that it is better to try than fail automatically, and in this context, to know what you can genuinely promise and make happen. In this manner, you must be earnest and sincere about your intentions and needs. If they are truly worth your admiration, they will be mature enough to understand you, just as you should be mature enough to understand them in that deep, caring sense that allows you to swallow pride and make those elemental compromises for their sake.

Always be aware that life is ethereal, that we are born with a want that can only be fulfilled by the affection of love. The genetic forces that shape us have arguably a will of their own, and this procreative instinct is a base desire from which the primal emotion of love has evolved. But love has exceeded its original form, and become intertwined with the root grace of empathy, a conscientious wisdom that is the source of all human decency. True love then is a conscious decision by a free will. And as such, it is able to function beyond the mere selfish desire and rather form decisions that will gravitate towards the ideal interests of the beloved. And even if such decisions require a painful admission that the beloved is better off with another, it is only true love that will make that sacrifice willingly.

If you truly love her, you will never abandon her, but you will let her go if she wishes. For you want her dreams to come true, regardless of whether you exist in them.

And with such conscious awareness comes the awareness of a misfortunate reality. Love is always bound to eventual, inevitable loss, the tragic circumstance that is the short breath of life. Be forewarned that the more beautiful and wondrous the love, the more painful will be its star-crossed end.

comment by christopherj · 2014-02-22T18:37:19.093Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your genes want you to reproduce successfully, they don't want to optimize for happiness. As such it may be necessary to make an extraordinary effort to acquire a decent mate, a task that goes against many of our other instincts. Such an effort is harder to do if you realize that the person in question is in fact fairly average and not The Most Perfect Person Ever. Note that some of the reasons you choose to fall in love are important yet hidden from your conscious mind, such as the importance of choosing a mate with a dissimilar major histocompatibility complex so as to produce healthier offspring. You should be careful when arrogantly rejecting the opinion of your specialized mate choice function with millions of years of evolutionary experience because you think you can make better choices in its area of expertise. Perhaps in the future we will be able to find mates that are agreeable to both our conscious and our unconscious, so that we don't get into a relationship with someone the other rejects. For example, in the future online dating sites will probably all require your DNA (which will be cheap to read) to check for genetic compatibility.

On a different note, you should be careful when you use a word that means both "hormone-induced insanity" and "a one word summary of many people's values system".