The lovers’ paradox

My interests lie heavily in decision making, and what better place to start than… love? From Peter Cave’s this sentence is false:

Larry loves Ludmilla – ‘it’s just you whom I love’ – yet Larry’s love must be because of Ludmilla’s various characteristics. If that is so, then Larry ought to love anyone possessed of those characteristics . So in truth, does he not love anyone like Ludmilla, rather than Ludmilla in particular?

This provokes several interesting questions, first of all:

Do you need a reason to love someone? (or rather, choose someone.)

It should be pretty clear to all of us that we must have a reason for loving someone – many, in fact. But try to verbalize all these reasons: say you’re in love with that someone because she’s pretty, smart, and nice etc. If someone prettier, smarter, nicer comes along, would you go for her?

The late Nobel Laureate, Herbert Simon, first introduced the concept of bounded rationality and coined the term satisfice – taken from the words “satisfy” and “suffice” – to describe how we often search for adequate, near-optimal solutions in decision making rather than seek to maximize our satisfaction (as neoclassical economics suggests). Applied to love, that would mean that we take our resources (such as time) into consideration and stop searching for a partner once we find someone that satisfies our requirements. In Prof David’s words, when you get married, it’s not really “I do” that you’re saying, it’s you’ll do.

Let’s go back to our question of whether you’ll leave your current squeeze for the better girl. One way to decide is to weigh the costs of losing her and the benefits of getting the better girl. If the rewards justify the risks, you go for the new girl. Or you might not if you’re really lazy and the inertia’s too much to overcome. If the risks exceed the rewards, then you stick. So far, so rational.

This brings us to our second question: What does it mean to say that you love someone for the very fact that she is her? Does it simply mean that you love her because of her traits, or are we looking at something deeper? If you indeed think that she’s the one for you, what happens when someone similar or better comes along?

As you might agree, love isn’t an area where rational thought can be applied easily. Take a look at the following and see if there’s truth in it:

I suspect that’d be a yes for some of us.

And our third: If we have reasons for loving someone, what happens when these reasons collapse? As an example, people often say: I love her because she loves me. I don’t have anything against that personally, but some might recognize that this reason is an inherently unstable one – what happens if she stops loving you?

I was having a chat with Adeline that day, and we talked about how we tend to change unconsciously when we fall in love. It could be for the better or the worse;  or even at once for the better (perhaps you become more caring) and for the worse (you might become overly sensitive and make her feel insecure). The point is: do you inevitably lose a part of yourself when you love? More importantly, do you lose what she loved you for in the first place?


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