What is authentic love? Simone de Beauvoir on Romance
Does finding “the one” and living happily ever after sound ideal? Has your happiness ever depended on a lover? Has your lover ever tried to stop you from pursuing your hopes and dreams (or vice versa)?
The French existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir would say that if you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re not loving authentically. But then, what is authentic love?
Simone de Beauvoir catapulted to fame in 1949 with The Second Sex, which caused such a stir that the Vatican banned it. Beauvoir pointed out that our ideal of romantic love is loaded with opportunities for mauvaise foi, or bad faith. We’re in bad faith if we act like we don’t have a choice. While anyone can be guilty of it, Beauvoir says that women have been more susceptible to bad faith than men because they’ve been oppressed. Her call to end women’s oppression is one of the reasons why The Second Sex was one of the pillars of the feminist movement.
Ideas that tempt us towards bad faith loving include the following.
Believing that love will complete us: Looking to our lover to provide meaning and justification of our lives is a problem when it’s an excuse to avoid being an agent in our own lives because it’s existing on our lover’s terms. It is an escape from the responsibility of choosing for ourselves.
Believing that love is everything: Love can be so dazzling that we risk losing ourselves in the euphoria of it. Yet, if we let ourselves become slaves to our passions, we’ll eventually stagnate in boredom and hollowness. Beauvoir says: “Love isn’t everything” and pretending we have no choice over the way we behave when in love is bad faith.
Believing that love is destiny: Love can feel like we’ve found our soulmate. As seductive as this idea sounds, there is actually no one perfect match. Sometimes we want a harmonious unity so much that we resort to possessiveness or submissiveness in an attempt to force it. Yet, trying to control or manipulate others is like hijacking their freedom. That’s disrespectful at best and oppressive at worst.
Loving authentically is the antidote to bad faith relationship traps.
In The Second Sex, Beauvoir writes,
Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms; each lover would then experience himself as himself and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world.
So, how do we love authentically? Here are some existential ideas…
Being free and equal: We do this by having our own projects and respecting our lover’s quests too. When lovers are autonomous, relationships will be about freely choosing one another, not a matter of economic or emotional necessity. Beauvoir felt herself falling into the trap of being dependent on Sartre early in their relationship, so took responsibility for her own life by writing. Her first novel was called She Came To Stay.
Being great friends: The best relationships are where lovers are friends too. Great friends are generous, they cooperate, and they support each other’s flourishing. Love can exist without friendship, but as the character Françoise in She Came To Stay says, it’s vile because, “It makes you feel that you are simply an object of love, and not being loved for yourself alone.”
Striving to create meaning in the world together: Working towards a common goal seals lovers’ bonds and strengthens relationships. While it is up to the couple to decide what that goal should be, making the world a better place is a pretty good option. In her novel The Blood of Others, Hélène loves Jean, but he’s just not that into her – until she joins the Resistance and becomes an ally and equal. As Hélène leaves for a dangerous mission, Jean says: “Now, nothing will separate us, ever.”