Existential Questions for a More Meaningful Valentine’s Day
Whether you love or hate Valentine’s Day, at the very least it’s a reminder to reflect on our relationships, and to think about how we can love better. The French existential philosopher Simone de Beauvoir thought about it a lot, often while drinking apricot cocktails and gin fizzes with her hip intellectual posse in trendy Paris cafés. She philosophized with her very famous and ugly boyfriend Jean-Paul Sartre, whom she refused to marry. She spent passionate summers with her hot brooding Chicago lover Nelson Algren, whom she also refused to marry. And in between, she wrote revolutionary and award-winning philosophical books about freedom and feminism. She also wrote about her lovers, who were publicly furious about her habit of kissing-and-telling. Lucky for us, she left us with plenty of thoughts about love. Below are six questions all lovers would do well to ask themselves this Valentine’s Day, inspired by Beauvoir’s philosophy.
Image: “Ever Fallen in Love” © Sam Smith | The Popheirloom Studio New York
Should we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Existentially, we’re ‘condemned to be free’. We’re free to celebrate Valentine’s Day; however, it’s not good enough to resign yourself to celebrating it because everyone else is doing it, you think you should, or you’re feeling pressured into it. They’re not active choices. Free yourselves from the compulsion to celebrate on February 14. You’re free to celebrate if and when it’s meaningful for you, and in a way that makes sense to you both. It’s up to every couple to decide together.
If you spend the best of your days trying to communicate with others, it’s because others count, and from time to time you need to know that you’ve succeeded in counting for them. You need festive moments in which the present gathers up in itself all of the past, and all of the triumphs of the future…
Are we striving to be authentic?
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. In other words, don’t mold yourself into someone that you think your lover wants. Just be you. If they don’t like the authentic you, then they’re not worth it. It’s better to figure that out sooner rather than later.
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 [or her] transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world.
Are we letting each other strive for authenticity?
Don’t try to force your lover to be someone she or he is not. An obsession with [insert activity/hobby/eccentricity here] may drive you crazy. But we always have choices. Here are three: try it out (attempt to see it from the other’s perspective), let it go and find your own passion, or call it a deal-breaker and move on. We all have our quirks; we just need to work out whether we can live with each other.
An authentic love should accept the contingence of the other with all his idiosyncrasies, his limitations, and his basic gratuitousness. It would not pretend to be a mode of salvation, but a human interrelation.
To what extent are we pursuing our passions and dreams?
Unless being a kept man or woman is your passion (Beauvoir would not approve), then keep striving for your own independent projects. It is hard to have it all, but we have to keep fighting for the freedom to choose and to create the future we want.
On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself – on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.
How are we figuring out values and aims together?
Pursuing your own dreams isn’t always compatible with a relationship. So talk about it. Work on how you can both support each other to pursue your individual and shared goals together. Be supportive and help each other get there. Either you’ll be stronger in the world together, or better off without each other. Either way, it’ll be ok.
I’m certain, in fact, that this idea of domination is one of the features of the masculine universe that must be totally destroyed, that we must look for reciprocity, collaboration, etc.
How can we give ourselves without losing ourselves?
Be generous, loving, caring, and kind, and expect the same in return. But don’t martyr yourself for your lover, and avoid playing power games. Be equal and act that way. Falling in love is intoxicating. Enjoy it, but don’t annihilate yourself in the name of love.
While she posits herself for herself, she will nonetheless continue to exist for him as well: recognizing each other as subject, each will remain an other for the other.
Skye Cleary PhD is a philosopher and author of Existentialism and Romantic Love.