Question: Could you give me a more in-depth explanation of Objectivism ’s perception of love?
Answer: Love is an essential value we obtain from other people. In giving love, we are responding to our own values realized and made beautiful by another person. In receiving love, we receive a kind of reward for the virtues, habits, and qualities we have cultivated in our own characters.
It is often said that true love is “unconditional,” or that “love is blind.” If this were true, falling in love would be akin to throwing darts, and we would simply happen upon certain people whom we loved for no reason whatsoever. And if love were unconditional, nothing they ever did, no matter how hurtful or evil, could make us abandon that love.
Objectivism contends that love is actually our response to those few people we meet toward whom we feel the highest respect, admiration, and attraction. It is not a blank check granted to random passersby, but instead the result of our careful examination and approval of another’s character. Granting unconditional love is like appraising a piece of property without examining its size, quality, or location: one is likely to grant unearned love to the unworthy and withhold love from those who deserve it most.
In the Objectivist view, real love involves tremendous personal, selfish gain.
Before you can really grant love to those you value, you must be in tune with your own values and character, and know what it is you believe to be the right and the good, what qualities you are looking for in other people. This is why Ayn Rand says in The Fountainhead , “To say ‘I love you,’ one must first know how to say the ‘I.’” (p. 388, paperback edition)
Another popular view of love is that it involves a great deal of self-sacrifice, that it is a selfless act. After all, don’t most lovers spend an inordinate amount of time and money on their relationships with each other? Don’t we have to comfort those we love through times of hardship and failure? In the Objectivist view, real love involves tremendous personal, selfish gain. We spend our time and money on those we love, and support them through tough times, because their happiness is so important to our own. When we grant love not as alms for weaknesses and failings, but as recognition of the best in others, we become personally interested in their well-being.
Sex is also an important part of a romantic relationship. Just as Objectivists do not accept the false dichotomy between mind and body, they reject the traditional dichotomy between love and lust. When two people love one another spiritually, it is natural and good for them to express that love physically. This is not to say that sex should be taken lightly; it is our most intimate act and joyous expression of our love for another person. But the old idea—encouraged by religious conservatism—that sex somehow destroys or undermines love, is false.
The essence of a healthy, loving relationship is trade: one offers it as a recognition of others’ characters, and receives it as recognition of one’s own. Ayn Rand expresses her ideal of love through her characters, and I think she states it best in The Fountainhead when Roark says, “I love you, Dominique. As selfishly as the fact that I exist. As selfishly as my lungs breathe air. I breathe for my own necessity, for the fuel of my body, for my survival. I’ve given you, not my sacrifice or my pity, but my ego and my naked need. This is the only way you can wish to be loved. This is the only way I can want you to love me” (p. 388, paperback edition). This joyous love is a value too important to be consigned to the stifling intonations of altruism and repression.