This article was based on the TEDxParis 2012 talk, “Love – You’re Doing It Wrong,” by Yann Dall’Aglio:
What is love? It’s a hard term to define because it has a very wide application. You can love jogging. You can love a book or a movie. You can love your spouse and your family. However, there’s a great difference between a book and your spouse, for instance. That is, if you value a book, the book doesn’t value you back. Whereas, you hope that your spouse values you back.
Therefore, only another desiring conscience can conceive us as desirable beings. This is why love can be defined in a more accurate way as the desire of being desired. Hence the eternal problem of love: how to become and remain desirable.
You used to be able to find an answer to this problem by submitting your life to community rules. You had a specific part to play according to your sex, your age, and your social status, and you only had to play your part to be valued and loved by the whole community. Think about the young woman who must remain chaste before marriage. Think about the youngest son who must obey the eldest son, who, in turn, must obey the patriarch.
The Identity Crisis of Modernity
A phenomenon started in the 13th century, mainly during the Renaissance in the West, that caused the biggest identity crisis in the history of humankind. This phenomenon is modernity. We can basically summarise it through a triple process. First, a process of rationalisation of scientific research, which has accelerated technical progress. Next, a process of political democratisation, which has fostered individual rights. Finally, there is the process of rationalisation of economic production and of trade liberalisation.
These three intertwined processes have completely annihilated all the traditional bearings of Western societies with radical consequences for the individual. Today, individuals are free to value or disvalue any attitude, any choice, and any object. But as a result, they are themselves confronted with this same freedom that others have to value or disvalue them. In other words, your value was once ensured by submitting yourself to the traditional authorities. Now it is quoted in the stock exchange.
On the free market of individual desires, you negotiate your value every day. Hence the anxiety of contemporary man. He is obsessed: “Am I desirable? How desirable? How many people are going to love me?” Man responds to this anxiety by hysterically collecting symbols of desirability.
This act of collecting is known as seduction capital. Indeed, our consumer society is largely based on seduction capital. It is said that this consumption has made us more materialistic, but maybe it hasn’t. We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental, than a teenager buying brand new jeans and tearing them at the knees because he wants to look good for a date. Consumerism is not materialism. Rather, it is what is swallowed up and sacrificed in the name of the god of love for seduction capital.
In light of this observation on contemporary love, how can we think of love in the years to come? We can envision two hypotheses. The first one consists of betting that this process of narcissistic capitalisation will intensify. It is hard to say what shape this intensification will take because it largely depends on social and technical innovations, which are by definition difficult to predict. We can, for instance, imagine a dating website which, a bit like those loyalty points programs, uses seduction capital points that vary according to age, height/weight ratio, education, salary, or the number of clicks on your profile. We can imagine a chemical treatment for breakups that weakens the feelings of attachment. We can also envision a romantic use of the genome. Everyone would carry it around and present it like a business card to verify if seduction can progress to reproduction.
Of course, this race for seduction, like every fierce competition, will create huge disparities in narcissistic satisfaction, and therefore a lot of loneliness and frustration too. So, we can expect that modernity itself, which is the origin of seduction capital, would be called into question.
Another Path to Love
Such a future doesn’t have to be. Another path to thinking about love may be possible. We can renounce the hysterical need to be valued by becoming aware of our uselessness. We are all useless. This uselessness is easily demonstrated because in order to be valued we need someone else to desire us, which shows that we do not have any inherent value of our own. We all pretend to have an idol; we all pretend to be an idol for someone else, but actually, we are all impostors. We are a bit like a man on the street who appears totally cool and indifferent, while he has actually anticipated and calculated his look so that all eyes are on him.
Becoming aware of this general imposture that concerns all of us would ease our love relationships. It is because we want to be loved from head to toe and justified in every choice that the seduction hysteria exists. We want to seem perfect so that we can be loved by others. We want them to be perfect so that we can be reassured of our value.
In contrast to this attitude, call upon tenderness. To be tender is to accept a loved one’s weaknesses. Tenderness is love with charm and happiness. It has a kind sense of humour that is a sort of poetry of deliberate awkwardness that is necessary for a relationship to endure.