Today there are people—perhaps above all among the young—who have been educated so completely in egoism that they prefer to not fall in love, to not give themselves totally to another person, because they do not want to suffer the bonds of love. They prefer their personal independence, and think that loving someone completely would rob them of their independence. There comes to mind what Saint-Exupéry said about the how the quality of a life is a function of the quality of the affective links that the person freely chooses. Those people who prefer to isolate themselves —that is, they love nobody except for their own selves— impoverish their own possibilities of living, to the point of denying their own humanity.
I have not seen—nor will I see it because it looks quite coarse—the movie The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but I am told that it accurately describes the unlimited hunger for egoistic pleasure of a successful stock broker, played by Leonardo di Caprio. I’m content with Citizen Kane (1941) and the dramatic solitude of the millionaire, played by Orson Welles. The millionaire has everything that can be bought, while what he truly needs, on the other hand, is the care and affection of everyone: he lacks all the things that money cannot buy.
Those who think that happiness is selfish have fallen into a severe error about the human being: just as there is more happiness in giving than in receiving, we are all of us better filled —more than with anything else— with loving and feeling ourselves to be loved. It is not a question of losing independence, but rather of voluntarily and trustingly giving oneself to another person in order to carry out a life project together, to live together for the rest of one’s life. I cite an author (Paroles de Chartreux, Cerf, Paris, 1987, p. 99) who cites Jacques Philippe: “Even in the natural order, all authentic love is a victory of weakness. Loving does not consist in dominating, in possessing, in imposing oneself on the one who is loved. Love means that we embrace without defenses the other person who comes to us; in exchange, we have the certainty of being fully welcomed without being judged, nor condemned, nor compared. There is no strength test between two beings who love each other. There is a kind of inner mutual understanding, thanks to which we cannot fear any danger that comes from the other”.
I am surprised by the gradual degradation of the contemporary western culture of human
love, which has reduced romantic love—the authentic spousal love—to a relationship of mutual egoistic satisfaction. Zygmunt Bauman has written well-documented books where he studies what he calls “liquid love”. Many years I learned that love renounces control of time: for the one who loves there is never any hurry. Or, as I like write it in tongue-twister style: one never is deprived of anything when one deprives oneself of everything that is not one’s love. Stated more succinctly: love gives up everything for the person who is loved.
In fact, the delaying of marriage until after 30 years of age, or till after the children come, is a clear signal of this transformation of the loving relationship, with people now tending to avoid the commitment that it entails, a commitment to exclusivity and eternity. Instead of committing oneself for all one’s life, today it is more common to see a commitment that “will last as long as love does”, as long as the loving feeling or mutual sexual satisfaction lasts. For an analogous reason, there are many young women and men who do not want to have children, who do not want to bind themselves for life to new creatures that are born out of the conjugal relationship. They have shrunken their hearts, they have become elderly people who only seek their own interest or who perhaps have not ceased to be those egoistic children that in their infancy only sought their own comfort.
To love is to bind oneself voluntarily to another person. On the other hand, the one who does not love binds him or herself to egoism. Those who aspire to maintain their independence above all else are unable to love: after it all pans out, they will be slaves to themselves. As Santayana wrote, “Moral freedom is freedom from others, spiritual freedom is freedom from oneself“. Those who do not love and who do not love the bonds that love always brings with it, renounce their own personal growth. As the philosopher Sara Escobar wrote to me, “That’s what the structure of the person is: one only grows if one gives of oneself”.