Robert Solomon on Love

Robert Solomon on Love June 1, 2004

Robert C. Solomon’s About Love (1988) is a wise and important book. I have some reservations about some themes: that love must be defined as the redefinition of the self in terms of another; his acceptance of a largely discredited opposition of eros and agape ; his non-Christian sexual morality; and a few other things. But the book is full of insight, and more useful than many Christian books on these topics. Here are, briefly, a few highlights:

1) Solomon’s definition of love includes the desire for response. That response doesn’t always come, but it is of the essence of love that it is reciprocal.

2) Solomon emphasizes that love an “emotional process” rather than a temporary feeling. This enables him to see romantic love in the intertwining of lives in two elderly people and to caution against confusing the excitement of infatuation with love.

3) He also is able to explain what makes the initial stages of love so exhilarating for many. The excitement and the challenge comes from the effort to coordinate two lives and to redefine the self in terms of the chosen lover.

4) Solomon argues that sexuality is the central difference between romantic and other sorts of love. Putting sex at the center of romantic love means that love is always embodied (or seeks to be). He is careful about how he describes sexual attraction and sexual experience. He refuses to reduce sexual pleasure to orgasm; it includes a whole range of forms of communication. And he refuses to define sexual attraction purely in terms of physical beauty, insightfully pointing out that what counts as beauty today is often a presentation of unvailability (the “who cares?” attitude of contemporary models), which is directly contrary to love’s trajectory.

5) Solomon rehabilitates fantasy and imagination in romance and sexuality. He castigates writers who can use “fantasy” only with reference to perverse adulterous fantasy. Imagination is at the heart of romance, he argues, because as we come to love, we are imagining a future life and a future self, formed by our love for another.

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