An existential understanding of love

As I spent the night before Valentine’s Day writing about the topic of being single, I struggled to find words for such a nuanced idea. The works of the great French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre come to mind; his idea of ‘projects,’ which are internal choices made from one’s individual values, may have something to say about love. 

“It is only in and through this project that the fatigue will be able to be understood and that it will have meaning for him,” Sartre wrote in his book Being and Nothingness

To me, this quote means that our choices affect the way we see our personal experiences. In the context of love, though, I think the idea of making a conscious decision, better encapsulated as a ‘project’, can apply to people, be it yourself or others. 

To explain my point, I want to share my personal version of How I Met your Mother. It revolves around a hard-working man from New York whose name was ET the First. After earning his licence, he got a job in Hawaii as a Port Engineer and fell in love with someone there. Although Hawaii was, at first, just a place of work for him, ET grew deeply in love with this woman as he spent months living with her. At the time, she was his world.

Being a marine engineer, he was a frequent traveler who had to go across the globe to investigate ships. However,  many of these trips end up being promiscuous. One day, ET got the news that he had gotten someone pregnant. Knowing he had to take responsibility, he gave up his love in Hawaii and moved to Hong Kong to become my dad.

Every part of this story is his own project, though done for someone of great importance to my dad’s life. As a hard worker, the conscious project he placed for himself was self-development and self-care. He found meaning in developing his career. While New York was where his roots were, the project was for his lover in Hawaii. Eventually, although it was a difficult decision, he left Hawaii for Hong Kong because his personal values called him to be there for his son. 

Whoever it was, whether it was for himself or someone else, my dad always had somebody in mind; someone that he wanted to dedicate a project to because that is what his consciousness chose. When he found meaning in introspective decisions that were not about him, he lived for the sake of others, making other people the centre of his responsibility. This is the meaning of a relationship: Making the special someone your project, your meaning, and your choice. 

Sarte’s explanation also gives a good excuse for us to love ourselves, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or just a normal Friday evening after a long week of work. It may be that our consciousness determines that we desire a night of binge-watching The Big Bang Theory instead of going out on a date. It may be that our consciousness determines that we just want to sit home and develop our introspective skills rather than socialize. Whatever it is, humans exist with personal values. These values change, and at one moment, you may be valuing yourself over others and that’s okay. 

Valentine’s Day is an annual celebration of love. In my view, love can be defined as making meaning through the most important of your conscious projects. It doesn’t matter if the project is yourself or others; what’s important is that you recognize your priorities and give love to whoever you feel deserves it.

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