Tough Love

chuck-rock

I’ve never liked that term, tough love. It’s like when someone says they’re honest when they really mean they’re a dick. It’s a high minded excuse to put their negativity out in the world. That being said, there is something to the concept of tough love.

The hamfisted way to illustrate this is with an extreme example. When someone is suffering from a damaging addiction their loved ones need to step in. Enabling their behaviour will only prolong their suffering and could lead to their death. Tough love means stepping in to stop their self destructive actions. It may mean ignoring their autonomy. Getting them away from the thing they are addicted to can allow them the freedom to clear their head.

This is a morally challenging thing to do (and often not legal). Adults have the right to make mistakes. Individual autonomy means that we must respect the right to make choices, whether good or bad.

Addiction isn’t just about substances because there’s many actions which can trigger similar brain reactions. In my completely uneducated opinion, it seems they all are shortcuts to various evolved behaviours. As animals with brains rooted in evolution, our actions and behaviours are guided by hormonal and chemical triggers within our brain. Reward and punishment. We’re clever enough to have figured out ways to bypass the intended actions (eating, sex, hunting, etc, etc) to get at the reward (drugs, masturbation, gambling, theft, dangerous sports). It’s not that those are necessarily wrong, in and of themselves, but they’re easy access to powerful feelings. Its harmful because the shortcut is easier than living a reasonable, balanced life. The necessities become unnecessary. Until the parts of your life that have been eroding collapse. Then you can only get positive feelings from your addiction. Why bother with the rest of life now?

So we come back to tough love. The people who care about you have to step in. Break the shortcut, get your life back into something mildly functional, and hope that your willpower is strong enough.

That’s the extreme example. Tough love can come in many milder forms. Maybe a friend has started dating someone you think is bad for them. Maybe they’re about to make a decision that you think will hurt them a lot in the long term. Or maybe you think they’re walking that path towards addiction.

The thing is, you can’t give up on their autonomy. You can give them advice and try to persuade them, but you can’t take away their ability to choose. It’s simply not ethical. Furthermore, to say that you love someone, but you don’t believe they can make adult decisions in their life, is an indication you don’t actually love them. You’re loving the person you want them to be, not who they are. You must respect their right to choose.

So you do that. You argue with them; you try to convince them that they’re making a mistake. But who are you to do this? I don’t mean this in the general sense, like “who dares to feel so entitled”, but in the specific sense. Who’s the right person to bring the tough love?

Maybe friends? They’re not close enough, they may not see the bigger picture and understand the real ramifications of a decision. They could easily be mistaken and become tough without actually helping. This damages a friendship without any benefit.

So maybe a best friend; the friend you have the deepest/longest bond with? They should be the one that has the most facts so they’re less likely to make mistakes. A similar relationship is the partner/spouse. The difference between the two varies significantly from person to person, so I have trouble making specific statements differentiating them. The way I see a partner compared to a best friend could be radically different from the norm (I’m not exactly an average person emotionally). So this last part is more purely conjecture than most of what I write.

It must be said that the separation of the two is a differentiation of roles and not of people. You can have a single person take on both roles. It’s just rare. The best friend role triggers less potent of an emotional reaction but a more consistent one. This is why it’s common to stick with them through many partners. You have to sacrifice a good deal of emotional intensity for it to last. This is why it’s challenging for one person to fill both roles.

So with that defined we can discuss who’s better to serve you some tough love. I think it’s the best friend and not the partner.

There’s a dichotomy between being supportive and tough. When you make a decision that’s bad in the longer term, but overall a relatively minor one, it can be good to be supported in your decision. It doesn’t matter that you make a mistake, having a loved ones support helps build your confidence and self esteem. It can also keep your bond strong for those times it may be tested. Most people can’t do both, their either supportive or tough.

A spouse/partner is comfort. They’re your rock, your solid support that stops you from falling too far. Like the quote from Palahniuk at the top of the page, tough love polishes you. It’s rough and coarse and painful, but it helps you. Your support should be the carrot and not the stick. Someone must be the stick though and it needs to be someone who doesn’t feel they’ll be cut out easily. They must feel confident in their relationship with you. So it should be your best friend.

Painful Love

How do we survive? How do we parse our lives; deal with personal needs, help those around us, make the world better, create. All at the same time? It’s insanity. Yet we must. It’s the only way to keep this thing we call civilization running. Many of us will fail. Most of us. Over 99%. But that’s a risk worth taking. We sacrifice ourselves.

So many of the important things in life are too complicated. Not that they can’t be broken down but when they are they’re just as dangerous. All sides have edges. 

I want love to drive me in all things. Love is powerful. It’s incredibly powerful. Dangerous at times. I can’t moderate it myself. I need someone else to absorb a portion of it. It’s like an echo chamber in my soul. The energy of it bounces and magnifies inside me. I can’t deal with it. I want so much. Too much.

When a massive star swells with energy it will form an Iron shell, encasing it. Up to a point. In some minute spot it weakens. As it breaks it releases a beam of energy so potent it could destroy all life on the earth. An act of nature that could snuff us out in an instant. Even light years away.

As the equation approaches infinite. As the memetic organism reaches a manic insanity. As the supernova bursts.

My love.

The Many Ways to Love

Love is hard to define. There’s two reasons something can be hard to define; on the one hand, it could be due to the concept being very complicated, so the difficulty is inherent to the thing itself. On the other hand, it could be due to deficiencies in the language. Words are how we categorize our internal ideas allowing us to communicate them to others. Every language does so in different ways, with both positive and negative results. All this is to say the English does a shit job with the concept of Love. I believe this has caused much difficulty with how we engage with this emotion and it’s certainly caused me difficulties in communicating my feelings. Love, as we call it in English, should really be a series of related words.

There’s the unconditional love you feel towards your blood relations (exceptions abound; Syadasti). This definitely varies in strength from family to family. For the majority of us though there is at least one family member we love. From an evolutionary point of view, it’s the most obviously advantageous.

The love one feels towards their progeny is a more potent version of this. It’s distinguished by an almost unreasonable amount of forgiveness and the urge to protect the object of love. Many people love their parents but few love them more than they are loved in return.

People love their pets. Those of us who haven’t had pets may not understand this but it’s love. On the other hand, no matter what we may say, non-human animals can’t love in the same way a human does. So this type of love is by definition one sided. This doesn’t mean it’s a lesser form, it’s just distinct in this fashion. Hell, I don’t see why you would even put these on a scale to compare them; they’re words, it would be absurd.

Platonic love is that friendly love you have for the people closest to you but whom you aren’t necessarily intimate with. For many of us it’s the best balance of long lasting while still being very potent. Intimate love is more complicated and can end much more quickly. Best friends in love can stick through a lot together.

And lastly the common definition of love, Intimate Love. This bond can be the most potent of human emotions. When you’re in love with someone and you really click with them, your mental feedback loops sync up. You get taken to the most magnificent highs when together. Life feels fundamentally different. And therefore the crash from the high is the most severe. This is not a soulmate. This is not necessarily monogamous.

I’ve intentionally only discussed the types I feel are common. One that I omitted, because I don’t know if anyone else feels it, is something I call proto-love. It’s this feeling I get when I know someone well enough to see that I could definitely fall in love with them, given more time. It’s dangerous because it can easily lead to falling in love with a fictional version of the person that only exists in your head. I’ve talked about this very pitfall as it relates to Intimate Love, but in this case it can be far more pronounced. The other problem is if you’re like me, you may have trouble differentiating it from Intimate Love. It leads to some awkward conversations.

Shards of Personality

There’s this element to the Strange Loop concept of consciousness, where people you care for very deeply become permanently attached to you. If you visualize a conversation with someone, you are guessing.. . estimating how they will act. This is necessarily inaccurate, you will never contain all of their decision making abilities within your own mind. But the fidelity of their “mind” increases as you know them better. Someone you loved intensely for a long period of time will have a complex replica residing inside your brain. When the person in question is gone from your life (for whatever reason, be it physical, social, mortal, etc) this shard of personality remains.

Over the years this thought process will change as you change. Your own mind will shift who they are by repeated thoughts. This person replica will diverge from the real person. If they’re still alive, then it will diverge even faster due to the actual person changing In their own random fashion.

But in some absurd way There’s this piece of them that forever lives in you.

What the replica ultimately becomes is your concept of that person. A fictional character you’ve made up. This is why it can be so easy to hate someone who’s betrayed you, or love someone who was taken to early. You’re writing a story in your head, so of course the characters are going to have a potent emotional impact on You. They were literally made  for you. It’s weird, in a sense our brains are built to feel the strongest toward the people around us less. The ones we think about but spend less time with, they will become the most of whatever they were. The kindest, the cruelest, the funniest, the bravest.

Everyone is better when they’re a fiction. Everyone is worse when they’re a fiction. Real humans are just far too complex when they’re real.

The Wrong Decision

Sometimes you all you can do is write. Or at least that’s true for me. Maybe you have some different way to cope with these errant thoughts.

I feel more acutely that I’m missing out on the world. That I’m isolated from people. It makes me desperate and then ashamed of being desperate. I can’t let people see it or they’d leave. It’s too much emotion, it’s too strong. So I compartmentalize it. I shut it off. Then I appear neutral or bland or boring.

Sometimes it’s better to not being in control of your life. Sometimes mistakes are what need to be made.

I was asked a hypothetical question once, which I’ve never gotten out of my mind. Have you ever regretted making the right decision? As in, did you make a decision based on your own moral principles, but you wished you had gone against them. Not in a situation where you’ve now changed your opinion on what was moral, but to actually regret living up to your own standards of goodness.

When I was first asked I’d have said no, that my morality is far too important to me.

Now I’m not so sure.

What about you?

Many words, Little Time: Birthday

Aging. Decay. A birthday.

The day your body was birthed.
The day you ceased to be contained within another
Expulsion day.

The earth orbits the sun.
The pattern of information that is a person has staved off entropy,
for now.
So we celebrate.

Some are over joyed,
a party where you’re unquestionably the centre of attention.
Some are terrified,
a tangible sign that death is one year closer.
And some just don’t give a damn,
a day like any other.

The date may be arbitrary,
but all holidays are.
We need them,
they help us live.
They help us carve meaning into an uncaring cosmos.
The modern feast day.

But which do we celebrate,
the past or the future?
The accomplishments that have passed,
or the ones to come?
The distance from birth,
or the approach of death?

Three Body Problem

This is in large part an extension of my last piece, An Argument For Monogamy. I kinda failed to argue in favor of monogamy, it was more about Pairing which you can do with more than one partner (so not monogamy). Assumptions can creep into our thought patterns; one of them got into my brain, and I skipped an important step in my logic. I hope this rectifies it. 

The Three Body Problem is a difficulty in classical physics where the paths of celestial bodies can be accurately predicted when you have 1 or 2 bodies, but 3 or more and we have trouble. The differences in the variables compound over time and we are unable to pinpoint locations. We can make some predictions, but it’s through chaos theory and it only give us estimations. As done before, I’d like to draw a comparison between chaotic physics and human psychology.

We need to be able to predict the people around us. It’s not that we should know exactly what people will do, that would be incredibly boring, but complete randomness isn’t good either. When we want to bond with someone closely, we need the greatest degree of predictability. This is the person we’ll rely on to get us out of our worst states. You need to be able to depend on them. Conversely, you need to be able to predict why they act and feel the way they do. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to help them through their problems. Understanding someone goes hand in hand with being able to predict them. Again of course, the extreme of this would be bad. It’s actually a really common problem to feel your partner has become ‘boring’. But I digress.

Understanding requires predictability. In the long term, you will change and your partner will change; you need to be able to continue to predict them. This is where the three body problem comes in. Human psychology is exceedingly complicated and additional humans increase said complexity exponentially. An unadmitted fact of our society is that many of us aren’t capable of comprehending this when it’s just two people. We can’t cope with more than our own ego, will, subconsciousness, etc. So trying to handle more than two… It’s exceptionally challenging, more so than most can handle.

Am I saying you can’t have an intimate pairing with 3+ people? Absolutely not, it’s definitely possible and it has definitely happened many times. It’s harder though and time will be a greater burden. It’s exponentially more difficult to predict the behaviour of more than one other person and this compounds over time. As all involved change, the likelihood of the relationship dynamics remaining stable decreases. That sweet spot of intimate pairing is narrower and more likely to break. If you’ve experienced the exception to this then I applaud you; you’ve done far better than the rest of us.

Like celestial bodies we can meet across the vast reaches of space.
But also like celestial bodies, we will eventually drift apart.
The more bodies, the more chaotic, the faster the system is flung apart.
But no matter the numbers, that tangled dance is wonderful
Each and every time.