How about reciprocity?  I don’t think that’s essential to romantic love.

Oh, I do.  If there’s no reciprocity, then it’s just obsession or stalking.

What!?  Are you serious?  So, if a husband says to his wife “I don’t love you any more”, then what she feels for him is no longer romantic love, but instead she is obsessing about him, or stalking him?

Well, it isn’t romantic love any more.  Though it might have been up to that point.

So what about the situation where there has never been any reciprocity.  There are plenty of spouses who say, at the time of the divorce, “I never actually loved him or her”.  Presuming that they are not lying (and I can believe that they might be speaking the truth having perhaps encountered romantic love for the first time with someone else), then what has their spouse been feeling all these years?  Coming back to the husband who has changed his mind, and the wife who still loves him.  What is her love then, if it isn’t romantic love?  Why does what he feels about her change the nature of what she feels about him?  It doesn’t, does it?

If he stops loving her, then she is bound to stop loving him.

Not necessarily.  She might carry on loving him, despite the fact that he no longer loves her.  Are you saying that if she does that she becomes a stalker?  That it is OK to love him as long as he loves her, but not otherwise?

No.  I can see that she might still love him even if he no longer loves her, at least for a period.

And wouldn’t her love meet all the other criteria of romantic love?

No, because they probably wouldn’t be having sex … at least I would hope that they wouldn’t.

So, what would you call her love for him?


Unrequited romantic love?

Yes, I suppose so.

Well, if that is the case, then it would seem that neither reciprocity nor sex are essential for romantic love, since I presume that unrequited romantic love is just a sub-set of romantic love.

Put like that, I’d have to agree with you.  But I think it unlikely that anyone would carry on loving someone who did not love them in return.

Why would they stop?

Because they no longer like the person, and I think it’s difficult to love someone that you don’t like.

Presuming, of course, that they do no longer like their husband – perhaps because of the way he has behaved – I suppose they might find that their love has disappeared.   Or turned to hate.  I can imagine that happening.  But I don’t think it would happen immediately, only after a period of grieving.

So perhaps romantic love cannot survive unless it is reciprocated?

That’s an interesting thought, but not, I think, borne out by the endless stories of people loving in isolation, or continuing to love after the love object has behaved abominably.    I certainly think that whether or not it is reciprocated governs how it is experienced.  Romantic love can either be heaven or hell, depending on whether it is reciprocated.  I think it’s the same thing, but is experienced differently, depending on the reciprosity.

I agree.  No pain like unrequited love.  But I am not sure that it is that easy to know whether the love we feel is truly requited.  I think it might depend more on our perception.  That is, our belief about whether we are loved in return.  If we believe it (but it isn’t true) we will be happy.  If we don’t believe it (but our love in fact is returned) we will be sad.  So our happiness depends not on whether the love is actually returned, but on our belief.

So, it’s beginning to seem quite selfish.  If we are only happy when our love is returned, are we more interested in being loved than in loving?

Not according to the definitions we’ve looked at.  Romantic love, apparently, makes us altruistic.

I’m not sure whether that’s true.  It sounds as if the good feelings only come from knowing you are loved, not from loving.

Well, it’s a good feeling to love somebody who loves you back.  I’m just not sure you can separate the two.  Which means I understand why someone might think that reciprocity is essential.  It is essential for happiness.

But not necessary for the existence of romantic love.


Quite a good thing, though, that not all romantic love is requited.  Think of all the poems, all the songs, all the music in a minor key, that we wouldn’t have if we always believed it was requited.

Plus we probably learn more about ourselves on the occasions when it is not requited.

There have to be less painful ways to learn.

No.  Only that kind of pain touches us where the intellect does not even begin to go.

Which makes the studying the philosophy of love seem like a complete waste of time.

You said it.  Why are you here?