“Earned attachment security”.  Manna from heaven. Sweet words in my ears.

Adults with earned security experienced problems in their families growing up, but were able to deal with and make sense of those early experiences, understand how those experiences influenced their lives, and formed healthy relationships as they got older. They formed a close, trusting, and healing relationship with a friend, romantic partner, therapist, or other significant person.

Although a history of negative childhood experiences may leave lingering vulnerability to stress, for example, the experience of having at least partly resolved childhood difficulties also may create an added resilience (Phelps et al., 1998). More specifically, individuals with earned security may possess greater coping resources than individuals with continuous history of attachment security because circumstance has forced them to marshal and draw on these resources more.

Dieu merci.


Pearson, J. L., Cohn, D. A., Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (1994). Earned- and continuous-security in adult attachment: Relation to depressive symptomatology parenting style. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 359-373.

Phelps, J.L., Belsky, J. and Crnic, K. 1998: Earned security, daily stress, and parenting: a comparison of five alternative models.  Development and Psychopathology, 10, 21-38.

Moller, Naomi P, McCarthy, Christopher J, Fouladi, Rachel T. 2002: Earned attachment security: Its relationship to coping resources and stress symptoms among college students following relationship breakup.  Journal of College Student Development, Mar/Apr [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3752/is_200203/ai_n9028060/?tag=content;col1]


It’s all very well studying “Attachment”, looking at endless studies of very specific instances of insecure attachments (how rarely secure attachments are studied) … but it’s all fairly pointless.

The studies will tell you something, for sure.  They may even tell you a truth which can be extrapolated from the survey sample to the general population.

But.  The studies will tell you nothing about the poor individual suffering from an insecure attachment.  All this nomoethetic stuff is interesting, but is it useful?

Not to me.  Not to the man whose upteenth relationship has broken up because he cannot commit.  Not to the woman who has driven away the man she loved so much with her clinging jealous behaviour.  Not to the child who is dying inside but still smiling a pleasing smile.  Not to the aggressive hoodie who has never known the security of a primary attachment with his father.

Nomothetic research may even help to identify how things happen, sometimes even why they happen, in general terms.

But we are not lab rats.  We are individuals and only an idiographic approach will offer us any hope.

We need someone who will spend time with us establishing a safe relationship in which we can discover how things really were and help us to move on from that painful desert planted with mines to a more pleasant garden.  Our troubles will be particular to us, not general to all boys or girls, men or women.  Our way out will be individual, personal, wide enough only for us to tread, even if others may be reassured by knowing that, if we are picking our way out, then they can too.

[Nomothetic and idiographic are terms used by Kantian philosopher Wilhelm Windelband to describe two distinct approaches to knowledge, each one corresponding to a different intellectual tendency, and each one corresponding to a different branch of academe.

Nomothetic is based on what Kant described as a tendency to generalize, and is expressed in the natural sciences. It describes the effort to derive laws that explain objective phenomena.

Idiographic is based on what Kant described as a tendency to specify, and is expressed in the humanities. It describes the effort to understand the meaning of contingent, accidental, and often subjective phenomena.] * from Wikipedia

From:  http://seansturm.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/zoom-out-zoom-in-nomothetic-and-idiographic/


The nomothetic approach to knowledge draws on our tendency to generalize, and is expressed in the natural sciences. It describes the effort to derive laws that explain objective phenomena. (“Nomothetic” f. Gk νομοθετικός, from νομοθέτης nomothetēs “lawgiver,” from νόμος nomos “law” and the root θη- thē- “posit, place, lay down,” thus “legislative [lit. law-giving].”)

For example, nomothetic psychology studies what we share with others, i.e., the quantifiableproperties of the cohort.

It is a Platonic (otherworldly, supersensible, Realist) approach, applying ideas to things. Plato the philosopher-king legislates.

It can go wrong, hence the nomothetic fallacy: the belief that naming a problem (or group or phenomenon) effectively solves it (or captures its essence).


The idiographic approach to knowledge draws on our tendency to specify, and is expressed in the social sciences (or humanities). It describes the effort to understand the meaning of contingent, accidental, and often subjective phenomena. (“Idiographic” f. Gk ιδιος-γραφιχος, from ídios“personal, peculiar, particular” + graphikós “written, drawn,” thus “describing the particular.”)

For example, idiographic psychology wants to discover what makes each of us unique, i.e., the distinctive qualities of the individual. Aristotle the scientist discovers.

It is an Aristotelian (worldly, sensory, naturalist) approach, finding ideas in things. (This Platonic/Aristotelian distinction is something of a hasty generalization, of course: with his inductive method, Aristotle is also a generalizer—and the mentor of natural science. But he does start from things rather than ideas.)

See Earl R. Babbie, ”Idiographic and Nomothetic Explanation,” The Practice of Social Research, 12th ed. (Cengage Learning, 2009) 21-22.

I’m having to study Attachment at the moment.  That is, the attachment that a baby forms to its primary care giver, usually its mother.  It is quite uncomfortable for me, having to read about the problems that a child is left with when attachment goes awry.  It makes me feel intensely sad.

The quality of attachment that a child has is usually measured only in relation to the child’s mother (or primary care giver).  In reality it seems to me that a child’s experience of attachment is more complicated, since generally a child will know two parents and will experience two attachment styles which may be different.  The attachment style of parents tends to determine the quality of attachment that a child experiences, though there are other reasons why things might also go wrong (such as a long period of illness in early infancy or postnatal depression in the mother).

Attachment is at best “secure”.  The majority of children are fortunate enough to experience a secure attachment with at least one parent, or so the studies show.  Though things are, for example, much less rosy in Germany than in most other countries.

If there is no secure attachment, then there is only an insecure attachment.  Children with only an insecure attachment to their mother tend to fall into two types.

There are those children who become “dismissive” or “avoidant” of any attachment with their parent.  These children might show some of these characteristics:

Intense anger and loss
Critical of others
Sensitive to blame
Lack of empathy
Views others as untrustworthy
Views others as undependable
Views self as unlovable or “too good” for others
Relationships feel either threatening to one’s sense of control, not worth the effort, or both
Compulsive self-reliance
Passive withdrawal
Low levels of perceived support
Difficulty getting along with co-workers, often preferring to work alone
Work may provide a good excuse to avoid personal relations
Fear of closeness in relationships
Avoidance of intimacy
Unlikely to idealize the love relationship
Tendency toward Introjective depression (self critical)


Then there are those children who become “anxiously attached” to their parent.  These are the characteristics that one might expect to find in such a child:

Compulsive Caregiving
Feel overinvolved and underappreciated
Rapid relationship breakups
Idealizing of others
Strong desire for partner to reciprocate in relationship
Desire for extensive contact and declarations of affections
Overinvests his/her emotions in a relationship
Perceives relationships as imbalanced
Relationship is idealized
Preoccupation with relationship
Dependence on relationship
Heavy reliance on partner
Views partner as desirable but unpredictable (sometimes available, sometimes not)
Perceives others as difficult to understand
Relationship is primary method by which one can experience a sense of security
Unlikely to view others as altruistic
Sensitive to rejection
Discomfort with anger
Extreme emotions
Views self as unlovable
Suicide attempts
Mood swings
Tendency toward anaclitic depression (dependent depression)

Generally it is thought that attachment styles are stable over a lifetime.  Which is, frankly, not only determinative but also very depressing.  It means that a child who has experienced an insecure attachment with his mother will be likely to go on to have an insecure attachment with his children. Studies of romantic attachments have found strong correlations between childhood and adult attachment patterns with much poorer adult outcomes for those with insecure childhood attachments.

I’d say that my attachment to my mother was almost non-existant.  Search as I do, I cannot find any feelings of attachment in my memory, only feelings of shut-off or cut-off.  I suspect that as a child I kept trying to find succour but failed and so I stopped trying.  I don’t really know how to categorise these feelings.

It seems as if it might have been rather a good thing for my survival that my father was around, for all that he was inconsistent and frightening.

In relation to my father, I think that the “anxious attachment” label fits best of all, but I think his own attachment style is “dismissive”, which makes me wonder whether gender has not been taken sufficiently into account in the psychology studies that I’m reading about since I can think of lots of women I know who demonstrate anxious attachments, and lots of men who demonstrate dismissive attachments.  There are sex differences between small children, and girls generally seek closer relations with their parents than boys.  Boys are readier to explore.  Might these not translate into different outcomes for the manifestation of insecure attachment?

There are some studies on gender differences in attachment patterns.  One interesting article,’Differential Attachment Responses of Male and Female Infants to frightening Maternal Behaviour: Tend of Befriend versus Fight or flight’ by David and Lyons Ruth of Yale and Harvard Medical School respsectively, is available here:


Anyway, the miracle is that I am securely attached to my husband, though this is the work of twenty years.  As far as I can tell, my daughters are also securely attached to both of us.

I don’t understand how, if my own experience was so disastrous, I have found the capacity to form secure attachments.

Except there is a tendency in all humans to seek out secure attachments, even amongst those who have experienced insecure attachments as children.  It is as if there is some intuitive understanding of what a secure attachment feels like, and a desire to find it.  If we are lucky we do find those who are able to show us secure attachment patterns and contain our anxiety or dismissiveness.

There is also a tendency in humans (at least, according to Freud) to repeat earlier unsatisfactory experiences.

I have experience of both tendencies.  I note in myself that there is little tendency to seek substitute mothers amongst older women and, unusually for a women whose mother has died, I have not had any friendships with older women.  I’ve shied completely away from allowing any woman to nurture me.  I’ve mothered myself, and been blessed with friendships with women my own age who have strong maternal sides, but I seem to have had no hope that I would be mothered by anyone older than me.  Had this been the whole story, I think I would have remained a very self-contained, isolated individual with poor female friendships.

Fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to come across a series of “father-type” figures at various times from the age of sixteen or so, who were entirely reliable and never let me down, and who never ever showed any inappropriate interest in me.  They were all interested, involved, loving fathers in their own families.  I owe them a great debt.

And becoming a mother seems to have thrown a switch in my brain.  I think a fortunate relationship with my husband was an essential prerequisite that meant I was able to risk forming a secure attachment with my baby and I became able for the first time to form close, intimate, female friendships. I also started to become painfully aware of what I had missed out on, though not consciously so. For many years my own strong nurturing internal parent and adult ego state kept my child in check.

I have, in my life, also found myself embroiled with people whose experience of attachment was probably as disastrous as my own.  Perhaps, as fellow sufferers, we saw each other’s pain and sought to try to heal each other.   And invariably failed.

I think we tend to be lop-sided – heavily invested in being good parents to our children, but having our younger selves limping along behind.  In transactional analysis terms, I think our nurturing parental ego state saw the sad child in the other person, knew their pain, and was drawn to it and vice versa.  So my child is drawn to the nurturing parent in the other person just as their child is drawn to my nurturing parent.

So far, so good.

But the child is not immediately healed and plays out some of his or her earlier insecure attachment behaviour.  The child with a dismissive attachment style starts to withdraw.  The child with the anxious attachment style starts to cling.  Almost impossible to know which happens first.  There are only small signs at first, and hope tends to insist that these are disregarded, because, as Freud predicts, we want to resolve that conflict this time.

But what I think then happens is this.

Say, for example, that I am trying to nurture the dismissive child in another person.  His dismissive child will not be healed immediately, but will first start to behave as he always has, by withdrawing.  I ought to be able to experience this behaviour as the behaviour of the sad child, but, disastrously, the child inside me experiences it as the withdrawing, unloving parent, and this child becomes more and more anxious and more and more clingy.

Now I wonder whether the dismissive pattern is often due to an overinvolvement of the mother.  If this speculation is true, then my anxiously attached child who has now activated clingy cloying behaviour, is not experienced as a child by the other person, but instead as their overinvolved mother.  And so they distance even more.  And the circle becomes more vicious and more painful until it burns itself out.


An elongated woman sat perched on a chair in front of our table.  On her head a floor-length white lace mantilla was supported by a headdress.  Her dress was a silver sheath of sequins and the only slash of colour in her was her pale pink lips.  Gigantic flower arrangements in orange and red towered above us.  We sank into plumped up cushions and chairs too heavy to move and the procession of food began.

Vintage champagne poured with one hand behind the back.  A porcelain spoonful of fishy mousse to tease our tastebuds.  Perfectly regular rectangular sandwiches with their crusts removed. A pause of a sorbet, then warm fruit scones and plain scones and a choice of jam and thick yellow cream.

Sir will like the tea.  It’s a masculine tea, meant for gentlemen.  And madame, yours is the ladies’ version.

And look who’s there!  Well I never!  Our friend, the would-be-cowboy from Boston.  Would hardly have recognised him.  Slick and shaved and neat in a pinstripe suit, he looked as if he belonged and we greeted him and exchanged our reasons for being there (his more substantial than ours) and phone numbers and plans for tomorrow, and he took our eye off Ashley Cole.  For it was him, wasn’t it?  Pacing up and down, sitting then standing, waiting for someone.  There!  In front of us.  Yes, it was him.  Had to be.  He had ‘footballer’ written all over him.

A posse of platformed models paraded past in fetish shoes and I craned my neck to see up into their lofty faces.  To our right, a Middle Eastern patriarch presided over a long table of women emblazoned with luxurious logos.  Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton.  He sat there in in his Ralph Lauren blue polo shirt looking bored, counting the cost of every gluttonous minute.

The cakes arrived and were set up on their stand.  A tower of chocolate.  A raspberry cube.  A coffee meringue.  A toffee tart.  Like French geese, we filled our throats and washed it all down with copious cups of Russian Country tea from the finest china with the thinnest handles you have ever seen.  Replete, we lounged.

Our young companions owned the place, in their combat jacket and too-short-skirt and hair that had not seen a brush for days.  They found a piano made of glass and travelled up and down the lifts from the top floor and back again.  They visited the ladies’ rooms and imagined their coming out party and what fun it would be.

The lady in the lace mantilla got up from her chair and, followed by her entourage of heavy-set men in suits, the Most Stylish Woman Alive glided out into the rainy night.  Ashley Cole disappeared and then came back and finally went for good, and we paid the bill and were walked from the door to the taxi by the Umbrella Man.



“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as it is, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful friend will take and sift them, keeping what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blowing the rest away.”

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

Oxford University under fire after admitting only one black Caribbean student during academic year

Last updated at 12:04 PM on 16th October 2010

Trevor PhillipsTrevor Phillips wants more ethnic pupils to be recruited from state schools 

Oxford University has come under fire after it was revealed that it only admitted one black Caribbean student last year.

The elite university recruited more than 3,000 students last year and almost 90 per cent of them were white.

Trevor Philips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission described the record of recruiting ethnic students to the country’s top universities as ‘dire.’

Suggestions have now been made that ethnic quotas should be introduced to insure more black and Pakistani students are given the chance to attend some of the best universities in the country.

But Oxford have dismissed the idea and said they would continue to work to recruit more undergraduates from diverse backgrounds.

Mr Phillips told The Daily Telegraph: ‘I personally can’t see that quotas are the answer but I am reluctant to rule out any possibility given that the situation is so dire and in some cases we appear to be going backwards.’

According to the newspaper just five black Caribbean students were given places at Oxford in 2008.

Mr Phillips said he believed more work needed to be to convince teenagers in state comprehensives to apply.

‘Universities have to get themselves out of their comfort zones and look in directions that they are not used – look past the independent schools,’ Mr Phillips added.

Black Caribbean school pupils have some of the worst GCSE results of any ethnic group in England.

Concerns have also been raised over ethnic segregation, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that less than 10 per cent of black students were enrolled at Russell Group universities, including Oxford.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321056/Oxford-University-admitting-black-Caribbean-student-academic-year.html#ixzz12Yn0C1ro

For an stimulating debate of the pros and cons of affirmative action, watch this lecture by Michael Sandel in his Justice series at Harvard. In Part One: Arguing Affirmative Action, Sandel describes the 1996 court case of a white woman named Cheryl Hopwood who was denied admission to a Texas law school, even though she had higher grades and test scores than some of the minority applicants who were admitted. Hopwood took her case to court, arguing the school’s affirmative action program violated her rights.


And then see this from the Guardian Data Blog: Facts are Sacred, which lists the participation of students of working class parents at each University.  Figures are taken from the official government source, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA – http://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_search&Itemid=69) website.

Another thing I’ve noticed.  You give a hugh priority to romantic love, don’t you?

What do you mean?

For you, it’s more important than any other form of love, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is.  If my wife died I’d be more upset than if I lost any other relationship

(Lots of murmuring from the women across the table)

What about a child, wouldn’t that be as bad, if not worse?

No.  I don’t think so.

(Lots of outraged chuntering from the women across the table)

It would for me, because I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t there for them, that I wasn’t able to look after them better, and I’d feel that I’d somehow failed in my responsibility towards them to protect them from all harm.

Of course, it would be dreadful.  You’d never get over it.  But the feelings if your wife (or husband) died would be different.

What would those feelings be then?

A huge hole, a huge loss.

What is the loss exactly?

I’d miss her.

Of course you’d miss her.  But is missing someone an indication that you loved her more, or that the love you had for her is somehow more virtuous or more important than any other form of love?

She’s part of me.

You mean you’ve merged, become one?


(More murmurs from across the table)

Is that healthy?  It sounds like the sort of relationship a very young child would have with its mother, and then would grow out of.

What do you mean?

Well, isn’t becoming an adult about being independent and separate and “differentiated” from your parents?  Not being merged into one?

Are you suggesting that my wife is my mother?

Your wife clearly isn’t your mother.  It’s not legal to marry your mother.  But I’m wondering whether you give such importance to your romantic relationship because there are elements of your relationship that are like the relationship you had with your mother, and that what you’ll miss is those needs being filled.  I mean, think about all the things she does for you, including the emotional things (but excluding the sexual things, of course).  Are those also things that a mother would do for a son?  You’re lucky that those needs are fulfilled, but I’d also say that your experience might be different if you were a woman.


Well, how many intimate relationships do you have?  I mean close, personal relationships where you can be honest, open about your vulnerabilites and what you are feeling?

Hmm.  Not entirely sure I have any.

What, none?!

Well, I suppose my wife knows more about me than anyone, but I find it difficult to be vulnerable.


Just not something men are supposed to do.

Is it something that a young male child is allowed to do/be?

Yes, of course, in relation to his mother especially.

And I imagine that would feel good, because, generally, it feels good to be vulnerable and open and free.

Yes.  But it’s not easy.

For a man, perhaps it is more difficult.  But we women have friendships that are all of those things.  I bet if you asked all of us here, we’d all have a bevvy of close friends with whom we talk about just about everything, if not everything.  Do you have any friendships like that.

No, but my wife does.

Those close friendships are important, crucial.  I’m not saying that they are more important, but we would not want to imagine a world without them.  I think romantic love is essential, but so, too, are those other friendships.  I think romantic love perhaps includes more responsibilities, and for that reason alone appears to be more important than other love relationships, but there are plenty of people who do not have a romantic relationship and who survive, happily.  There are very few who survive happily without friendships …

(Murmured agreement from all the women on the other side of the table)

Those friendships fulfil a need for us, and I suspect that they fulfil some of the same needs that you experience and get met by your wife.  To be mothered.  If I look at the quality of my female friendships, a lot of the interaction is mutual mothering.

Mmm.  That’s interesting.  I hadn’t seen it like that before.  Makes me feel a bit childish.  Because I think what you say is true – to an extent.  Do you think it’s the case that men who don’t marry just haven’t moved on from Mother?  Or that women who don’t marry haven’t moved on from Father?

Obviously, what I’m saying is true only to an extent.  It wouldn’t be the whole truth.

So I’ve put all my eggs in one basket, whereas you have spread yours around a bit.

Yes, that’s true.

So, does that mean that you also have a need to be looked after by a father?

Yes, as do you.  But it’s more difficult to see how that need is met in your relationships.  And, remember, I don’t think we only have these childhood needs.  I think we also want to be grown-ups, to be equal in our relationships, to be able to make decisions together.  I also wouldn’t want you to think that I have everything sorted out.  I’m only spouting this stuff, challenging you.  I think there are other challenges for women, and I think my situation, as a child, was complicated by having a mother who didn’t “mother” me (though she did feed me, clothe me and so on) and a father who was more soppy, more emotional.  So, I think some of my problems come from expecting that a man will behave like my mother, and getting upset when he doesn’t.  I don’t do that so much now, because I am aware that I do it, but I think it was something that went on unconsciously.  It’s better if I get those mothering needs met by my girl friends.

I thought this was supposed to be a philosophy class.

I’m not sure that philosophy has all the answers, though it does provoke quite a lot of thought.

Yes.   I’m just wondering about those fathering needs, and where I got those met.  I suppose my father was around for a very long time.  he only died recently, whereas my mother died quite some time ago.  Actually, I am not sure that we’re not missing something, the mystery of romantic love, with all this analysing.

You were the one who wanted to stick to philosophy.  No room for the metaphysical.

Yes, and, anyway, there was never any need to separate from your connection to your father, whereas you’re expected to leave your mother and cleave to your wife.  Sounds as if your wife has done a good job of meeting your needs, and I can see why you’d miss her terribly when she’s not there.  But again, it raises that difficult question of whether romantic love is really altruistic, or whether what keeps us locked in is having our needs met.  Which makes it seems much more selfish.

Yes, because I can see that when those needs are not met, you must be searching around (even if you don’t know it) for someone to meet those needs.  With disastrous consequences.

(Another, older man joins in.  Unlike all the other men, he is divorced, having decided to leave his wife in very late life)

Yes, but it’s sad when your wife doesn’t meet your needs, and you are not allowed to have girl friends, like you are allowed to, to meet them.

I can see that it makes you sad.  Do you think that’s perhaps why you left your wife?  Why you woke up one morning and thought that you didn’t love her any more?

I don’t know.  I think, instinctively, it was more about not sharing interests.  I did think it was sad that I knew other women who did share my interests, but I was not allowed to have them as friends.

So, more about the adult connection?  And those other friendships, why were they not allowed?

They just are not allowed.  It’s not acceptable.

Why?  Because the romantic love you were supposed to have with your wife ruled out other fulfilling friendships with women?


Romantic love begins to seem much less altruistic and a lot more selfish.  We’ll have to return to this.

Indeed.  Next week!

[And, as I leave the group, I remember a bit from Eat, Pray, Love.  It’s how the film of the book begins.  With the author recounting how she has a friend who worked as a pyschotherapist with refugees who has spent weeks in dire poverty in refugee camps before coming to the US.  She expected to have to deal with all the trauma of their treatment, but instead all they wanted help with was their relationships, specifically their romantic relationships, but also their relationships with their family.  And I thought about all these would-be philosophers, all retired, and how for all of them their happiness still depends, it seems, on the success or otherwise of their personal relationships.  After it all, having been a Bank of England economist, or a medical consultant, or a minister, or a very successful businessman was not enough to make them happy.]

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?

1.  It occurs between adult human beings

2. Its intentionality need not always be characterised by beliefs, but could be characterised by mere thoughts or images

3. It might outlast its originating beliefs about the beloved

4. It is a long-term emotion, one that is possessed by the lover for a long period and as such need not be constantly felt (especially when reciprocated)

5. It seems to include the desire on the part of the lover to be with the beloved

6. Like many other emotions, it is inherently neither morally good nor bad

7. It typically starts passionately, only to calm down as time goes by, without, however, necessarily becoming any less deep or intense; indeed, it may, and probably does, deepen as the years go by (especially when reciprocated)

8. It has the desire to have sex with the beloved (a desire that might not remain throughout a long-lasting love relationship)

9. It is exclusive

10. When reciprocated, it exists between only two people

11. When reciprocated, it pushes the lovers towards marriage (legal or substantive)

12. When reciprocated over a long period, its emotional intensity and dependence are more intense and thorough than what we find among friends and different in kind than what we find between parents and children

13. There are social expectations that the lovers are the primary recipients of each other’s time, attention and energy, and affection

14. When reciprocated, it limits the autonomy of the lovers.

15. It has jealousy as one of its main accompany emotions

16. It always has concern on the part of the lover for the well-being of the beloved

According to Professor Raja Halwani, who had made a study of the Philosophy of Love, Sex and Marriage, only one of these factors is absolutely necessary to romantic love – Number 16.  Factors 8 to 15 are generally necessary, and factors 1 to 7 are only sometimes found in romantic love.

Professor Halwani’s work is an attempt to look at love, sex and marriage analytically, not through the lens of psychology, psychoanalysis, anthropology or sociology or even Continental philosophy.  His hope is that by reflecting on these things, we will clarify our thinking, think more about our values and make changes to our actions and lives “so that we treat others more justly, think of them more openly, and place the proper values on love, sex, and marriage”.  The list above features early on in the book and is descriptive not normative …

The list principally seems to describe a relationship that is dyadic, that two people agree on.  It assumes an agreement over the content of the relationship (such as the amount of time devoted to the beloved vis a vis other people, for example) and the limits or reach of the relationship.  It differentiates romantic love from all other forms of love, yet many other forms of love share many of its features.  It is, however, not neutral as to its value, or its relative value when compared with other forms of love, for it assumes that it is given a priority over other love relationships (Factor 13).