A friend asked me a question the other day about how my relationship with Aradia had changed over the years, and I started to fire off an airy, hand-waving answer that might have approximated the truth. I even opened my mouth to answer, and stopped dead. If a fly had been in the room, I probably would have swallowed it. In that moment, I had an epiphany, of sorts.
My relationship with Aradia hasn't changed one whit in the decade that we've been together. I still love her now just like the day I asked her to be mine.
Now, I know that a relationship is made up of more than just love, but love is my core motivation in our relationship. Everything else is just personal growth. Robert Heinlein came up with what I consider the best possible definition of love I've ever seen: Love is wanting someone else's happiness more than your own. Now, I think I'll be bold and modify old Lazarus Long's definition a bit and say this: Love is wanting someone else's welfare more than your own. I doubt either Woody or his creator would mind overly much, after all.
So, let's examine our new definition for a second. If you have a child that you love, you don't always give him what he wants, right? That would make him happy, in the short run, and turn him into a holy terror who's been set up for the ultimate fall, in the long run. The same goes for any kind of loving relationship, really.
People talk about "different kinds of love", but I think that, as long as they're actually talking about people and not objects, then what they really mean is this: "There different things I'm willing to sacrifice for your welfare." A parent will give up time and energy to raise a child properly, but won't necessarily forego a career to do so. Another parent might give up the career. A man will watch a movie that he doesn't want to see in order to make his lover happy. Another won't. A friend will give over all kinds of physical resources, cash, tools, whathaveyou, but refuse to give up emotional energy. A different friend might only be willing and able to give you a shoulder to cry on. These are the "different kinds of love", and nothing more. It's all about what you're willing to sacrifice.
Take my friend, mentioned above. Right before he married his wife, I asked him if he'd die for her. He looked at me like I was crazy, and said of course not. A little bit of sadness crept into my heart when he looked at me like that, because I realized that he didn't get it, and might never. I treasure my wife's welfare above my own to the point that, yes, I would literally die for her. After all, if she's dead, she doesn't have any welfare at all, now does she? No, I wouldn't kill myself at her whim, but I'd take a bullet for her in a heartbeat. No hesitation.
And yes, I know how cliche and silly that sounds. I seriously doubt that I would ever be called upon to sacrifice myself like that. Except that I already have. I gave her my life the day we both said, "I do." No, I don't always do as she asks. I'm human and make more than my fair share of mistakes. But my intent is her welfare, and my motives are pure.
Purely self-interested, that is. You see, we're wired for love, just like we're wired for hate. A few million years of evolution have given us this capacity to put others above ourselves. We are capable of feeling good about depriving ourselves of something, i.e. whatever we have to give up to ensure someone else's welfare. And no, that doesn't mean that I get the warm fuzzies while I'm taking out the trash. But I do get the warm fuzzies when Aradia looks at me with the that special look in her eyes. The one that lets me know she knows why I'm doing what I'm doing.
In other words, there's no such thing as pure altruism. Not unless there are some sociopaths out there who are doing good instead of harm. I suppose that's possible, but we'll probably never know, since they wouldn't stick out, now would they? No, if you give to the United Way (or any other charity), you get the warm fuzzies from it. Why?
Simple. Because you're "doing the right thing". Why is it the right thing?
Simple. Because humans are hardwired to help others of our species. Survival of our species depends on this type of thing. Very few of us hairless apes are strong enough to survive on our own. We're a social species for a reason. We're too weak to live any other way.
Also, somewhere along the way, our programming expanded to include other species. I want to protect the environment because I love future generations of humans, and current generations of dolphins, pandas, lungfish and slime eels, among others. I'm interested in their welfare enough to make some sacrifices. Not as many as I would for Aradia, but then, I don't love anyone or anything as much as I love Aradia.
You know, love is just like every other human thing: A simple concept in theory that gets very complicated and messy in practice. Ain't love grand?