cupid and psyche, dr. phil, he's not that into you, hunter lee hughes, love as a kidnapping, mutual self-interest vs love, oprah, oprah winfrey, petrarch, petrarch and laura, plutarch and laura, self-esteem and love, she's not that into you, the difference between love and mutual self-interest, what is love?, William-Adolphe Bouguereau
This is the second post in a series on the themes of “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” The first in the series, “Is Cool cool? Reflections on the new Religion” is available to read here.
For years, “Cupid and Psyche” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau hung in between two lonely windows of my studio apartment in Koreatown, somewhat inappropriately overlooking a bus stop, a Korean evangelical church and gang activity which eventually claimed a coin collection inside my apartment. The print made the move with me to the Valley and then to West Hollywood but was eventually (appropriately) stolen (or liberated?) from my parking spot storage area. I hardly blame the thieves on that one.
After all, romantic love deserves better placement than a makeshift, open air garage. Despite my carelessness with the iconic image, I do consider myself a bit of a romantic…and boy are we in need of some warriors of love to defend against the onslaught of modern-day rational prophets that no longer trumpet love…but rather a concept I call “mutual self-interest” masking as love.
The worst offenders of this aggressively self-interested philosophy are Oprah and Dr. Phil, although I’ll focus on Dr. Phil since he’s the one still in major syndication. One can only imagine what would transpire should Petrarch, resurrected from the Beyond, end up appearing on “Dr. Phil” to talk about his beloved Laura. No doubt, Dr. Phil would set Petrarch straight right away, “She’s not that into you! Get over it!” might be his candid advice and undoubtedly he would follow it up with the penetrating psychological question, “What makes you so drawn to unavailable women?” If Dr. Phil succeeded in getting Petrarch to “see the light” we might miss out on some of the most heartbreaking, clear-sighted poems chronicling the human capacity for connection, ecstasy and pathos. So, with any luck, Petrarch, no doubt a more interesting, thoughtful man of gravitas than Dr. Phil, would simply reply, “You’re wrong. I love her.”
And we might add that Petrarch’s love for Laura, despite her inability to return his love at the same level, gave his life meaning…and ours. Petrarch’s steady, inspiring dedication to Laura seems crazy because we no longer value love for love’s sake. We seek to build romantic relationships based on mutual self-interest. And if a dash of feeling and hormones are thrown into the equation, all the better. But a divorce, decay or the like is sure to follow with these unsteady arrangements as soon as the other person starts behaving in a way that contradicts their partner’s self-interest. Then, man, that other person has to start behaving differently…right away…or they have to go. After all, my self-esteem isn’t gonna take this bullshit! (Here, Petrarch would smile wistfully and say, “Go home and think it over, boy.”). In short, we only want to let out a bit of “love” when we know it’s completely “safe” within the construct of a mutually self-interested relationship.
Let’s define terms a little better. What is a relationship of mutual self-interest? It looks something like this. Man, I’m so attracted to that person! They turn me on. And they’re an up-and-comer in this career field I admire. Wow. That’d be cool to be a team with a person like that. We’d look hot together at a company party and bring in two incomes – so helpful in the big city! The sex is good. I’m getting off and so is the other person. Plus, the person gets along with my family, which is cool. That’ll make things easier when we bring up kids. And we have a pretty good personality match. The other person doesn’t annoy me too much and vice versa. And the person gets along with my friends, so I don’t have to worry about huge drama on that front. Hey! Damn! I’m checking off so many boxes of my “Requirements for a Relationship List” with this person. I’m in!
Is it really so bad to build a relationship based on mutual self-interest? I think so, but others could argue that it’s practical. Your mutual self-interest relationship can help you advance in the world. Your mutual self-interest relationship can facilitate the building of a home and nest egg. Your mutual self-interest relationship protects you from feeling “less than” or “insecure” because you’ve both agreed equally to this mutual self-interest relationship. And your mutual self-interest relationship protects you from feeling the full onslaught of loving feelings for another human being without a sense (however false) of security.
Real love has nothing to do with security. It is a kidnapping in the night. It requires ascension to the heights of Heaven with an unknown creature followed by a descent into the depths with little chance of survival. It is a story of togetherness and loss and togetherness again. At the moment you really see the true soul of your beloved, the risk of sabotage is almost cruelly high (as happens to Psyche when she realizes she’s been kidnapped by an immortal beauty rather than the monster she feared). But the fulfilling moments of love are so awe-inspiring and real that they merit Psyche’s trip to the depths of Hades, where Cupid’s subtle guidance leads her back into his embracing arms. Real love is rocky, almost certainly untenable…almost. It is for the brave. It is for the stupid. It is for the exceptional…and theirs alone to claim when won. But even when the love is lost, as happened to Petrarch, yours is the victory of a life made meaningful and clear despite suffering. You are enriched by the acrobatics of the soul, juggling to stretch and grow enough to pass the rigorous test that love throws down.
Build a mundane relationship based on mutual self-interest if you like. I’m sure Dr. Phil and Oprah would applaud. It certainly makes sense to do so. A relationship based on mutual self-interest certainly creates a bond of materialists that helps you to face the world…for a time.
But only love, that old thief of all things rational, creates your character and unleashes your soul…to your beloved and to everyone that matters. Go for love – I dare you.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).