I have been describing love as the feeling we have for a special person next to whom we feel peace, harmony and comfort. As adults, our experiences reproduce what we felt in the earliest stages of our lives with our mothers: she was our first object of love. In our adult life, we choose our partners based on values we admire. And here the trouble starts, because what we admire and our criteria change throughout life; that is, what charmed a person when they were 20 years old might not seem as wonderful 15 or 20 years later.
When someone’s criteria for admiration changes, the delight they felt in the person they loved also changes, as well as the type of person who will attract them from that point on. So it’s not easy to make love last forever, especially when it started in young adulthood, when people are still going through profound changes and establishing their criteria and values. Later loves are more likely to last. Notably, only one of the partners needs to change their criteria for the relationship to fail; a romantic relationship can only succeed in these days of constant change if both partners evolve together, attuned to each other, and change in accordance to similar values.
Many young people admire their good looking and popular peers, and get crushes on them because of this admiration. However, vanity clearly plays a part in this process, because being close to someone who is highly valued by the group makes them feel just as important; that means a person’s cachet increases, or decreases, according to their partner’s social position.
It is quite clear, then, that the criteria for admiration are closely connected to vanity, to how important a person will feel by having been chosen by that specific partner. But this kind of romantic choice is very likely wrong, as the criterion is superficial and based on the approval of the “others.” Vanity, an erotic pleasure that comes from standing out and attracting attention and admiration, influences all our actions and emotions; it particularly affects love, by determining how we pick our partners, and it certainly leads to many mistakes.
It would be better to just pick someone with whom we get along; with whom, when we are alone, we feel happy and satisfied. Above all, romantic relationships are supposed to relieve our feeling of vulnerability, so while gaining prominence because of our partner might be cool, it should only be a perk, not the main attraction. This must be vanity’s role in our lives: pleasing, but not overpowering.
Vanity’s influence can also be felt in the intimacy of a couple deeply in love. Two people who find each other and realize they have several things in common in character, tastes, interests and life projects develop a very strong bond. This bond is so strong it seems to be unique. And this is vanity, too!
Couples in love, those whose admiration for each other is based on their common ground—which indicates better self-esteem—incessantly praise their love and one another: “you are the most amazing person I’ve ever met.” “I have you, so I don’t need anything else.” “I’m nothing without you.” “There has never been a love like ours…” It becomes an environment in which both compliment each other constantly and regularly; it’s repetitive and somewhat ridiculous.
The gratification of vanity that comes from an intense romantic connection does not seem to need any other kind of reinforcement; each person fulfills the other’s needs, and being admired by other people becomes irrelevant. The comfort their love brings feeds their vanity so well, they might even consider abandoning their old lives, friends, work and possessions—a cabin in the woods seems like more than enough to experience the love they have for each other freely and intensely. Thankfully, they don’t usually go ahead with this dream, as it would never work: people need other types of stimulation in their lives.
Tradução: Amanda Morris