Archive for the 'Love' Category

On Valentine’s Day

by Jason Stotts

Some people think that Valentine’s Day is not a real holiday; that it is simply a “Hallmark Holiday,” constructed to bring in money for cards.   They think that they shouldn’t have to show their love on just one day and as long as their partner knows that they love them throughout the year, that having this one extra day is superfluous.  I must admit, that there were times in the past that I, too, thought that Valentine’s Day was unnecessary, but not too long ago changed my mind.

My wife knows I love her.  She knows because of how I treat her, because I do things for her, because I help her to achieve her goals, and for a myriad of little reasons.  But does this mean I shouldn’t also tell her I love her?  No, it doesn’t.  Just because sheknows that I love doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to still explicitly tell her so. There is a value in the explicit reaffirmation that saying “I Love you” brings.  This can be overdone and I think we’ve all seen the couples that say it so frequently that it loses all meaning.  Nevertheless, if you don’t tell your partner that you love them, then that is communicating something as well.

So, you might be thinking, that if I already tell my partner I love her and show this in my actions, why do I need to have a day to focus on this?  Putting emphasis on something that is important to you is very valuable.  All too often, especially after we have been in relationships for a while, we forget to tell our partners that we love them as much as we do, we let the stress of our jobs and other obligations come between us, and we don’t give our partner and our relationship as much attention as they deserves.  Thus, Valentines Day is a way for us to take some time out of our busy schedules and to put that extra emphasis on our partner and our relationship.  Valentine’s Day is a time for us to tell our partner how much we value them and show them this as well.  In short, it’s a day where we check in on our relationship and make sure that’s it’s going well.

And what do we do once we do this?  Then we celebrate!  Valentine’s Day is a reaffirmation of our love and relationships and we should celebrate these things because they are very important to life.  I firmly believe that love, sex, and relationships are part of what is necessary to live a good life for a person and if we are achieving these things, we should celebrate their value in our lives.  Furthermore, we should celebrate our relationships and our shared lives together with our partners.

No matter its origins (and really is an irrational basis in religion somehow better than a constructed holiday to celebrate something important?) Valentine’s Day is a worthwhile holiday and one that should be embraced by rational men and women as it serves to help us to enrich our lives and make them better.

(This essay originally appeared on Erosophia last year and I’m republishing it this year because I like it so much)

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On Valentine’s Day

by Jason Stotts

Some people think that Valentine’s Day is not a real holiday; that it is simply a “Hallmark Holiday,” constructed to bring in money for cards.   They think that they shouldn’t have to show their love on just one day and as long as their partner knows that they love them throughout the year, that having this one extra day is superfluous.  I must admit, that there were times in the past that I, too, thought that Valentine’s Day was unnecessary, but not too long ago changed my mind.

My wife knows I love her.  She knows because of how I treat her, because I do things for her, because I help her to achieve her goals, and for a myriad of little reasons.  But does this mean I shouldn’t also tell her I love her?  No, it doesn’t.  Just because she knows that I love doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to still explicitly tell her so. There is a value in the explicit reaffirmation that saying “I Love you” brings.  This can be overdone and I think we’ve all seen the couples that say it so frequently that it loses all meaning.  Nevertheless, if you don’t tell your partner that you love them, then that is communicating something as well.

So, you might be thinking, that if I already tell my partner I love her and show this in my actions, why do I need to have a day to focus on this?  Putting emphasis on something that is important to you is very valuable.  All too often, especially after we have been in relationships for a while, we forget to tell our partners that we love them as much as we do, we let the stress of our jobs and other obligations come between us, and we don’t give our partner and our relationship as much attention as they deserves.  Thus, Valentines Day is a way for us to take some time out of our busy schedules and to put that extra emphasis on our partner and our relationship.  Valentine’s Day is a time for us to tell our partner how much we value them and show them this as well.  In short, it’s a day where we check in on our relationship and make sure that’s it’s going well.

And what do we do once we do this?  Then we celebrate!  Valentine’s Day is a reaffirmation of our love and relationships and we should celebrate these things because they are very important to life.  I firmly believe that love, sex, and relationships are part of what is necessary to live a good life for a person and if we are achieving these things, we should celebrate their value in our lives.  Furthermore, we should celebrate our relationships and our shared lives together with our partners.

No matter its origins (and really is an irrational basis in religion somehow better than a constructed holiday to celebrate something important?) Valentine’s Day is a worthwhile holiday and one that should be embraced by rational men and women as it serves to help us to enrich our lives and make them better.

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Formspring: When is Sex Appropriate?

by Jason Stotts

I’ve received another question from Formspring, this one about when it’s appropriate to have sex.

When is it an appropriate time in a relationship to have sex? How do you know when one should? I have very little experience in this arena (I’m a 20 year old male in college), and don’t know how to apply Objectivist sexual ethics in this arena. Thanks!

The most important thing to remember is that for Objectivism the over-arching principle guiding all of ethics is for an individual agent to act to maximize his happiness, taken in the rich sense of eudaimonia as originally elaborated by Aristotle, over the long term.  Obviously sex and love play a very important role in what it is to live a good human life and thus we must treat love and sex as important values.  In fact, I think love and sex are necessary conditions for happiness.

Some questions to consider are:

1. How long have you been dating?

By spending lots of time with a person and being close to them, you learn who they truly are.  The longer you have been dating, the better you should know someone.  If it’s very early in a relationship and you don’t know each other well, especially at your age and probable experience level, it’s best to wait until you get to know each other better.  Having sex too early may cause the relationship to fall apart if it doesn’t go well or you might find that you’re not able to be your true sexual self in front of your partner and you don’t know your partner well enough.

2. Is the relationship based on shared values or just pleasant association?

Your relationship will be in a position to have sex sooner if it’s based on real values than if it’s based on simple pleasant association, assuming in the latter case that you actually want a relationship.  The more your relationship is based on shared values, the stronger it will be.

3. Do you actually care about each other?

This sounds like a strange question at first, but if you don’t care about your partner for herself, then you should wait to have sex.  Sex is selfish.  In a good and healthy relationship you care about your partner for their sake because they are a value in your life and make your life better, but you still care about them for their own sake as well.  This is important as some people take the stance that “of course I care about X, she is my girlfriend (or whatever),” but you should wish your partner well even if they were not your partner.  To put it another way, you shouldn’t care for your partner only because they’re your partner, but because they’re a good person and deserve good things.

4.  Are you virgins or do you have some experience with sex?

If you’re both virgins, you need to wait until you each feel comfortable with the idea of having sex and of having sex with each other.  If you’ve both had sex with multiple people, you will not need to wait long at all.  Knowledge of sex and what you like and need sexually makes it much easier to have sex with new partners.

I’d also like to add that virginity is no value for a rational person as it simply means a state of ignorance and inexperience with sex, which we Objectivists think is an important value.

5. Are you going to jump right to coitus or are you going to work your way up to it?

Going from only having kissed directly to penis-in-vagina (or butt) sex is a bad idea.  Actually, it’s a terrible idea at your age and experience level, if you care about your relationship.  You need to work your way up to vaginal intercourse together, learning about each stage and enjoying it for the pleasure it brings you both.  That is, you need to master oral, not because you simply need to postpone vaginal sex, but because you’ll learn about yourselves, each other, your likes and dislikes related to sex, and important skills.  Once you master each stage, then you move to the next one and keep going until you’re good at vaginal sex too.  Of course, there’re lots of side roads and detours and the like, but I think a good basic trajectory is manual – oral – sex.  I’m not saying that it’s obligatory to follow this trajectory, but it can really help you to gain knowledge and experience, and comfort with your partner, so that when you do decide to have intercourse, you’ll be ready.

A couple of final thoughts: I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t be too rationalistic about sex and that it is better to learn from experience than to try to guess what you may like or not.  I think it is better to err on the side of trying new (safe) things and then judging whether you like them than to attempt to a priori deduce this.  This shouldn’t be taken as permission for promiscuity, but it does mean that I think you shouldn’t reserve sex for the one person you hope to marry.  In fact, I think that pre-marital sex is morally obligatory, as going into a relationship as serious as marriage without knowing if you’re compatible in one of the most important aspects of marriage is beyond foolhardy.

Since you’ve taken the trouble to write me, I’m going to offer you a free copy of my recent speech “Sexual Ethics and Objectivism.”  Just e-mail me at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com and I’ll send you a copy.  (Please include the date you submitted your question for verification.)

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Do you have questions for me?  Feel free to submit them via Formspring or by e-mailing me directly at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com.

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Formspring: Love without Sexual Attraction?

by Jason Stotts

Some time ago I received this question via Formspring.  Unfortunately, it got lost in the shuffle of getting things ready for ATLOSCon, but I thought it was a good question that deserved an answer.  Better late than never, right?

Is it still possible to fall in love with someone without being sexually attracted to him/her?

Yes.

This is, in fact, a very common theme that is explored in some of the greatest fiction.  For example, this is the exact worry that Cyrano de Bergerac has with fair Roxane, he thinks that she could never love him because he thinks he is ugly and, implicitly, that love needs beauty to thrive.  Or, consider the case of Quasimodo in regard to the fair gypsy Esmerelda, who he desires, but who believes that she would never be able to care for him because he is (actually) hideous.  There is also the case of pauvre Eric in the play version of The Phantom of the Opera (not the book version, which is radically different), who worries that his hideous visage will make it so that no one could ever love him.  In each of these cases, one of the main characters worries that ugliness, whether real or imaginary, will prevent them from ever finding love and will condemn them to loneliness, since they worry that no one could be attracted to them.

Now, there is much more that could be said about this issue.  For example, sometimes we fall in love with a person to whom we are not sexually attracted and over time we develop sexual attraction for them. I know of at least one couple where the woman was not initially attracted to the man, not that she found him unattractive, but that she was not attracted to him, and after their relationship developed, she became sexually attracted to him because of his character and values.

In cases where you find a person completely unattractive or even ugly, I think it’d be a bad idea to pursue a romantic relationship.  As Objectivists, we consider people to be beings of both mind and body and we strive to keep these things integrated.  If you end up in a relationship with a person that you just cannot be aroused by, you’ll be put in a position where you’ll love someone, but be unable to bring this love into reality because your lack of sexual desire or even disgust at their physical appearance.  This is more than just a little problematic as human relationships and love involve sex and if you just can’t have sex with a person, you’re going to be missing out on a large part of what makes a good relationship and a good life.

I’d also like to point out that sexual attraction is more than simply an issue of physical beauty, although obviously physical beauty can be very important here.  See my essay “What Causes Sexual Attraction?” for a more detailed explanation of how I think sexual attraction works.

I might recommend that you consider having this person as a close friend for some time and see if attraction doesn’t develop.  If it doesn’t, then at least you have a new good friend.  If it does, then you can re-evaluate your position in light of this new information.

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You can ask me questions via Formspring or by e-mailing me at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com.  Unless otherwise stated in the question, I will assume that any question and response is fair game for Erosophia.

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Letter from a Reader

by Jason Stotts

I rarely get comments on my blog.  Even more rarely do I get letters from readers.  Thus, sometimes I feel like I’m writing Erosophia for myself, like I have no readers.  Not that I actually believe it, since I know that I actually have thousands, but that I get burnt out on writing with no response.  Sometimes I feel like I’m shouting in the dark.  However, sometimes I get a letter that helps make it all worth it, like the letter below.  This kind of letter is spiritual fuel for a writer, a reminder that ideas can have powerful effects and can change the lives of those who read them.

 

Jason,

I wanted to thank you for your blog. By reading your blog, particularly the posts on pegging and swinging, I believe you have helped heal my marriage. I am not fully certain why I want to share this whole story with you, but I do. Perhaps so you will understand my sincerity or perhaps so you will understand how important I think your work is? I’m not sure, but I’d like to explain.

[Story about childhood sexual abuse omitted to preserve the author’s privacy.]

We took a trip to the sex toy store and purchased a strap on kit and an Aneros. That night was perhaps the first time in his life that my husband, Rick, really enjoyed sex.  He was finally just free to enjoy sex with someone he loves who loves him back. It was truly an amazing experience for both of us.

Two weeks ago, when I read your posts on swinging, I decided to ask Rick about it. Last weekend, we went to a swinger’s club for the first time. Oh boy! Was that fun! Everything that couple said in your swinger interviews [An Interview with Swingers] was so true. We feel even more intimate with each other now than ever before! The level of pleasure, honesty, and sincerity from our sexual encounters with each other is so intense and amazing. There are many other positives to come from this, but I won’t go on forever. lol!

The past 8 months or so have not been all wine and roses, but with the help of a great therapist and your website, we’ve been able to turn things around in an amazing way, so thank you, thank you, thank you! Had it not been for your reasoned, principled approach to things considered taboo in America, we may still be stuck in the dark and possibly headed for a divorce. Rick is more relaxed, open and intimate with me, and for that, I am forever grateful! (And I’ve learned tons and been having a great time myself!)

Beth

 

I’ve been in communication with Beth and Rick and they’ve graciously agreed to do an interview about what it’s like to be new to the lifestyle and how their lives are changing.  Expect to see it appear here on Erosophia shortly.  If you have any questions for them, leave a comment below and I’ll try to incorporate your questions into the interview.

I want to really thank Beth and Rick for writing.  It really does make quite a difference to a writer to know his words are having an effect on the world.

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Quirkyalone

by Jason Stotts

I got an e-mail from a reader the other day about an interesting idea called “quirkyalone.” First, though, I’d like to point out that “Jason Stotts” is not a nom de plume, but is actually my real name.  So, anyone writing me can feel free to address me simply as Jason, no other appellation is necessary or desired.

Jason Stotts,

February 14 is “International Quirkyalone Day”. Of course the date was picked to contrast it with Valentine’s Day, but it’s not about feeling sorry for singles. The “quirkyalone” is an interesting concept that I feel describes me very well, and apparently many others feel the same way about themselves.

Being quirkyalone means enjoying the freedom and solitude of being single, while being open to the possibility of finding love. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this idea at some point.

More information is here and here:

http://quirkyalone.net/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quirkyalone

T.

I had never heard of quirkyalone before and so I followed the links to find out more about it.  Wikipedia, which is, of course, omniscient, had this to say:

Quirkyalone is a neologism referring to someone who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple.[…] It started in 2003 as a “celebration of romance, freedom and individuality”.

From what little information I can gather, it sounds like people who are “quirkyalone” want to wait for the right person to date and don’t want to date people who they don’t think will be a good long term fit or even “the one.”

I think this is a terrible idea.

There is so much that we learn about ourselves, what we want in a partner, love, our preferences, our sexuality, etc., from being in relationships, even with the “wrong” people, that cannot be discovered by standing aloof from relationships and waiting for one’s Platonic ideal.  There is simply no way to rationalistically learn about our needs for relationships, love, and sex except for by going out into the world and experiencing these things and reflecting on how they work for us.  While I can know beforehand that someone who is abusive is ruled out prima facie, that really doesn’t tell me much.  What kinds of traits do I want in a lover?  What things annoy me?  What are my boundaries?  What are deal-breakers for me?  There is simply no way to answer these questions except through experience and experience is precisely what one will not gain without going out into the world and having relationships.

On the other hand, I also think it’s a terrible idea to date simply in order to be in a relationship, solely in order to not be alone.  This, I think, is much worse than standing aloof from relationships.  There is much we learn about ourselves from being alone and if we are always in relationships, we may know who we are with John or Kim, but we won’t know who we are by ourselves.  Furthermore, many people who are always in relationships are motivated by a fear of being alone.  They are afraid that they won’t get the external validation they need in order to bolster their sense of self-esteem or perhaps they are afraid of what they might find if they were alone too much and forced to introspect too carefully.

The ability to enjoy spending time alone with only your thoughts to keep you company is a good one and leads one to a level of introspection that few people achieve.  Through this introspection, we come to know ourselves much better and to understand our own needs and desires.

The ideal, as should be obvious, is to neither stand aloof nor to be in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship, but to date purposefully and with an eye to both the present and the future.  To be alone when it makes sense and to have a partner when it makes sense.  To do each in the right time and each with purpose.  Furthermore, we should not count it a failure if a relationship doesn’t end in death.  We are neither Christians nor mystics.  We, as Objectivists, believe that sex should be tied to values, but that doesn’t mean we need to seek our platonic soul mates.  If you have even a short relationship with another person and you both enjoy yourselves and learn more about yourselves, then this should be considered a successful relationship.  Furthermore, just because a relationship ends in death, doesn’t make it successful.  Many people stay in unhappy relationships only in order to say that they are still in relationships, so they can say that their relationship didn’t fail.  But, truly, isn’t an unhappy and unhealthy relationship the only kind of failed relationship?  There is nothing intrinsically valuable about a relationship that ends in death and we should not shoot for this as our ideal.  Instead, let us shoot for healthy and happy relationships, as long as they may last.

Of course, this is not to denigrate long term relationships and I think there are values that you gain through long term relationships that you don’t have in short term ones, like a shared life and past.  The sense of shared identity and intimacy that comes from a long term relationship cannot be equaled by a short term relationship and I might even go so far as to argue that this kind of intimacy is constitutive of happiness, but perhaps that’s an argument for another essay.

So, to return to quirkyalone, from what little I understand of it, it seems like a bad idea and a way to make oneself feel better about being alone.  Instead, I think we should shoot for a balance in relationships and to learn from our experiences and count all of our happy and healthy relationships as successes, no matter their length.  Of course, as I said in the beginning, I didn’t have much information about Quirkyalone to go on, so I may be off base on that particular.  The rest, however, stands.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

by Jason Stotts

Although I know that many do not like Valentine’s Day, whether for good reasons like love should be celebrated everyday or shallow reasons like a hatred of cards and gifts, I think Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to remember our lovers and why we love them and to show them how much we care about them.  Thus, I want to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day!

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Aporia: Love

by Jason Stotts

Aporia (Gr.) – a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it.

Here, I am going to just think through some of the problems related to love.  I’m not necessarily looking for answers here and you should be forewarned that engaging this essay may have the effect of the Socratic torpedo fish, that leaves one numb and reeling.  I take no responsibility for that.  I am here like Socrates:

As for me, if the torpedo fish makes itself numb while it numbs others, I am like it; but if not, not.  For it is not that being myself full of resources, I cause others to be at a loss; rather, I am completely at a loss myself and it is in this way that I cause others to be at a loss as well. (80c7-d1)

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When writing about love, a problem arises: what kind of love are we talking about?  It is generally agreed that there is a wide range of love: love of friends, love of family, love of sexual partners, love of country, etc. The terms for most of these are not complicated: we have “familial love” for love of family, “friendly love” for love of friends, “romantic love” for love of sexual partners, “patriotism” for love of country.  But, and you likely noticed this, what is “romantic love”?  Who are these sexual partners?  Are they people we’re in relationships with?  Are they people we love?  If so, what kind of love is this?

The point I’m trying to make here is that we lack a good word for the kind of love we have for the people that we are in relationships with, the people we spend our lives with, the people we have sex with.  We might call it “romantic” love, but this ties it to the romantic tradition and the idea of denial of sex in order to elevate the spirit.  We could call it sexual love, but then people might think that if the sex were to end, the love would also dissipate.  We could call it relational love, but what kind of relationship?  Perhaps erotic love would be the best term, but even that has the somewhat unfortunate consequence of tying the love and sex together in a way that makes someone think that if the latter were to stop, say due to old age, then the former would also stop.  But, perhaps they should be tied together this tightly.  Indeed, we are potentially sexual until our very last day.

So, what are our better options?  We have “romantic love,” “erotic love,” and “sexual love.”

Romantic love has the advantage of being widely used and one could argue that most people don’t understand it’s origins anyway, so are likely not influenced by them.  However, there is a danger here in that a history of a word can influence its current usage.  Further, I am of the firm belief that one can’t really understand a word until one has some idea of its etymological origin and history of past use.  Given that, romantic love has some serious problems.

Erotic love has the advantage of being direct and not trying to obscure the real nature of the relationship.  It correctly references the passion that love brings and perhaps even the madness that love can give rise to, the tumultuousness of spirit that we feel when love is new.  On the other hand, love is not always tumultuous and mature love can even be downright mellow.  Further, if a person has good control over his emotions and doesn’t succumb to madness, he can still be said to be in love.  Perhaps, though, this is tying erotic too closely to eros and in its current meaning it can fulfill the role we want it to.  It does literally mean “sexual love” from Greek, but the attendant passion is part of this.

Sexual love has the advantage of being completely direct without being couched in any way.  It’s easily understandable and no one would confuse this kind of love with another.  The problem is that since it so directly points to sex, that one could, quite reasonably, think that without sex, the love would end.  This seems wrong, at least insofar as it can be said that an older couple that no longer has sex can still love each other.  But, perhaps this love is of a different kind.  If my wife was in a tragic accident and could no longer be sexual in any way, it’s a hypothetical, just go with it, it’s not as though my love for her would suddenly cease.  Might it be objected, though, that my love would have to change forms?  Would the love become the kind of love of character friends?  Would the shared history and sense of mutual identity prevent this shift?  Another complication is this: would I feel sexual love for any person with whom I had sex?  That is, would sex cause sexual love?  This simply seems wrong.  It’s clear that people can have sex without being in love or without developing deep feelings of attachment.  Whether they should is not germane.

The problem is that for so much of our history, sex has been entirely shameful and even though everyone knew that there was a particular kind of love that goes with sexual relationships, it couldn’t be named.  Consider in our current culture, we use the vague “I’m in a relationship.”  But what kind of relationship?!  It is purposely vague.  Or consider: “this is my boyfriend” or “this is my girlfriend.”  Really?  Are you just friends?  Consider that “fiancée” comes from the Latin affidare “to make an oath.”  The oath in this context is to be wed.  To be wed, of course, means to combine or unite.  But a relationship is also a union.  What defines a wedded couple from a “regular relationship” is that they have made a formal commitment.  What if there were a ceremony for a formal commitment of friendship?  Would they be wed?  Doesn’t the fact that spouses have sex make it different from a formal declaration of friendship?

In order to untie this mess of language around relationships, we need to recognize that sex makes a relationship different than it would be without it.  On the other hand, one can have sex with a friend.  Does this mean that they’re now “in a relationship”?  Weren’t they already before?

We need a term for “relationships,” the kind that involve sex and love and all of the things we pack into “relationships,” the things we might have with our “boyfriends” and “girlfriends”.  That term certainly cannot be “loving relationships,” as all of the relationships we’ve identified are types of love!  It cannot also just be “relationships,” since, similarly, all the relationships we’ve identified are instances of relationships.  Perhaps “love, sexual, relationships”?  But that is too cumbersome and who has ever heard of a kind term with commas in it?

Perhaps a new term is called for.  But what?  Could we perhaps draw on other languages?  It is only our own that suffers thus?  I have my doubts.  (I welcome comments on other languages and what words they use for this kind of relationship and what it means.)

Since I, like Socrates, am as numb on this as are you, my poor reader, I shall simply conclude that we need a good term here, but that one does not yet exist or has yet to be defined in such a way to serve the function we need it to without any objections.

Although, perhaps that is the answer!  Perhaps we need to simply take one of the terms we already have and redefine it, breathe new life into it with a new, firmer, identity and function.

Alternatively, maybe the term we need is just “love.”  Maybe sexual love, the love of “relationships,” is the primary sense of love and other kinds of love are lesser versions of it, related to the primary sense by sharing characteristics, much in the same way that friends of utility are related to character friends (you’ll need to know your Aristotle to get this one).  This would solve the problem and preserve the way we use love in our culture, although it would restrict its scope and application.

It seems like one of these alternatives is our only option.  It remains to be seen which will end up being the better option.

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