Dr. Gary Bell
The issue of reciprocity is central to love. Mutual attraction is for both sexes a most highly valued characteristic in a potential mate. People like to hear that they are desired. The lover wants to be loved in return, to be kissed as well as to kiss. The lover is ready to be committed but expects to find a similar commitment to the beloved’s attitude.
The lack of reciprocity, that is, the knowledge that you are not loved by your beloved, usually leads to a decrease in the intensity of love and ultimately to humiliation. This decrease does not tend to be immediate; the one suffering from unrequited love persists in trying to win the other’s heart.
Indeed, many books and movies feature as their theme aspiring lovers persisting doggedly to win the hearts of their beloved. In some cases, love may even briefly intensify while one tries to win the other’s heart.
Whereas lovers care about their beloved’s attitude and want their beloved to prosper, in sexual desire, the partner’s needs and attitudes are less of a priority. Nevertheless, sexual activities are not completely devoid of concern for the partner, as this person’s satisfaction often increases our own. However, this is a more superficial and egoistic concern, which does not focus on the fulfillment of the other’s wishes. Sexual desire has a purposive nature which is not typical of love.
Considering the reciprocal nature of romantic love, a major characteristic of love is the lack of indifference. Indifference expresses the absence of evaluative preference and, hence, the absence of emotional sensitivity. Therefore, people in love prefer to be hurt by the beloved rather than treated indifferently.
Similarly, the saying goes that it is better to break someone’s heart than to do nothing with it. In her song “A second-hand love,” Connie Francis says, “I’d rather have this kind of (second-hand) love than not see you at all.”
It is easier to express reciprocity in cyberspace, as it requires fewer resources or real actions, and self-disclosure is greater. Reciprocity is most evident in cyberlove, which consists of very long conversations. These can sometimes last as much as a few hours every day of the week.
Conversation is essentially reciprocal activity, and long conversations can take place only when genuine reciprocity prevails. The reciprocal nature of cyber love is also expressed in the significant, mutual self-disclosure and supportive attitudes typical of these relationships.
Some people deny the importance of reciprocity in love by taking it to be a mechanical kind, involving perfunctory calculations of what each person gives to and gets from the other. Such a calculation is indeed incompatible with genuine love. When I do something for my beloved, I do not do it because I expect to get it in return. I do it because I want to do it, as I believe it increases my beloved’s well-being.
Genuine romantic love should involve, however, profound reciprocity in which each person seeks the happiness and well-being of the other. The actions that result from such symmetrical care may also be asymmetrical as they consider special personal and contextual actions.
We would find it hard to accept if only one partner gave the other birthday presents, remembered anniversaries, or offered cups of tea while the other offered none of these symbolic acts of giving gifts. Here it is not the mechanical giving that matters as much as the symbolic act of gift-giving or remembrance, acts that signify the other’s significance.
“Mirror Image”, Courtesy of Caroline Veronez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Rowing”, Courtesy of Jordan Bauer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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