Love is a losing game. Or, in economic terms, a 'second-best' situation where one or more optimality conditions cannot possibly be satisfied.
Take the initial step we make towards love: seduction. It is perhaps one of the greatest ironies of love that we can never successfully seduce those we are actually attracted to. Desire produces a crippling sense of inferiority, which, coupled with the fear of rejection, renders us tongue-tied in the presence of our beloved. Most of the time, we charm people we don't particularly like, for reasons we don't entirely understand, and in circumstances we cannot fully control.
Romantic love comes with a set of pressures which the media and society shamelessly exploit. Questions I often find myself, and my friends, asking are: When will I meet the 'one'? Or, when in a relationship: Is the person I am with the 'one' I want to stay with for the rest of my life? We explore these private anxieties while not fully understanding what it is that we desire, and, conversely, whether we are capable of meeting the desires of our partner. We have become a society where, as the choice and options available to us have become less restricted, we increasingly suffer from the inability to make a decision.
Dating can be fun, but it can also be stilted and awkward. Once one does find a person whose company is enjoyed, expectations must be aligned.This brings us to attachment style, which was first explored concretely by Mary Ainsworth in the context of the infant-parent bond (according to Freud, all romantic love is a futile effort to replicate this initial bond). Ainsworth observed children playing in a room with their mothers, and their responses when their mothers left and returned.
Infants with a secure attachment style were able to use their mother as a secure base from which to explore their surroundings, and found comfort in times of stress. Anxious infants were too preoccupied with their mothers' whereabouts to be easily soothed. Avoidant infants were too seemingly indifferent toward her to use her as a secure base.
I feel these styles of relating in infancy tend to continue into adulthood. A study by Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver found that in romantic relationships, people fall into three attachment styles: 'Secure' people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving, 'Anxious' people crave intimacy, are preoccupied with their relationships, and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back, and 'Avoidant' people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and hence try to minimize closeness.
I am cautious when it comes to love, which slots me into the 'anxious' category. What Hazan and Shaver fail to acknowledge, however, is that these categories can change over time. A person originally 'anxious' in a relationship can become more 'secure' once their doubts and needs are clearly expressed. And anxiety can be translated to any relationship, not necessarily a romantic one. Worrying about another is, after all, an expression of love.
I like Plato's metaphor for love best, because it is not one of completeness, but one of progression. He describes how romantic love is like a ladder: finding a partner is not the completion of love more than it is a first step up. Falling in love brings us a new dimension of happiness in life. That delight does not begin and end with one person. Instead, we develop a capacity to love more and more of life: to climb one more step, and then one more, up the ladder. Loving another, or love itself, is a mechanism that brings us closer to enjoying what life has to offer.
So maybe love isn't a losing game if we play it differently.