THE POTENTIAL FOR REALIZED LOVE TO CHANGE A LIFE
Most often romantic love changes the lover for the good. Debunkers of love focus on the lover’s idealization of the beloved and subsequent disillusionment, and elaborate on the dailiness of life together. However, not all love ends in disillusionment with the beloved. Some change the lover for better or worse.
Love allows the lover to feel more attractive. Love confer beauty where it “objectively” does not exist, because the lover and the beloved are enabled through the power of love to believe in that beauty.
One principal way in which love can change a life appears in the changes in the lover’s sense of self. Love evokes in us something positive; a sense of goodness, restoration, harmony and mutuality. The worth of each, previously buried or unrealized, is allowed to surface because of the way in which each lover sees the other as their best self. The lover feels expanded, conscious of new powers and a newfound goodness within. The lover attempts to be their best self, not in the sense of putting the best foot forward, as they might in courtship, but in a deeper sense of rising to the occasion. The beloved sees the good in the lover, of which the lover was only dimly aware. Often what allows us to fall in love is the lovely picture of ourselves reflected in the lover’s eyes. That picture enables us to love ourselves and hence to love another. We often become more lovable as a result of being loved. The new self is richer and fuller.
Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” illustrates this process. La Traviata means the fallen woman or the woman led astray.
Violetta is a courtesan in Paris in the 1850’s. Like many poor women she has adopted this life of being a consort to wealthy men to support herself. She takes no one too seriously. She lives for pleasure and the moment. Alfredo falls in love with Violetta when he sees her, proclaims his love for her and wants to take her away with him. His proposal changes Violetta.
She has been reconciled to a life of sterile pleasure going from one wealthy man to another. Alfredo’s proposal of true love shakes her. She fears if she responds to him she could be vulnerable and get hurt. Yet, the more she thinks about Alfredo and his proposal, the more excited she becomes. She is aware that this proposal of true love has kindled a flame in her unlike anything that has been awakened before. Alfredo’s love for her has made her feel safe to love him in return. Alfredo has awakened Violetta’s long dormant capacity to love. She is able to be her best self because of the loving image she sees of herself in Alfredo’s eyes. She muses that Alfredo may be the man she has always dreamed of when she was alone and ill with fever and now she may have found the man she has always longed for. Her life is beginning to change.
Changes like this in the capacity to love, whether or not love endures, is one of love’s greatest gifts. We may seek love because we intuit this. On the other hand, some passionate love affairs are destructive. The lover not only suffers but may also undergo a loss of self-esteem and a withdrawal from the world. Sometimes these negative changes are temporary, but sometimes they last.
The question of how love changes a life is important. One way that love changes a life is that the beloved’s approval offers a kind of redemption for the lover. Violetta, for example, feels less ashamed about her past life because Alfredo is so accepting. His acceptance gives her a kind of peace and self-confidence comparable to what one feels when one achieves religious certainty. The change in her mood now reflects a newfound generosity and a sense of herself as a better person. This change allows her to feel more engaged with the world. Violetta may doubt whether she is worthy of Alfredo’s love, but she no longer doubts her fundamental goodness and her abilities.