Sad love: beyond the fairy tale

What is love?

Meet ‘philosophy’s crazy ex-girlfriend,’ Professor Carrie Jenkins, at this year’s annual joint event between the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Institute of Philosophy, as we explore the age-old question: what is love really?

Join Professor Carrie Jenkins as we explore why the pursuit of a “happy ever after” isn’t all it seems to be and why we should give sadness – and other ‘negative’ emotions – a second look. As we attempt to understand what love really is, we will ask questions like: what makes a meaningful love story, and how do people, our environment, communities, and our culture influence our understanding of love?

Professor Jenkins will encourage us to see love through the lens of eudaimonia – a love that is collaborative, creative, and dynamic, oriented towards meaning, giving room to the full spectrum of human experience and emotion.


This transcript has been automatically generated so may feature errors.


Good evening, everybody. Thank you all very much for coming. I’m Edward Harcourt. I’m the academic director of The Royal Institute of Philosophy. And I’m here to bid you a warm welcome to this year’s Royal Institute of Philosophy, Edinburgh lecture, which is brought to you by the Royal Institute, in enthusiastic collaboration with the Royal Society of Edinburgh. And let me begin by saying how grateful I am to the Royal Society for the helpful and approachable and can do attitude that they’ve displayed throughout the year. You’re great people to work with thanks to the whole team. And so now, a few housekeeping remarks before we begin, first of all, the session is being live streamed. And secondly, and I’m kind of hoping that at this point, the slide is going to change. But thank goodness for that, because there’s a little bit to remember, no fire drills are scheduled. So in the very unlikely event that the fire alarm goes off, it’s the real thing. Keep calm, fall out of that door, all the way to the entrance by which you came in, turn right on George Street and assemble outside the dome. And that’s all I have to say by way of housekeeping. So now, on to the good bit. It’s a great pleasure to have with us this evening. Our speaker, Professor Carrie Jenkins. Carrie is Canada Research Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia. She has held visiting positions among other places at St. Andrews, the Australian National University and the University of Michigan. She has wide-ranging perhaps unusually wide-ranging philosophical interest, which range from a 2008 monograph, grounding concepts and empirical basis for arithmetical knowledge to sad love, romance and the search for meaning which came out last year. And her latest work of philosophy, non-monogamy and happiness is literally hot off the press came out in November 2023. Notwithstanding her many academic distinctions, she describes herself on her website as philosophies crazy ex girlfriend, perhaps because she’s recently branched out into fiction. And her novel, ‘Victoria Sees It’ was published by Penguin, Random House, and shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. I could go on and on. But you’re not here to listen to me. You’re here to listen to Carrie. So let’s give her a very warm welcome.


Thank you so very much, Edward, for those kind opening remarks. And thank you all for being here. I’m incredibly honoured and slightly jet lagged right now. So I wanted to start by talking a little bit about this guy. This is Bertrand Russell. He, like me had unusually wide ranging philosophical interests. They spend, like mine mathematical logic and the philosophy of romance and relationships. So what I wanted to talk about in connection with him right now, is something that happened to him in 1940 when he was living in the States, and he needed to make a bit of money. And so he applied to a teaching position at the City College of New York. By this time in his career, he was a renowned academic, not only a philosopher, a very well known mathematical logician, but he was also a very well known public intellectual. So the college thought they were in with a slam dunk, hiring him. But there was a big public outcry about his appointment, and there were protests and in the end, his his job was denied. There was actually a legal ruling that he was morally unfit to teach at the college. Now, to be fair, Bertie, was not one to shy away from controversy on pretty much every subject. He was a pacifist and more time he was advocating for the rights of queer people when it was extremely, extremely unusual to do so. He was also busy going around advocating for and openly himself participating in non monogamous romantic relationships. Again, a bit like me, we also share the same College in Cambridge, we’re both from Trinity College, Cambridge, it’s a little weird when you say, This guy is sort of following Bertrand Russell’s life around. But he’s, he’s also not like me in quite a lot of ways. And maybe we’ll come back to some of those later. Anyway, his critique of traditional relationship norms and rules, was considered deeply inconsistent with American core values at the time in 1940. And so he was not allowed near people’s kids at college. And not that they would have been children. But the same kind of public outcry, whenever someone’s involved in education seems to arise. And so I wanted to ask this question that was 1940. This is now 2023. Has the dial moved much? How are public reactions to somebody doing this kind of thing changing? How are they not changing over time. I’ll give a bit of a content warning for the next slide, which is about my experience of trying to discuss philosophically and personally, my experiences with and my thoughts about romantic relationships, including some that are non-conventional. So here’s a charming commentator from one of my YouTube videos, describing me in some really, really hate filled ways and some quite violent ways. But the headline news here, what I really wanted to call attention to pop in the fact that this person doesn’t seem to know what end of story means. Apart from that, what I noticed is, this appeal to American values is still really prominent in the subjection to what I’m saying about promoting polyamory, having more than one romantic partner, talking about talking openly about challenges to the conventional wisdom, that tells you there’s only one right way to to love. So that that conflict, apparent conflict with American values is still there. But what I’m really interested in doing with stuff like this, this was not the only piece of feedback of this nature that I received. When I started talking about this stuff in 2017, which is when my book, ‘What love is, and what it could be’ came out. What I think shows us is not just that it’s it’s rough being on the internet, but it shows us something under the hood. And I really want to kind of use this little bit of time with you to help lift the hood a little and show some of the mechanisms that work behind the scenes when we get into this kind of comments on romantic love and the norms around it. Why this bothers people so much, right? Why does it bother people so much to say there could be other ways to do romance to do love? Maybe it’s not all happy ever after prince and princess. Maybe there’s other life stories that are good life stories that really bothers people. And so I’m going to be talking about what what the connection is, as I see it with some of these these references to America. Second Amendment rights particularly terrifying, that’s the right to carry firearms in case anyone was wondering what what he’s up to there. This article that the person is referring to at the beginning here. This article I have multiple loves at the website. It’s actually a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And it was a an interview that I did with brilliant journalist and economist. And it came out it was it was actually made the cover story of the Chronicle. And so this photo was on the cover. Not the best photo of me ever, not the most flattering image but now it’s okay. And these people are my then husband and my then boyfriend. And in the article I talked about a little bit about my work a little bit about my life. And it was published with this headline and can carry Jenkins make polyamory respectable? So polyamory is a word for openly, consensually engaging in more than one loving, romantic relationship at the same time. And this this headline, there’s so many things going on here. And I’ll just comment on a couple of them. Firstly, it’s a reminder that it currently isn’t right. It’s not respectable now, so maybe I can make it respectable. But the other thing that I wanted to call attention to is whether that’s really the struggle is that is respectability. What I’m even asking for I, I did not write that headline. I doubt even that Maura Weigel wrote that headline, typically journalists don’t get to write their own headlines. I was advocating for respect, but respectable is a really strange double-edged word. And the other thing I would say about this is, you know, a general rule of journalism is if the headline is a question, the answer’s no. Because if the answer was yes, they would have just said the thing. And if they can’t say the thing, they’ll ask the question. And so of course, I can’t I can’t make polyamory respectable I, no one person can do something like that. This is something that goes much deeper than what I or anyone else has to say, on the matter individually. But it can be done. If we want to do something like that, again, I’m not sure that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. But the norms around romantic relationships can and do change. In my lifetime. I’ve seen radical dramatic change around attitudes to queer relationships, for example. And I, I continue to do what I do, which is to talk about romantic love, in ways that some people find challenging and surprising, despite getting this kind of feedback, because I think it’s meaningful, because I think it matters. And because I think change is possible. And because I think there’s so much more that hangs on this question of how to love than meets the eye. And that brings us back to why it bothers people so much, when you challenge the norms of love.


I was invited to go on a podcast called the Grey Area, run by Vox. And this was quite recently after the publication of ‘Sad love’. And in ‘Sad love’, is one of my more recent books, I talked about my experience, when I started to get those hateful messages, lots of hate mail in my inbox, lots of quite threatening scary stuff. I went into a bit of a depression I was I was struggling with my mental health for a while. I was I was sad. I was sad a lot of the time, I was kind of angry sometimes but mostly sad. And, and I being a philosopher of love. At that time, I’ve been thinking about love for quite a while it’s hard to switch that off. So I was still thinking thinking thinking: well love, so many messages tell us it’s supposed to be the happy ever after. Happily ever after is the success condition for a romantic relationship. If you want to ask if someone’s relationship is going well, you ask, are you happy with that person? Or this person makes you happy? So I wasn’t happy. So I started worrying, does this mean I’m unlovable? Or does it mean that I’m unloving, because love is about happiness? So I started mining that question and sad love emerged. And I’ll talk more about what it ended up saying as we go along, but got invited on to Vox to the Grey Area podcast to talk about it. And and Sean Illing, the host, said something that I really appreciated. And, and so I wanted to kind of bring that to you. So he said, I think this is what makes your critique of romantic love so much deeper than it might appear. It’s really a critique of our whole political and economic paradigm and how that has shaped our inner lives to the point that it has touched and coloured our understanding of love. And I said, thanks, thanks for noticing. That’s that is actually what I’m trying to do. And so what I’m when he says that he’s talking about the way that I tried to dismantle in that book, I tried to dismantle the romantic idea or I might say ideology of happy ever after. Happy ever after is it suddenly it’s only part of the picture. There’s actually an entire bundle of ideas about romance, and how to live a good life full of love and happiness that are tied up to that idea. Okay, so I’m going to start today’s more substantive talk by started by outlining sketching that received wisdom. And then we’ll try to dive back under the hood again, see what’s going on there. So received wisdom. Again, another word for this could be an ideology. A good life is one full of love and happiness. A bad life is one with neither of those things. The best things in life i.e., love and happiness, are free. Don’t have to pay for them. No money involved. Anyone can succeed in life. No, yeah, that’s to live a good life, you should pursue love and happiness, instead of pursuing crass things like wealth, power, or fame. And, you know, so far, so innocuous sounding maybe, yeah. And then there’s this fourth one, not so often said out loud, but still really important. Romantic love is the most important kind of love, it leads to your happily ever after it will define the shape of your good life. How do we know romantic love is the most important kind of love? Well, when someone gives you a plus one to bring along a person, they expect you to bring a romantic partner. We kind of expect by default that romantic partners will take precedence over family over friendships and other kinds of connections. And we kind of assume, although we we shouldn’t we must stop doing this, that people who don’t have a romantic relationship are looking for one. And they would like to have one if they only could, and there is something missing from their lives. Actually, one difference between me and Bertrand Russell is that he was very much signed up for that opinion. I’m very, very much not signed up for that opinion. But let’s go back to the first three for a second, what I want to call attention to is that love and happiness are being cast in these kind of twin roles as definitive of the good life, it’s almost like they’re being conflated into being the same thing. And so I think it’s not a coincidence that we tend to end fairy tale romantic stories with and they lived happily ever after happiness is achieved through following the romantic script. The romantic script, incidentally, is something that we most of us learn very early in life. And a very early form of it is actually taught to kids in the playground, when we tell them to how to do this little rhyme, you know, so and so and so and so sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. That is a life script. And once it’s internalised, which happens doesn’t say at a very young age, typically before all of our BS detectors are fully online, it’s in there. And we are living with that idea of how to live for the rest of our lives, even if we challenge it later. Right? Even if we become aware later, that there might be other ways to live. Meanwhile, sadness in love is depicted in all over popular culture and, you know, high literature as this kind of tragic failure condition, right? It’s explosive. It’s intense. It’s overwhelming. It’s deadly. Sad Love is Romeo and Juliet Sad Love is Wuthering Heights, La Traviata. Anna Karenina, right. It’s going to kill you. So, so romantic love comes in two flavours. Best thing ever. happy ever after or your, your worst nightmare, an absolute tragic disaster. Okay, so these are the ideas that we’re all swimming in every day, all the time. What is going on? With these under the hood? What are they doing? How are they directing our lives? They are they become ideals. And the thing about ideals is that even if we know, they’re not realistic, of course, we know happily ever after. Not realistic, everybody knows that they are still powerful, because they are still a measure a standard against which we can measure ourselves. So when I say that we live in the standard in the shadow of the romantic ideal. What I’m saying is that there is this standard of happy ever after that we are all failing to meet. Everyone is failing to meet it. And that doesn’t mean that we drop the standard, right? It just means that we judge ourselves. And that’s, I think, a problem.


But there’s more to this as well. We are going to keep digging. There’s more to this even than that. And I like to use a metaphor here of a bowling alley. So if you imagine yourself standing at one end of the bowling alley with your ball in your hand, and you can see the pins at the far end, there are two gutters on either side, that will stop your ball from rolling off too far one way or the other. And actually, in the ideal version of this picture, they’d be filled in with those, those inflatable bumper things that people like me need when they’re falling, because I’m rubbish, they would have those bumpers in there to make sure your ball ends up going back down in this direction. So what I use this analogy for is to say, well, we get told that you mustn’t have more than one romantic partner, that’s too many. You must have less than one romantic partner. That’s not enough. You must have exactly one romantic partner. And you must follow that trajectory of life to the conclusion, which is the nuclear family. Right? Yeah, go the last step of the rhyme, which is then comes baby and a baby carriage. So how does this how did these bumpers work? How do they keep us kind of headed back over here? Well, we tell each other that this is the only way to be happy. This is happy ever after. And over here. Non-monogamy will make you miserable. I know someone who tried that they were very unhappy. This person over here, oh, spinster, that sounds like a terrible thing to be like, we don’t have happy spinsters in literature. Right. We have Miss Havisham, and Miss Gulch and Lily Bart, and Sister Carrie, we don’t have stories of how great it can be to live with zero romantic partners. We don’t have many stories of how great it can be to live with two romantic partners either. We just have lots of fairy tales, and they all have the same configuration. So what’s happening is that we’re raising a spectre of unhappiness as a way to police non-monogamy and police singlehood. Living without a romantic partner. It’s a tactic to keep us all on the same path towards the same destination. Which is the nuclear family. Okay, I have to warn you about the next slide, which is really scary.


The nuclear family. The nuclear family is a structure and a society organised into nuclear families is a society that is amenable to capitalism. And it is one that conservatives with both large and small fees are fond of. Good old Margaret Thatcher did not believe in society. But she did believe in individuals and she did believe in families. Under capitalism, an individual is a consumer. And nuclear family is a slightly larger consuming unit. Still a slightly larger individual bound with the metaphorical or sometimes literal white picket fence. That unit is not necessarily a threat to the social order that folks like Maggie would like to see. Right? A community could be a threat to social support network could be a threat, a labour union could be a threat, a nuclear family is not a threat. So it is conservative policy, both in the UK both and in the US and in Canada, where I live now to keep traditional family values the way they are. And this is part of why critiquing them is challenging on a much bigger level than just talking about somebody’s private life. This is an area where the person is definitely a personal is definitely very, very political, as well. So how does this policing work? Right? Why does raising the spectre of becoming unhapp keep us on the straight and narrow? It works because when it comes down to it, we’re scared of being sad. We’re scared of the so-called negative emotions, like sadness or anger. Like fear. We’re afraid of fear itself. And this is this is this too is something I want to question. When I went into my period of depression, when I was experiencing a lot of sadness, I started to ask questions like well, is this really you know, the worst thing in life sadness? It wasn’t the operatic tragedy. It wasn’t disaster. It wasn’t explosive or technicolour or sadness. It was black and white grayscale, day to day rough sadness. But the reason it was happening was because of the work I was doing. And the work I was doing was really meaningful to me. So I asked myself, should I just stop doing this work? Probably be a bit happier, bit less sad. And I said, No, because the work is meaningful. My sadness is not the end of the world, if it enables me, if it’s part of doing this thing that I want to do. Asking a bundle of questions around that, I started asking, you know, what does what does happiness really have to do with love anyway? Am I Am I now incapable of doing love, right? Because I’m sad. And, and then I started going back over that received wisdom that put love and happiness in these twin roles. As you know, the two great positive emotions, the things that we’re supposed to aim for in in life. And I started wondering, is love even a positive emotion at all, a lot of psychologists sort of start out by assuming that it is an emotion and a positive one at that. Some philosophers do as well, although philosophers have more range of opinions on that question. But the the received wisdom that makes love and happiness, more or less the same thing? Certainly seems to be positioning it as something positive and something emotional, something we feel. And I wanted to ask well doesn’t love, couldn’t love be something that makes room for the full range of human emotions? Including sadness, including fear and anger? Does it? Why do we have to be happy in order to be loving? Well, and I kept asking questions, philosopher, we do this. And I’ve got to this one. Is happiness, such a great life goal in the first place? It sounds so innocuous, right? The Pursuit of Happiness, go after your happiness Chase, you’re happy? Of course, we say those things. And we mean, well, but are we really giving each other such great advice when we do that, and this was where I ended up digging really deep into the connection with American values. Because the pursuit of happiness is something that’s really baked into the Americself-evidentan self-conception, right? We hold these truths to be self evident, so obvious, you don’t need an argument for self evident truths. All men are created equal. They kind of do mean man at that time as well. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. And that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s right up there with life and liberty, and you know how much Americans love liberty. So it’s pretty big, big deal. Now, I’m not the first person to notice this. So here’s another. Here’s another person who noticed it back in 1946, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, and a therapist, also a concentration camp survivor. And he said to the European, it is characteristic of the American culture, that again, and again, one is commanded and ordered to be happy. But happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. And that last part, is really interesting. Happiness cannot be pursued, doesn’t work away. In 1946, Frankel might have been right that most Europeans would find it very surprising and very American. But the more that American culture has dominated the world, the more this has kind of become everybody’s problem. And you know, of course, the chumminess of Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 80s is part of the story of how we get from here to there, or from there to here. But that idea that happiness cannot be pursued, is one that philosophers have been thinking about for a little while. So a tiny bit of background on that. So here’s John Stuart Mill, in 1873. He actually wrote about this in his autobiography, so he says, while he’s reflecting on his own life, and he said, he said, those only are happy, who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness, on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, follow not as a means, but as itself an ideal end, aiming thus at something else, they find happiness, by the way, which is basically what Frank was saying, happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue. There are a couple of other statements of this – Sedgwick at around the same time as Mill and then, more recently, some empirical research by psychologists that seems to confirm the same thing that people who went around valuing happiness who said they were trying to be happy, were actually more likely to be less happy. So that’s what the lower hedonic balance means not as happy, less psychological well-being, and it made them less satisfied with their lives. And they experienced higher levels of depression symptoms, people valuing happiness more. So, if that’s right, right, there’s a bit of a paradox. If we try to pursue happiness, it makes us not very happy, then you might think, Well, okay, so the solution is don’t pursue happiness, which is all well and good until we start trying to look for an alternative positive understanding of a good life, what else could a good life be? That’s where things get tricky. On route to it, we’re going to have to encounter another problem with overvaluing happiness and excluding the value or wisdom in the negative emotions, which is what’s coming now to be known as toxic positivity. Toxic positivity, also known as the good vibes only attitude tells you that it’s wrong to be sad, it’s wrong to be angry, it’s wrong to be afraid that you must live with gratitude, you must exhibit grit. And sometimes even gaslight you and say things like, well, it’s not that bad. Other people have it much worse than you stop complaining. Many, many things are wrong with this, including telling people to stop complaining, when they have good cause to complain, is really a kind of victim blaming. It’s also, again, this lifting the hood a little bit, a very politically conservative thing to do. Because the people complaining are the people who are going to change the way things are. And if you tell people not to complain, I mean, put it this way, you can’t have a revolution with good vibes only. That doesn’t happen.


So again, the way that happiness is valued and exalted, can become toxic, not just to individuals, but also at a larger societal level by stifling complaint by stifling structural and political factors that can lead people to feel bad and not good. And then to, for them to be able to speak up against those factors, those influences. All right. So in the search for an alternative conception of the good life, I again, tried turning back to the history of philosophy, and, in this case, the ancient history of philosophy, because people have been thinking about this for a while, not the first person to notice that there might be value to understanding what a good life could be, in ways that are not just defined by being happy. And Aristotle had a theory. He had a theory, and he used this word eudaimonia, to describe what a good life has, what a good life has lots of and people translate Aristotle’s idea of Eudaimonia as something like well-being or flourishing, which is, you know, so far, so uninformative, but when he gets into the details of his theory, it turns out, it’s actually determined by what species you belong to, has a lot to do with being virtuous. And unfortunately, it’s very difficult to achieve if you’re ugly, because part of Eudaimonia requires you to be attractive to other people in a way that is conducive to reproduction of your species. So let’s not worry too much about Aristotle’s theory. What I did instead was I looked at the word, the word itself, and its etymology, which Aristotle kind of ignores actually. So the word itself is made up of two root words, you which means good, the same kind of use in euphemism or euphoric or eulogy, and daimon, which means a supernatural entity or spirit. Originally, that could be any kind of supernatural being it could be anything from a sort of a demigod down to a personal guardian angel looking after you. But Eudaimonic really means good spirited. And so taking that as inspiration, I, in sad love in my book, sad love, I wanted to kind of get into ideas about what that could mean, in a contemporary setting. So what would it mean to live a good-spirited life or to love in a good spirited way? And so I started thinking about, you know, spirits diamond and potentially metaphorically. So you know, to make something like the spirits of a place or yesterday, somebody could be your fairy godmother, and be a good daimon to you that way. Maybe they help you get together with your partner. And they’re, they’re eudaimonic for your relationship. But it’s much bigger than that. It could be things like zeitgeist, it could be something as grand as global capitalism, that could be good or bad daimon, depending on your opinion of Global Capitalism. It could be something like the climate, in the place where you live, that could be a good or bad daimon, for your self, for your for your life, and certainly for your relationships. We’re going way too fast. So when I think about what it means to live a good spirited life, eudaimonic life or to love in a eudaimonic way, I’m thinking about what these good daimon might be. They could be kind people, the people in the relationship and other people, it takes a village, something that I’ve often said it takes a village to be in love, not only to raise a child, there’s a reason we invite lots of people to wedding ceremonies, they’re supposed to be the community that supports the couple getting married, right? Healthy environments, the influences, the communities, our support networks, those can all be good or bad diamon. Well, I guess the people can be bad diamons. If they’re kind, they’re good ones. And, you know, trying to focus all of our attention on the individual level, like just the people who are going into a relationship is a way of directing our attention away from those broader factors that influence who and how we end up loving. It’s another way of focusing attention on the individuals to the exclusion of society. But living eudemonically and loving eudemonically can also involve being a good diamon to others. And this, to me evokes the idea of belonging whether or not we are in a romantic relationship ourselves, seeing ourselves as belonging, not just to a picket fence family, but to an expansive network of community and care, that looks out beyond just that nuclear unit, and can include the other people around us, the other people that we work with maybe other people in our extended family, other people who might just need our help sometimes other people that we influence, by speaking a certain way, in whatever context or someone can overhear us and get a very clear impression of what we’re thinking by the terminology that we use. So I’m emphasising interconnectedness here, this is very intentional. I think that again, following Viktor Frankl here, we find meaning, and connection and collaboration, and creation. And meaning, according to Frankl is the thing that makes life worth living. It’s not happiness. Remember, I said he worked in he was a survivor of a concentration camp. And he was he worked in psychiatry, he was working while he was in the camp, he was trying to keep his fellow prisoners alive, mentally well enough to stay alive. And when he so when he says it’s not happiness that makes life worth living, it’s meaning. He’s reporting on his direct experiences, they’re in a situation where happiness was off the table, to say what would make the difference between the people who survived and the people who did not survive, and it was whether they had a meaning in their lives. And what that meaning looked like, was something bigger than themselves, a family, a person, a project, something that they knew needed them to continue. So when I think about eudaimonic, love, I’m thinking about the interconnectedness of all of these different factors, the society around us, the attitudes around us, but also the fact that we have agency, we have some kind of control over how we perform love. And this is part of being a good diamon, right? Being a good diamond to other people, to our partners, perhaps to other people we love. And this is where I get into this idea of love crafting, which means just basically co creating our own narratives of love our own love stories. We don’t have to take the off the peg fairy tale. Most of us are not going to be able to do that, anyway, we have a lot of control. We talk as if love is something that you fall into, like it’s a hole in the ground and you’re stepping along happily, when they whoops, in you go, and you have no control over anything that happens in that situation. But the reality is, and I think we’re noticing this more and more, as we notice that, you know, most people are meeting each other on websites where they’ve gone deliberately looking for someone and they have a lot of agency and choice and control over who they meet, and whether they see the person more than once. We actually have a lot of choice, a lot of control when it comes to love. And it’s about doing something rather than about feeling something. I’m not the first person to say this either. Actually, Bell Hooks is one of my major influences in this part of my my theorising. But I want to flag something that’s important here. So when I say it’s not about feeling something, that means it’s not about feeling happy all the time, which is good, because you can be sad and still be in love. But it doesn’t mean that you ignore your feelings.


When I say that there’s value or wisdom in the negative emotions, that can mean that sometimes you you need to listen to them. Actually, I think most of the time, we need to listen to them, pay attention to them. And know that sometimes they’re suggesting that things need to change. So the romantic idea is that love is an ever fixed edmark right looks on tempests and is never shaken will not absolutely will not change under any circumstances. That idea of love is what keeps people in abusive relationships, and ones that they have just outgrown. Whereas love that pays attention to the important information conveyed by negative feelings, that encourages us to examine them and look at where they’re coming from. That is a kind of love that allows for the fact that sometimes you got to go. I love like this is of its nature, always a work in progress and always subject to change. That is a very unromantic thing to say. And I’m okay with that. This is one of the ways that I am really wanting to challenge romantic ideas. There’s also some empirical research about this stuff that suggests it hurts more to think about relationship, a romantic relationship as the way people talk about twin flames or other halves, right, two parts of a puzzle that fit together. If you think about it that way, and then there’s a challenge in your relationship, that’s evidence that you actually aren’t a good fit. If you instead think about relationship as a journey with ups and downs. Thinking about a challenge is just one of those hills, you’d get over together. It doesn’t hurt the relationship as much. And I don’t know exactly how they managed to research this, but I guess somehow they do it. This is this is something that matters just on a day to day life for our own experience, as well as for our bigger, grander philosophical ideas about what love is and what it could be. So yes, very unromantic. But ultimately, I think love. If it’s alive, if it’s a living thing, I think it should grow and it should change. So living a eudaimonic life, then zooming out again from love for the second, I think that includes making room for the negative emotions. It includes sad love, and knowing that sad love is not necessarily a dramatic and tragic failure. This is a lesson that’s actually common from parenthood, but we don’t tend to carry it across to other kinds of loving relationships. Again, empirically, statistically, if you survey parents, especially new parents, first few years of the kid’s life, their happiness levels are not great. They are not great. But if you were to ask them, if they regret their decision to have their children, they typically say absolutely not. And that’s because what they value about that is not their own personal happiness. They don’t want to get up feeling that the hills are alive with the sound of music every morning. It’s much more meaningful than that there’s something deeper and more important that they are doing, even though they’re not experiencing the happiness. making room for negative emotions also includes, again speaking from my experience a bit here, doing meaningful work that is not necessarily a fun time. Not only you know, stuff that can draw some pretty nasty public attention towards you, but to be honest, I’m actually massive introverts and standing in front of large groups of people for extended periods, it’s hard for me, but really meaningful. And I know that this is, this is something that while it’s sad, it’s not necessarily the most fun in the world for me, I’m going to feel good about having done it afterwards. And it includes understanding the wisdom of things like anger, anger is our emotion that typically signals some injustice is being done. Injustice is really important to see when it’s happening. My fellow philosopher, Myisha Cherry does some excellent work on the philosophy of anger, those who are interested. So making room for this, ideas of sad love doesn’t mean you stay in relationships that are making you sad or abusive or damaging to you. But it does mean there are other ways to evaluate relationships and happiness, you can look for support in your meaningful projects, for collaboration for creativity. When I was sad, my partners could have told me to give up the work I was doing, right, go back to doing the philosophy of arithmetic that never made you sad, they could have done that. And it wouldn’t have actually been a very loving thing to do. Because the work that I was doing was meaningful, it was important to me, and their support for me, knowing that it was going to make me sad was how I was able to interpret this as kind of loving support. So that’s the difference. So okay, little, little summary. And then I’ll wrap up. So romantic love. This is what does tell you, you’re locked into abusive relationships, right? It’s passive, it happens to you, you fall in it, you have no choice. It’s static. It’s fated, or it’s forever, typically, both. Again, the soulmate, the other half, you can blame Plato’s Symposium, actually, for some of those ideas of the other half, he started it. The goal of romantic love is to become happy ever after its alignment is it looks inward, if you picture a romantic couple, go do a Google Image Search. They’re looking at each other. They’re together with just each other. And so the configuration that goes with this is the monogamous heteronormative, marriage and nuclear family. So there’s a lot about this, that I want to criticise. And it doesn’t always win me many friends. But the model that I want to promote as a, I guess, more healthy, more viable life goal is eudaimonic love. Eudaimonic love is not defined by happiness. It doesn’t have to involve romance, but it might not ruling it out. But it doesn’t have to. It’s not passive, it’s active. It’s something you choose to do. And you choose to keep doing over time. It’s what philosophers might call agent show your own agency as a person is implicated. And it is not static, it is dynamic, it will change. That’s okay. Its aim has nothing to do with happiness, its aim is meaningful collaboration. That, according to Viktor Frankl, and I agree with him, is what makes life worth living. The the idea of eudaimonic love is that, yes, it might be love between a romantic couple, that can absolutely happen. But it doesn’t direct all of our attention just onto the one other person, it calls our attention to the fact that that relationship happens in a much broader context of diamon, spirits of good and bad kind of all, all scales, from the global patriarchy, to the little voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough for this person. All of those things are interconnected. And this notion of love calls our attention to all of that at once. It’s a bit challenging, hard to think of all of that at once. And the configuration, as I said, doesn’t have to be a couple. It could be it could also be what people sometimes call I don’t actually like this word or throuple – three people in a romantic relationship. But there are other ways a bit coupley could be other forms of non monogamy, right? You really get to choose your own adventure with this. It can be a life that doesn’t have a romantic relationship in it at all because the kinds of eudaimonic love that you enjoy and practice have nothing to do with romance. There are ways to have a eudaimonic life full of eudaimonic love without having a partner and the other thing about It is it’s allowed to end. There is that we got this this lovely poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. And it ends with these lines. After all, my erstwhile Dear My no longer cherished. Need, we say it was not love. Now that love is perished. Right? So romantic love, if it ends, it’s failure, because it was meant to be forever. And if it ends there’s something that was wrong with it, whereas eudaimonic love, it’s allowed to end if when if and when the time comes. It’s not a failure. There needn’t have been anything wrong with it, because it ended. And speaking of things that are allowed to end, this talk is one of them. If you do want to find out more about me, here’s my website. Again, thank you so, so much for coming out tonight for listening. I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say in the q&a. Thank you.


Thank you so much, Carrie. And as you rightly say, it’s time for some questions and answers. So over to you. Please put your hands up if you’ve got a question. Yes, right at the back.


Hi, Carrie. Hello. So that the reaction you outlined at the start seems in a way what you didn’t really talk about very gendered. So I think it has been in your case and has been in like cases like Simone de Beauvoir and people that have advocated for polyamory, not that men don’t get reactions, as we saw from Russell. But it does seem to be gendered. I was wondering, you know, the kind of story you’re telling you about the political challenge inherent in all this feels like it doesn’t really kind of capture that gendered aspect. So I was wondering if you had something to say, like I can think of like, it might just be combining with misogyny or it might be to do with particular ideals around your motherhood and the nuclear family. I just wonder if you could say more about maybe the gendered aspect of that kind of negative reaction.


Thanks so much. You’re, you’re 100%. Right. And it’s, it’s extremely gendered. So somewhere in my first book, I talked about this, what I call this stud versus slut phenomenon. So a non-monogamous man, under the kind of, you know, patriarchal, heteronormative value system that we all live under, is a stud but a woman doing exactly the same thing. And well, there are lots of words for women like that I get called, I’ve been called most of them many times. Is this microphone sounding weird? It’s sounding a little. As long as folks can hear me, that’s okay. But that’s just a kind of microcosm of it. Right? So again, you look under the hood of why is that? And what you get down to is that love for at least 1000s of years has been seen as women’s business. So we can talk about Plato again. Now I’m really glad to get back to him. In the in the symposium. There are several theories of love. One is the one is the soulmates other half theory that goes by in the first half. But then when we get to the really detailed theory, the one that Plato gives to Socrates and was supposed to be like the most developed, let’s say, but probably the right one. He has he Socrates says he learned it from a woman, and that’s a really weird thing that scholars have been writing ever since like, why on earth is a woman given credit for the theory of love that gets the most attention in this dialogue. So, okay, from then on, at least from then on, probably from long before love and some gendered ideas have been going hand in hand, when we think about Valentine’s Day and the pink frilly fripperies that started to show up all over our local card shops. It’s it’s gendered, right, that’s women’s business and rom coms are chick flicks. And so not only are we supposed to think like women are the ones who really care about this, but also they’re kind of the ones who are responsible for it. They’re the ones who are responsible for ensuring that it carries on in good way. Men can kind of do whatever they want. And if they do, they’re there a bit of stud. Women are the ones whose monogamy really gets policed. And you can I mean, you can find lots of different possible explanations for that if you like evolutionary psychology, you’ll get explanations having to do paternity certainty. If you like other other kinds of ways of thinking about it, you can read I think it’s Schopenhauer and says that it’s really unnatural for women to be unfaithful. So they just really shouldn’t really shouldn’t do it. They do it, it’s very, which again, the more recent empirical research suggests that is not in fact the case, there is not a very significant gender difference at all when it comes to preferences for monogamy or non-monogamy, once you abstract away from the social pressures that women feel to say, that they would rather be monogamous. So yeah, I see all of this as coloured by misogyny by patriarchy. And in ways that are that they, they go about as deep as there is to go. So yeah, I appreciate the invitation to say more about it. But the way the way it manifests is very direct, very kind of obvious if you’re a woman saying that stuff. Bertrand Russell was never called any of those kinds of things. Yes. Wait for the mic. Yeah.


Thank you so much stuff was really, really interesting. So I was wondering about meaning and in this context, because meaning is very individual. And when we’re talking about meaning in, in, in a couple relationship, or more than more than a couple, what does that what does that exactly mean? And is it like a shared cause you’re going to be working towards? And if so, like, how do you differentiate that from community causes? Or like other types of love that that has meaning?


On that last point, how do you differentiate it? You probably don’t. So one of my one of my not very hidden agendas, is to dethrone the idea that romantic love is a special different, like a really unique or distinct kind of love. So you’re absolutely right – meaning is is, is I cannot tell you how to live a meaningful life. Because it entirely depends on what you’re going to find meaningful. What I all I can tell you, and this, again, comes from what I’ve learned by reading people much wiser than me talk about it is that it tends to be things that look beyond the self, right? Meaning tends to come from collaboration with others, from creativity, creative acts, and things that are just a bit bigger than making yourself happy. How do you differentiate it from other kinds of community projects? I don’t think they’re, I don’t think there’s a different tool I’m using, I’m intentionally using the word eudaimonic for both a good love and a good life, because I think they’re both structured by the same things, these these meaningful goals is creative acts, whether they are one person’s so so okay to two scenarios, a couple where one person is a great nuclear physicist, and the other one is really keen on their garden. Right? Now, the gardener may not be able to help with the physics and vice versa. But what they can really do is support the other person in their pursuit of that meaningful goal. That scenario number one, scenario number two, they’re both gardeners, and they do the garden together. Both of those could be ways of having eudaimonic love, right? The goals could be shared, or they could be individual. But what matters is are the people who love each other, supporting, collaborating, getting each other towards a goal. Does that answer your question? So many more questions? Oh, yes. That’s how philosophy always works. For


rows back over towards that side of the room.


Thank you. I’m thinking about the pond, how political economical linking to the endorsement of romantic love. The way I interpreted is, people being working age population is just the source of GDP. Right. So if the world really embrace, you know, the commitment and let’s zero climate change, do you think that may give the economic love, you know, the chance to be endorsed by politicians?


You know, if if, yes, possibly, at least it would be a step in a good direction. Because the kind of thing that’s required to embrace a goal like that, seriously, embrace it, like for real, the kind of thing that’s required is a way of seeing value, right. What is the point of life what is what is valuable about humanity as a species  -that is a million miles away from the capitalistic informed ideology where it’s individualistic, it’s about personal gain. It’s about what you can accumulate. There are other ways of seeing the world. Other, you know, entire philosophies, worldviews, where what we do, is evaluated on very different grounds. And those grounds have to do with understanding our connectedness to the entire ecosystem that we live in have to survive within those ways of understanding ourselves, and our actions and our lives are much more conducive to living you demonically. And I think would also be conducive to really thoroughly endorsing the kinds of goals that are ultimately going to be necessary for us to stay alive. So yes, I think so. I think these things are connected, and that that idea of interconnectedness is really the hinge right, understanding that love doesn’t happen in a vacuum is like understanding that our business decisions do not happen in a vacuum, our political leadership doesn’t happen. And it’s all very deeply connected in ways that, yeah, eco ecological ecologist, ecologists are a little better than understanding than politicians.


Okay, so let’s one and then two, please.


I think what you’re saying is marvellous, however. People don’t live in just a bubble. There’s usually other people in the extended family, children. Pressure may come from children, especially with children mixing with other children. And also, dare I say it, there is probably going to be pressure from the mother in law’s how, how they, how they react, how they react with each other, can two mothers and all get on with each other? Very quickly.


But you’re, you’re quite right. And the what’s fascinating is that children can actually be the most socially conservative creatures on the planet. And it’s, it’s fascinating, because it tells you how early the ideology that we see in these, you know, playing out on these grand scales later, how early it gets in there, you know, again, it’s bringing it back to the connection with gender. By the time like, my nephews were three, four years old, they were already very secure about like, this is boy stuff. This is girl stuff. Girls don’t play with these boys do you know, and these ideas are actually they children can have very firm opinions, because they’re just learning the rules for the first time. So they haven’t yet gotten the extra layer of do I think these are good rules bad or they’re just so you often see it. Out of the mouths of babes three of you often see things the most clearly when when when a child says it. Yes, the pressures, the pressures to conform, I suppose that’s what you’re thinking, right? These pressures to conform with our lives and our relationships. So they come from every direction, including sometimes the call is coming from inside the house. Well, we internalise this, and then we judge ourselves for acting differently. But yes, mothers in law, every kind of extended family member. You know, when I when I started being honest about being in non monogamous relationships, I lost some connections with family and it was very sad. I lost friends. And it was, it was because I was fortunate enough to be in a position to say, I’m doing it anyway. But I was able to do it anyway. But not everybody is and it’s really important to acknowledge that too. And, you know, I’m not sort of I never want it to be part of anyone’s take away from me talking about my what I do that they should do something. Because what people should do depends on so many other factors, including all of those pressures. A lot of people are scared the if they say they’re non monogamous, their kids will be taken away. They’re scared that they’ll lose their jobs if people know, right, this is this is real stuff. And it very much depends where you are located in the world. So I I live in I now live in Vancouver, which is relatively, you know, on a global scale, a very liberal city. And I’m a tenured professor. So my job is relatively secure and relatively secure. So I have I have a position, which is honestly what I’m talking about there is I’m talking about privilege, I have the kinds of privilege that enabled me to go and do these things and talk about it. And so did Bertrand Russell is a member of the aristocracy, he had other kinds of privilege going for him as well. And enables us to go around and do these things and say these things, and when those pressures come in to resist them to a certain extent, but it’s Yeah, it is not. It is not that way for everybody. And some people, if you are living with your mother in law, and she is paying all your bills and feeding you, you can’t afford to lose her good opinion. And that’s the way it is.


Okay, in the front row.


Thank you. I’ve absolutely loved it this evening. I could just be here all evening. Thank you so much. I’m fascinated by the etymology. And I took a photo of it. So I’m not remembering it on my phone here. And I’m fascinated in an international context. Because I’m wondering, just speculating whether supernatural entity or spirit and good spirited will mean totally different things in different cultural contexts. Different countries, different parts of countries, linguistically different. Just, historically, culturally, philosophically, and I’d love to just revel in all of that. And I wondered how much you’ve explored that and how much you’d love to explore that more.


I so I have only just recently started. But I am completely fascinated by what I know what little I know so far, to learn more about the indigenous worldviews of the colonial lands that I live on now in. So I live on territory that is stolen from indigenous peoples, in what’s colloquially known as Vancouver. So it’s the e xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) people. And all around what we call British Columbia, there is a fascinating, diverse, but in some respects, unified group of worldviews. And I’m only recently starting to learn and understand better, which is, I’m ashamed of, because I’ve lived there for 10 years, and I should have started right away. But ideology by being what it is, I wasn’t, I wasn’t aware that they even existed. Actually, my partner Robin helps he, he is teaching me and introducing me to a lot of this kind of knowledge and wisdom. But there’s, there’s ways of seeing the world, especially understandings of what interconnectedness really means, like how very deep that goes, that are built into indigenous worldviews in such a way that they’re that they’re built right into the language, the languages that are spoken, so that it’s so obvious. And it’s not something you have to kind of work your way slowly and gradually back to with a series of complicated arguments. You just start there, it’s baseline. So so for me to say something like, you know, living and loving in a good spirited way is very important would be well duh. And there are and so this is just one example, of course, but the what you’re saying is absolutely right, that this talk of supernatural entities is going to be interpreted very differently. In some ways, I think that’s a feature rather than a bug. Because I kind of want it to be interpretable in very different ways. Like I also want this to be available to someone who has no metaphysical belief in supernatural entities, right? So you can read it all as metaphors and say, like, when we talk about the office climate, we don’t mean it’s literally raining. We mean that the people are a bit chilly, you know, metaphorically. Or when we talk about a fairy godmother, we’re not really talking about wings in a tutu were just saying that they do nice things. So they’re good-spirited, in a sense that you can you can have a thoroughly scientific and materialistic worldview and still understand it that way as well. So yes, I think these kinds of differences in how to interpret and understand Eudaimonia are I think, as long as they lead to the same results, all well and good. So I and you know, again, I, I would have to be I would have to have an encyclopaedic knowledge that I am not close to having to anticipate where that could go wrong. We’re interpretations of this could take you in a different direction. There probably are some but I don’t know of any. Yeah. Yeah, thanks.


Yes, towards the back.


Thanks very much. Thank you for a fantastic lecture. Really enjoy that. And challenging social norms and expectations comes with a certain level of discomfort when people are exposed to it. And I was wondering if you in your work found a way of mitigating that discomfort and kind of so people could understand that this is normal, this is perfectly acceptable to feel that way. And how, yeah. Are there any other ways to mitigate that to make to make people feel that, you know, this is a natural way of progress?


It’s what’s interesting. It’s not exactly mitigating. But maybe, maybe it comes with some mitigating consequences. When, again, like, statistical empirical research into what makes people change their minds on something like this. It’s not usually abstract theoretical argumentation, it’s not even statistics, it’s usually stories. And usually stories about someone they know, or someone who’s liked people they know. So it’s why I talk about myself, actually, I guess it’s partly mitigating some of the discomfort because someone can see me like this sort of boring, middle aged Professor type woman, and think, oh, but she looks so boring and normal. And even she has done something like this. And that’s, you know, it’s one way in. The the other kind of thing that really works is, you know, when people come across these, I mean, this is very much actually, I think, the way that attitudes to queer relationships have changed over the, I guess, 20 or so years, since, when I was, I was a teenager in the 90s. And I could have absolutely never imagined being able to say, Yes, I’m bi it’s no big deal in front of like a large group of people. And now I do it often, that’s fine. And the idea that I that same-sex marriage would be a reality, by the time I was in my mid 40s, was just mind-blowing. And the way that change has happened, I think, is very largely through people knowing that they know people who are not straight. Before they knew people who were not straight, they just didn’t know that they knew. And I think this is just sort of it’s happening a little bit with, with other kinds of challenges to the romantic ideal norms. It’s, it’s not always the, it’s not always a straight progression. And sometimes, unfortunately, one thing that happened in the advancement of queer rights was that non-monogamy got thrown under the bus a little bit by queer people trying to say we just like you straight people, because we’re also monogamous. And we will also like to get monogamously married and be respectable. And so this is part of why I say respectability is a kind of double edged word, because it’s always going to be drawing a line between the ins and the outs, right? Someone’s going to be that not respectable crowd left over. And unfortunately, for like, the last 20 or so years, the non monogamous people were kind of that crowd. So what’s starting to happen more now. And I like, since I started talking about this, I’ve seen it shifting, because of, you know, a lot a lot of us are starting to have these conversations not having before. And now more people know that they know someone who is not monogamous. Whereas before they, they knew them, but they didn’t know that they were non-monogamous. And so that’s kind of really the best kind of mitigating, or the best way of alleviating the discomfort, I think, that I know of is to find out that it’s, it’s just real boring people that do it. And you can sort of, you know, once you know, it’s more about who’s going to pick the kids up and collect the laundry and do the, you know, walk the dog and less about like wild orgies every Thursday night. It makes a lot more sense. And I say that, you know, with with a passing comment, which I’ll add that i The other thing that can then tend to happen is that then the people who are having wild orgies every Thursday night are the ones being thrown under the bus, because there’s also a way of being negative about that kind of lifestyle, which honestly, as long as you’re not doing anyone any harm is also totally fine. So there’s, there’s, this is what I mean by saying like respectability. It’s a difficult it’s a difficult word under which to navigate these conversations. But a slightly rambley answer. The short version is, it’s about knowing people, it’s knowing people’s stories. That’s what mitigates the discomfort, I think.


Okay, I can see two hands. So let’s start over on that side of the room, please. Nice,


thank you. So eudiamonic goals are something that we could go after as individuals or in couples or throuples or however we want to achieve that. But presumably, that is facilitated by living in a eudaimonic supporting society. But the the thing that mitigates against that is the society being one that pushes the constraints of resources and the constraints of power and that belonging in places. And the rise of right wing fascist governments is something that is  is preventing people living eudaimonic lines. And we can see that Eudaimonia is something that is processed and reasoned, and perhaps fears is something that’s very often not processed and not reasoned. And that’s why it’s quite easy to weep, I could scream, I could jump, I could shout fire, and everybody would respond to that, not in a reasoned way, but in a in a very quick way. So how do we develop societally in a way that allows a eudaimonic response to somebody who’s trying to do a, an instinctive to give to give you an instinctive feeling that actually there are constraints that are limits, you have to you have to worry, you have to get your own piece of this, which is, you know, anti eudaimonic.


We’ve enjoyed your time. So I’d like to get that you’re sure. You can ask your question, if you keep it quick. And we can have.


I’ll try to get to him. Yeah.


It’s somewhat related. I’m sorry, I can’t see you. Hi. And my thoughts around all of these is in a similar line of being like, at some point during your research, and you’re reading and you’re formulating these questions and answers. And obviously, you were also talking about how romantic love as we understand it nowadays is very tied to the system that we live in the patriarchy, patriarchy, heteronormative, etc. Do you at some point, ask yourself, if there’s a more natural like, you know, like, biologically natural way that we would act if we weren’t subjected to these, and especially when you were speaking about indigenous peoples around the world, we know that their sense of interconnectedness with the ecosystem and the land, and the animals and so on, would seem to suggest that naturally left in our natural devices, we might be more, we would tend more to that as opposed to and or you just do not go there at all. Which is also understandable. Yeah.


You could try and try and address both. Unfortunately, we better make that the last. Absolutely.


Yeah, I think I think I can synthesise the two answers that I would give into something along the lines of well, yes, the constraints that we live under are absolutely, they are either good or bad, positive or negative influences good or bad diamons. You know, if you are living in the US, Donald Trump has come along and just been this incredibly bad. And now everything is is affected by that. And it does limit what we can do. How can we change that? I mean, not one of us cannot do it individually. But everything is connected. So anything that we do has an effect, and things that we all are doing individually eventually add up. So that that is how that the only way that can possibly work. Whether we’re what I say about things like the state of nature, or what comes naturally to humans, is that what’s natural to us is diversity of approach. So what is natural to the species? What is exceptional, remarkable unusual about humans is they try all kinds of different strategies when they face a problem. They’ll try all different strategies, right? And things like how to live how to live in a social group, how to raise children, those are problems, and they will try different strategies for solving those problems. And so I’m hesitant to say any one of the solutions is natural, because I think really, it’s in our nature to keep trying as many different strategies as possible. Hope that answered both.


Thank you very much. Yes. Thank you for patiently answering so many questions. And apologies to those of you who had questions and but sadly were timed out. But thank you, Carrie, above all for a really fascinating evenings lecture. Thank you so much for your great questions. By the way.

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