The aim of the book is to "provide answers to these [i.e. asked in the Preface, e.g. "[w]hy do we fall in love with people who aren't good for us"] and many other questions" (p. xi). Its author intends to defend "a new theory of love" (11). On her view, love is an emotion, either rational or irrational, either conscious or unconscious, subject to modifications and admitting of degrees. Last not least, "love too is something we can choose: we can take measures to fall out of love" (11).
Brogaard starts with presenting a story of a devastating love. Brogaard's friend experienced for years a dangerous and poisonous liaison, crazy love, intermingled with years of heartache, depression, self-deception, resentment and anger. For Brogaard this is typical of "most cases of love" which consist in being "an in-between case" (7). Brogaard suggests that they should be considered as cases of love nonetheless and, therefore, a theory of love should be as inclusive as to comprehend them.
In Chapter 2 Brogaard speaks mainly about brain chemistry. In love it plays a role similar to the one occurring in cocaine use. For example, over time, drugs desensitize the brain to the drug and the same happens in the case of love. This is why, new love can have so powerful an effect as to be a dangerous state of mind. The important thing is that brain chemistry - especially dopamine by itself - determines not only passions but also beliefs. Yet, on the other hand, brain chemistry is determined by the way the love is experienced, for instance, "[w]hen your passion is unrequited or when you are away from your new love, your serotonin levels drop" (18). The difference between drug addiction and love is, however, that while the former depends on drug's presence, the latter can remain strong even if the beloved person is absent, for love can still "hang onto the past" (22). Moreover, a breakup is painful much in the sense of erasing the future plans and expectations typically included in love, now left with "too many empty spaces to fill with experiences less wonderful than those you had hoped for" (20). Brogaard considers next cases of loss happening when the beloved person dies, and focuses on the question of prolonged and complicated grief. She labels it as an addiction to grief and explains it either by "yearning and sadness giv[ing] [...] some type of pleasure of satisfaction" or by increased dopamine levels (28). This is possible but I would like to hear in this context less about the pathological and more about the personalistic or existentialist explanation. For some people, a long-lasting grief is more about fidelity and exclusiveness of relationship than Brogaard would have us believe.
Chapter 3 is more philosophical in spirit. Love is considered as a "partially conscious state of the mind" (38). Brogaard rejects the view that love is just a drive (H. Fisher's view). Love is an emotion, a complex one. It involves other emotional elements, bodily sensations, cognitive factors, and sexual desire. More importantly, all of them coalesce into a single emotion of which, according to Brogaard, there are two categories: passionate love (romantic love and lust) and compassionate love (compassionate love, attachment love, parental love, friendship love, altruism)[]. Here I must say that as such, this taxonomy looks strange to me because, first, compassionate love doesn't involve sexual desire, and, second, compassionate love cannot include compassionate love (unless there are two senses of it, one as a species or genus and the second as subspecies or species). From then on Brogaard touches upon general issues. She presents and discusses the James - Lange theory, cases of body illusion, and a two-stage view on emotion including physical arousal and a cognitive element. The theory Brogaard defends is what she calls "the perceived-response theory" which states that "love is an experience of your body and mind responding to your beloved's lovable qualities" (69)). This is, again, strange, since Brogaard speaks here about theory of emotion but gives us an example of love instead of a universal emotional pattern. Or are we to understand that this works equally for other emotions too and, e.g. fear is an experience of your body and mind responding to [a] danger's dangerous qualities and so on for other emotions? If so, the idea is not that new, nor is the claim that "[w]hether you can properly be said to have a given emotion will depend on how you appreciate the object of your emotion (for example, as dangerous, lovable, dismaying) and how many of the prototypical properties you feel and how central they are to the prototype" (72) entirely novel. Compare for instance the main assumption of Deonna & Teroni's attitudinal theory (2012) which is that emotion is an attitude towards an object, more precisely a felt bodily stance directed towards the object. Consequently emotions are as distinct as these attitudes can be.
Chapter 4 investigates conditions under which love can be assessed as rational. These are "certain physical attributes or personality traits" (73) provided that the perception of these attributes or traits is not deformed. Brogaard is keen on the contingency of rationality of romantic love. But, nevertheless, even if irrational it is however real. The same stands for other kinds of love. For example compassionate love - "that we deeply admire" (84) - can also be irrational - when for instance heroism is far from being rational - and still it is a real one. Brogaard's claims is that supererogatory acts "are often grounded in irrational feelings" (86). She discusses also the transcendent view of love, i.e. loving others because of the value of their being individuals. But the transcendent view is a moral position (whom we should love) rather than a psychological one (i.e. whom we love). Maybe we should love all individuals but this does not happen too frequently. Moreover, a transcendent view of love erases differences between two persons, one more, another less valuable. It makes all persons lovable, psychopaths and merciless monsters included. As for Brogaard's remark that "[w]e do not love others because of their distinctive personality traits or physical attributes" (88), in a word, because of "their superficial attributes" (89), it is not clear what superficial universally means. It may happen - and often happens - that what is a superficial attribute for one person is an essential one for another (or for the same but at another moment of her life). It would be therefore philosophically useful to determine how this distinction works and what are formal traits of superficiality and what is essential in love. Otherwise, there is - Brogaard rightly observes - an element of luck as regards whom one loves. A conception of love that takes into account the irreplaceability of individuals is that of Kolodny (though it has been foreshadowed earlier e.g. by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium) and in which love is a common history of two persons. Of two possibly indistinguishable, or rather hardly distinguishable, I would say[], individuals, only one is loved because he or she has experienced history together with the person who loves him or her. This, in turn, shows that irreplaceability does not by itself warrant the rationality of love, for a shared history can be composed of bad and devastating experiences for one or even both persons.
In Chapter 5 Brogaard focuses on two opposite, though neither of them accurate, approaches to experiencing attachment and deep relationships. They are both opposite to what "a secure attachment style" provides, i.e. "a healthy proximity to other people" (102). They both stem from lack of adequate relation between child and caregiver, more specifically from "[c]hildhood abandonment, unpredictable parental behavior, unrealistic parent expectations, and physical, verbal, or emotional abuse" (104). All these factors increase the lack of security and when this occurs, an adult's relationships with other people tend to be either of avoidance or overattachment. While the former consists in being compulsively self-reliant and skeptical as to engaging into solid and deep relationships, the latter results in a dependency on relationship as one strives to build and preserve it at all costs. Both approaches are more about past experiences, especially those acquired in the childhood, rather than about the on-going relationship and for this reason both are schematic and paradoxically but predictably do not obtain that what is sought. According to Brogaard, the scheme is "to seek out familiar love, because our reptilian brain can't handle things that are different from what it already knows" (116). The patter is often reinforced by subsequent experiences. Sometimes a radical shift from one extreme to the other occurs. The good news is that it is also possible - especially when one is lucky enough to experience "[l]oyal friendship, healthy relationships, and improvements in interactions with parents" (133) - to change one's insecure attachment style into a more secure one. In my view this is probably the best chapter of the book insofar as it makes the reader aware of his possible style attachment, its origin and, also, possible prospect.
In the next Chapter we are confronted with the question of whether love is conscious or unconscious. Since being conscious means for Brogaard "giving [it] thought" (143), love is conscious or, rather, as Brogaard says, "consciously manifested only episodically" (143). But I wonder if this is right. Few people give thought to, say, any arithmetic equation of which the solution they know. They don't think all the time about it, yet it would be odd to say that they are unconscious or only episodically conscious of it. Furthermore manifested is not necessarily the same as explicitly acknowledged and Brogaard recognizes that "you may have insight into your unconscious thoughts and emotions" (144). Maybe it rather means that they are conscious but in the very moment particular thoughts and emotions lie in the background of their active attention. Next, Brogaard passes on to unconscious affection and then to unconscious affect to end with J. LeDoux's two emotional pathways, one processing too quickly in order to be conscious and another involving conscious awareness. By referring to cases where love proves to be unaware (e.g. Josephine and Napoleon) Brogaard is showing that love is sometimes unconscious (or that some kinds of love episodes are unconscious) rather than that it must always be so. And this is what she claims at the end of the chapter ("love is not always consciously felt", 161). An interesting move would be therefore to examine when and under which conditions love is conscious and when and under which conditions it is unconscious or, alternatively, how the two kinds differ (whereas Brogaard makes the distinction only implicitly by speaking once about loving, once about falling in love).
Chapter 7 deals with the changing nature of love. But again: is Brogaard aiming now at love as a class including several love species (romantic love included) or at some species or kinds of love only? The "can" of "one kind [of love] can turn into a different one" (165) makes the chapter psychological rather than philosophical. For Brogaard love is a gradable rather than an on-off affair (and this is confirmed, she says, by the way the word "love" is used in English; I think this argument is weak since people can use the word in a variety of ways, not to speak about those who misuse it). If love is a matter of degree then it is possible to consider in-between cases of love which can lead (or "frequently lead[s]", 178) to ambivalence. In claiming so Brogaard now identifies love with desire/s. However, the case of a woman in love with two men - not for the same reasons of course - is not a case of ambivalent love, as Brogaard pretends, but it would prove a non-exclusive nature of romantic love (if such thing as two parallel romantic loves is actually possible at all).
This is what is developed in the next Chapter where falling in love with someone else than one's partner, cheating, open relationship and polyamory are discussed. Since all these solutions are related to sex, one might wonder if we are still in the realm of love as conceived in former chapters where sex has been mentioned sporadically. Brogaard says that "[r]omantic love occasionally is directed exclusively toward just one person" (185), but what does that mean? She reports that "up to 60% of all married individuals in the United States will cheat on their spouses at some point during their marriage" (182). This means that still almost 40% will be faithful. Hence "occasionally" is relatively odd here even if these marriages can not be all taken as representative of romantic love. My impression is that apart from people who don't care about exclusivity and understand love in terms of sex (see Descartes, PA, art. 82), seeking an extramarital affair can also turn out to be an attempt at finding a more satisfactorily affective relationship. And I don't see what Brogaard's discussion of casual sex and its defense against the view that "sex is wrong whenever it does not involve love of a kind that fits the act, as well as a certain level of understanding of the relationship between sex and love" (188) has to do with love or with her "new theory of love".
Chapter 9 is about how to cope when abandoned by the person you love. Brogaard recognizes that it is often traumatic but she suggests not to interfere with the partner's decision. She recommends to fall out of love. This is possible though not in a direct manner. In this context Brogaard speaks more generally about controlling emotions (and not only love). It is strange to read about "[t]amed emotions [as] rational emotions" (200) in the context of Nietzsche's philosophy, since he, as it seems to me, didn't use a similar label[]. In falling out of love one can by helped by therapy and emotional regulation. Brogaard provides description of several therapeutic techniques. Many of them pertain to treatment of negative feelings (rather than of love).
The last chapter concerns human happiness considered generally: we read about resolving emotional conflicts, avoiding negative thinking and so on. Only the last section relates to love. Optimistically, Brogaard refers to G. E. Vaillant's study according to which "the ability to be intimate with another person [is] one of the strongest predictors of health and happiness" (231). Yet, intimacy shouldn't be limited to romantic love only: friendship love, compassionate love, parental love, and attachment love are also productive of happiness. Such conclusion Brogaard takes, however, to be too strong and she points to cases of unrequited or abusive love. Therefore, a qualification is needed: rational love leads to happiness, while irrational does not. But what do rational and irrational mean? Brogaard explains irrational as harming and rational as its opposite. But is it not the same as to say that happy love leads to happiness and unhappy one to unhappiness, unless one disagrees that being harmed amounts to unhappiness?
My general impression is that the book is a mixture of common knowledge and scientific data as well as materials drawn from novels, films, personal experiences, news, sociological and psychological facts and references to philosophers as different as e.g. Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. All this is used to construct a narrative which can be hardly, I am afraid, considered as a new theory of love or even a new way to look at love as it is announced by Brogaard. If "a new view of love" amounts to see "love as conscious emotion [...] an experience of a response of the body or mind to something or someone else [which] involves a perception of changes in the body or mind, and a perception of the other" (234), one can ask what in this definition is characteristic of love, since it is true of several emotions too (put any other emotion in the place of love - it will still work). Brogaard adds that "[f]or this sort of perception to count as love as opposed to fear or anger or some other perceptual state, its phenomenology must fit one of the prototypes for love. It must possess a cluster of properties that are stereotypical for sexual desire, romantic love, or compassionate love." (234). This provides a formal distinction between love and other emotions, yet, on the one hand, their phenomenology is not presented, and, on the other, it seems as if there were no common denominator for the whole class of love and only its species were definable. And this is the main weakness of the book: it is supposed to be on romantic love (as in its title), but, as a matter of fact, it aims once at romantic love, once at a new theory of love, once it treats other than romantic kinds of love and so on.
From the very beginning of Chapter 1 I was struck by the similarities with Marcel Proust's novel (quoted only once in the book (203-204) because of the Madeleine episode). And in fact, what I read in the Ch. 2, i.e. "[t]he relationship that made her realize that she was a love addict was with a man she "didn't even like"" (23) reminds me of the very last sentence from "Swann in Love": ""To think that I have wasted years of my life, that I have longed for death, that the greatest love that I have ever known has been for a woman who did not please me, who was not in my style!"" (transl. by C. K. Scott Moncrieff)
Another thing is that Brogaard often goes into side topics, which have either a little or nothing to do with love (examples are: on emotional pain and distress (pp. 29 ff.), on the James - Lange theory, then Mueller-Lyer illusion, then other experiments relevant to illusion (e.g. out-of-body illusion) (pp. 46 ff.), on personal identity (pp. 96-99), on dreams (pp. 158-161), on sex, abuse, rape and other dimensions of sexual experiences (pp. 188-192), on the repetition technique, prolonged exposure therapy and various phobias, on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, on deep relaxation and meditation, and finally, on placement conditioning and the Sinclair method (pp. 206-219)). At times the book is written in a personal way (e.g. one learns the names of Brogaard's cats and why they are called so, p. 139) or a idiosyncratic one (e.g. how many readers can make sense of "[i]magine that you driving down Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis", (204)?).
On the whole, the message of the book seems to be rather negative than positive. Brogaard says that your love should not "decrease your overall happiness or well-being" (74). The reverse, i.e. that love is what occurs for the sake of (increasing) one's happiness or well-being, is not difficult to find. However, later on, Brogaard limits herself to notice that "the constraints on rational love don't tell us anything about when it is irrational not to love someone we don't love" (78) and she says a little about how to recognize formal constraints in order to establish a rational love and a possible ordo amoris (see e.g. M. Scheler, sadly not referred to in the book). Brogaard says more about how to protect oneself against abuse of love than how to built a healthy and lasting relationship. As such, it is a helpful manual to be used in case of being harmed in love. This is why I would recommend the book mainly to people unhappy in love, and those who are about to undergo or who have just experienced relationship breakups more than to philosophers or psychologists looking for category treatment of emotion and love phenomena.
[] As early as in the Preface the reader is given other labels: romantic (or relationship) love, compassionate love (including parental love and friendship love) and companionate love or attachment love (see also p. xii where Brogaard passes directly from the family of emotions to the species of romantic love in view of their being either rational or irrational).
[] I add "or rather hardly distinguishable", because I wonder if two persons can be really irreplaceable in each of their entire bodily, behavioural and mental aspects.
[] E.g. in BGE 117: "The will to overcome an affect is ultimately only the will of another, or of several other, affects." (transl. by H Zimmern)
© 2015 Robert Zaborowski