Loving like a Stoic

Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel. — Jean Racine

The human psyche is an amazing, devastatingly complex thing. Ever since we dropped out of our mother’s womb and into this world, every moment of our life — every single one of them, shapes both our physiology and psychology. Right from when we were toddling, to when as independent adults we are supposed to take life-changing, path-altering decisions. Add the 8 seconds long attention span we have, thanks to the endless stream of notifications and buzzes pervading every living second of our being, to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for an emotional time bomb.

As a result, we are emotionally the most vulnerable today — hiding our fears and insecurities behind our 5-inch mobile screens, finding validation in swipes, likes, hearts, blue ticks; basically anything that shoves instant gratification into our face. In such conditions, being a hopeless, hapless romantic could be stressful. Or in most cases, downright depressing. Trust me. I’ve had first hand experience.

I had started reading Stoic philosophy lately, studying letters of Seneca and writings of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. The Stoic school of thought is very wide in it’s scope and extremely difficult to practice to the word. In a nutshell, it outlines a way of living and thinking, characterized by endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint, and indifference to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Basically, the stark opposite, and comfortingly so, to the kind of life an average millennial lives today.

So, how would a Stoic handle this melting pot of emotional potpourri that we go through everyday?

Love is a one-way street

We tend to fall in love too easily, and too often. And unless the receiving end is an inanimate object, reciprocation of that love is what drives us mad. I’m not talking about just romantic love here, but all kinds of love. At any point, we are involved in a whole bunch of relationships — with our partners, our siblings, our best friends, our not-best-but-still-pretty-good friends, our parents, and so on. In most of these relationships, there is a component of love involved.

The expectation of reciprocation, and with the same amplitude, is one of the main reasons of our distress. So, the Stoic will just get rid of that.

Get rid of the expectation of reciprocation all together. Why? Because nobody’s obligated to love you back. Not one soul. The very realization of this fact relieves you from so many things. You are free to love anyone, everyone. It’s not about you anymore. That feeling is liberating.

Tell someone you love them just so they know. Expecting reciprocation, thus, is not rational.

Life is kind of unfulfilling

Midnight in Paris has been one of my favorite movies of all time. In fact, it’s been my go-to movie whenever I am in emotional distress. If you’ve not watched it yet, I strongly recommend you do.

Another basic tenet of Stoicism has been the acceptance of the fact that life’s not very fulfilling — even if you try to do all the right things, apparently take all the right decisions. You only have control over a very little part of even your own life. So a Stoic would stop trying so hard to write a perfect story. He would rather try to write a fulfilling story instead. Perfection doesn’t guarantee happiness. Fulfillment always does.

Reading Stoicism and trying to follow parts of it has brought a great transformation in my personal life over the past few months. I hope to understand this philosophy in more depth — and I’m excited to see what other changes I can make to my professional life as well.