Skip to main content

The Secret Joy of the Lover

The joys of parents are secret, and so are their grieves and fears;
they cannot utter the one, nor will they utter the other.
--Francis Bacon

Can the lover be truly happy? We know that he can be and that he is. We see it everyday. What is interesting is how that is possible.

Given that the lover can only love and cannot ask to be loved in return; given that to give love is to lose one's self in favor of the beloved; given that to love means placing the beloved first, displacing me and relegating me to the last and the least; given that love entails losing one's will, thereby weakening me and making me powerless; and finally, given that in order to truly love I must set aside my own happiness and aim at the happiness of the beloved--given all of this, how can the lover still remain or become happy?

So whence come the riches that love brings when love means dispossessing the lover of all that he has? How can I relinquish my powers and rights and find harmony with this sort of injustice? How can I be happy by losing my very happiness? At bottom, only this: what kind of happiness does the lover still have?

Let us see.


To set aside some preconceived notions that may block the path to the lover's happiness, we tentatively say that the happiness sought here is not the happiness that we usually take it to mean. The very designation of love easily cancels out many of the usually accepted notions we associate with love's "happiness."

First, the lover's happiness is not restricted to the physical. While I may indeed find pleasure in that beauty or this body, aesthetic happiness is circumscribed along the limited contours of the physical because such pleasure only receives its pleasure from the visual. And when I draw pleasure from the beloved in this way, I easily turn her into an object before me, thereby disqualifying her subjectivity, and easily installing me to the rank of absolute subject. But the beloved is no object and to love is to surrender one's subjectivity and, along with it, one's aesthetic mastery over the beloved. This is why love is invisible: I should not see her (as body, as object) for if I do, I will miss her and thus be unable to love her.

Secondly, the lover's happiness, as is usually said, cannot come wholly from the emotional. While love does give the lover intense "feelings" or emotions (bliss, euphoria, mania), such emotions are hard put in retaining themselves because they easily fluctuate or fade away. We know this already. If the lover's happiness is based solely on what he feels, then his love becomes unpredictable too: today I love because I am happy, tomorrow I hate because I am melancholy.

Such a love is phenomenologically described as self-love or a love within me: what I love are lived experiences of consciousness I have within me and that the beloved by chance brings me. And if what I love are only these lived experiences I have within me (e.g., loving the feeling of falling in love or being loved), I therefore ultimately only love my self, and again miss the supposed beloved.

Hence the difficulty of pinning down love's happiness as it cannot be reduced to physical or emotional pleasure. Blind and numb, from where does the lover's joy come?

Invisible Object of the Happiness

Drawing from the consequences of what was seen above, the lover then by definition, and generally, cannot be happy because of its own experiences as they are ultimately experiences of his self or ego. Thus the lover is forbidden to experience the beloved as an object of happiness in the sense that the corporeal beloved cannot be the cause, source and trigger for the lover's pleasure. But if I cannot refer to the beloved as the object of my happiness, then where does my happiness come from and what is its object?

The usual way to escape objectifying the beloved is to think her as subject. When she is subject, the beloved enters invisibility: she becomes an I too, an ego, a person who also experiences the world, her self, and more importantly, also has the ability to turn me into an object. This is clear and has been reflected upon already by many philosophers of alterity.

Yet what is still problematic, at least coming from the context of what is sought here, is how her subjectivity can possibly give me happiness. If I must maintain that the beloved is never object and forever subject, I can then only love her in her subjectivity. But in reality, when I say I am happy because of the person I love, am I really saying that I love her for her subjectivity? We have no experience of the other's subjectivity; this is the principle of individuation: I can only experience my self and my own subjectivity.

What then do I love when I say love the invisible beloved? Or more dangerously so: isn't this or that other also subject?--and if so, if my beloved is like any other in that they are subjects, why do I love particularly her and not this or that other? Why does it happen that this beloved makes me happy while that other does not? Or what then do I love and what then makes me happy if I cannot see and feel her? Or am I just loving in the void and happy without reason or cause, that is, arbitrarily?

The questions raised can only lead to an impasse because they all seek for answers which can only be pointed to or pinned down--like an object. When we ask What in love makes me happy? we are already presupposing that the answer will come in the form of a something, a thing, an entity, an identity--either the beloved or the I.

Yet what if the source of happiness is a source which is no source? What if love's happiness is happy without knowing why--not in the sense that it is so arbitrarily or absurdly, but in the sense that its happiness is founded on "something" which it cannot explain? What if the joy of the lover cannot be shown or cannot be said--a silent happiness, perhaps, or a secret joy?

Presence and Silence

What about the beloved makes me most happy and what answer can escape the danger of reducing her into an object of my experience? Because I cannot love her for her beauty or body, for her intellect and daring, for her love for me--things which I can see or feel or think of and things which can pass away because they are contingent to her--what else can I be happy for except for her being?

By loving her for her being, I do not say "I love you because you are this or that" but "I love you that you are," or "I am happy that you are." And her being, presence and existence--all these are invisible, that is, non-objects that cannot be grasped by the intellect and strictly experienced by the senses. What we see are essences only and never existences: what a thing is can be seen and thus known; that a thing is, the fact that it is, cannot be known and seen, cannot be objectified--but it can still be experienced in that experience we call love. Otherwise we absolutely have no idea how to understand existence because concepts only pertain to essences, hence the silence of existence: nothing can be said about it aside from being able to say "it is." In the case of the beloved's existence, I can only affirm that she is, and such an affirmation is nothing other than loving her because she is.

And to affirm that the beloved is: this means to be happy that the beloved is especially when the alternative is (always) possible--she is whereas could not have been or she will not be in the future. This fact makes me prioritize her being over my being as her existence will always be fragile to me, a loan, or more so a gift I neither asked for nor deserve. That she is and may be not--I can only feel the urgency to love her more because she may be lost. And this reverses everything as the lover's happiness from hereon is not restricted to any of my own experiences valid or otherwise. The happiness of the lover begins and ends with the sole and true cause of happiness: this invisible beloved who by her sheer act of existence, without giving me anything or having to be anyone, without having to make me happy and by simply being whatever she is gives me a reason to be happy, affording me a happiness I can never repay. Never: because how can I ever repay her for her existence?

Before the beloved only a silent word of gratitude, like a mother's whisper to her sleeping infant at night, can be said. I can only say thank you, that you are, and that you are in my life. My happiness stems from a world which is suddenly struck with beauty and grandeur because you are in it. This is how I am able to say that you mean the world to me. That you are makes all the difference.


  1. Anonymous10/11/2009

    Given the conditions that happiness is to be found in the other and that it must not be grounded on self-love, it looks like happiness for a genuine lover can only come from an outward action that aims to bring joy to the beloved and indirectly (yet ultimately) to himself or herself. The lover's happiness is derived from the selfless act of pushing the self to the outskirts of one's own center and situating the beloved in the middle. By making the beloved the sun upon which the lover's entire world revolves, the fixed point to which all is relative, the lover's happiness becomes inevitably anchored on the happiness of the beloved.

    Is it not possible that the lover's happiness rests in the very submission of the lover's will? Perhaps the joy of love is found in the lover's willing sacrifice of his or her happiness for the promise of the beloved's own. In this light, blindness, numbness, and all other pains which may arise from the act of loving become, oddly enough, pleasurable. The concept is admittedly masochistic but it seems to me the most plausible answer.

    Being elated by the act of loving so selflessly, at least I believe, transcends the classification of an inner lived experience of consciousness. Thus, speaking as a lover: this is not just something I find within me-- it is something within me that I attempt to bring out of my own consciousness in hopes of permeating that of my beloved's. I surrender my subjectivity to my beloved for this is the only way I can be happy, not only because offering myself up to the most important person in my life in hopes of making him or her happy makes me happy too but also because this is one way by which I am able to merge my consciousness with his or her consciousness—my very being with my beloved's own existence.

    I apologize for rambling. I just couldn't resist the issue at hand. :)

    I really love (pun very much intended) reading your work! It was such a delight coming across your blog while Googling "lichtung" for my thesis-- and seeing Sharon Cuneta's name alongside Heidegger's in the results was a pleasant surprise.

  2. Anonymous10/11/2009

    Forgive me for intruding, Sapantaha, I am just hoping to understand. :)

    To be sure, making the beloved the center of the universe is the natural action of the lover. I am just wondering how it can be said that the lover's happiness is derived from this, from making the beloved's happiness his life's purpose. Because, as embarrassed as I am to say, I know that to see my beloved happy but with another makes me most unhappy. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that it brings to me the worst kind of pain. Does this mean that I do not love? I would like to know what you both think. :)

    If love were selfish, I would say that it makes me happy insofar as I am able to draw my beloved to me. But this is reducing him to an object, yes? Love is supposedly selfless so it cannot be. I wonder what sort of happiness the lover has then if love, really, is just about the giving.

    Thank you. :)

  3. Anonymous10/11/2009

    Also, I cannot wait for the next installment of this entry. That is very true, what you ask. Indeed I wonder, if love's happiness is both blind and numb, how is it manifested? This is a very beautiful entry. I hope, with all my heart, that you find the answers (or at least be shown to the right path). :)

  4. Anonymous10/12/2009

    I'm so sorry for flooding your comments page. :) I have been thinking about it, and perhaps Sapantaha is right, that the lover's happiness is drawn from his will to love. Perhaps the lover is happy only when his thirst to give himself to the beloved is satisfied (albeit temporarily, and so he gives and gives and gives). In the same way, perhaps the lover is most unhappy when his will to love is thwarted. When he sees his beloved happy with another, for example, he grieves not because he wasn't able to conquer her, but because a barrier (the other lover) prevents him from surrending himself to her. Perhaps the lover is most happy when he is able to love his beloved most freely.

    Anyway, I really wouldn't know. I look forward to the rest of your entry. :)

    Thank you and have a great week! :)

  5. Dear sapantaha,

    Thank you for what you shared.

    What you say is beautiful and correct. We do find happiness in surrendering our will and in offering our happiness for the happiness of the other; in going out of ourselves, in willing love, etc. Yet what still is interesting is how that is possible.

    Because it is not very obvious why we can draw pleasure from such "masochism" or self-denial. It is not yet clear how I am able to separate myself from myself (as center, as sun, as subject) and fix my happiness on the other. And it has not been decided that my being can be "merged" with the beloved. Finally, why should all these "hardships" and lack and suffering make me happy? In a word, can there be a logic to the lover's happiness?

    Again, we already know that we are happiest in love; but I still don't know why or how . . .

    What do you think? Is it even possible to ask the question?

    And what you said was very far from "rambling." Thank you for your thoughts and welcome to the clearing.

  6. Dear friend,

    Yes, you are up to the point. And what profound thoughts you have come up with.

    I especially like the problem of unrequited love (because it is really problematic: is it still love?); the possibility of love as happiest in a freedom to love (instead of "merely" a will to love); and the question on the manifestation of a blind and numb love. These are such exciting paths to take in the future.

    And again, please don't apologize. It's always a pleasant surprise. Keep 'em coming.

  7. Anonymous10/13/2009

    Dear friend, with all honesty I can say that this is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Perhaps because in my heart I know it to be true. And the truth is always beautiful. :)

    Thank you. :)

    P.S.: I knew it! Of all people, you know true love the best. I wish you the lover's happiness. :)

  8. Dear friend,

    And I wish that you find the joy in your life as well--if you still have not found it. Though something tells me you already have.

    Thank you as always for your questions that open up paths of thought and kind words which shine their light on them.

  9. What surprises me the most is when the lover is still able to say "why can't I quit you?" This statemement is an admission, not of a will, but more of the lover's inability to say no to the beloved---no matter what. This is where the aporia for me stands: if this be the case, then why is it that we, as lovers, still love? If not the will, then what makes lovers still take that stand to be constantly in love? What makes the lover always take the challenge of love: to see the beloved in a new way, every single day?

    We then push the discussion to the limits of forgiveness (What are your thoughts on this, thesaint?). How can a lover, qua lover, be able to love in spite of love being unrequited? When can a lover say "enough," and mean it? Diversion surely is a tactic, but very escapist. And surely, no lover will admit that he is masochistic, for this only leads to self-love. It is because you do not give me what I want, it is because I know that you know that you cannot give me what I want, that I still love you. This is a very messianic way of loving and no true lover will ever want to save the beloved only for the sake of that.

    I agree with thesaint, that we are always in the way to the clearing. I never realized that my whole life will be in pursuit of the answer to the question of love. And I am so glad that I stumbled upon the saint's way.

    Thanks for keeping me sane. :)

  10. Hello, bluezoe4.

    As to the first paragraph, the only thing that comes to mind is commitment. But as to how that is possible, as you indirectly ask, is indeed a "msytery." It is often said that to be in a commitment is to decide every time to love; so perhaps it is the will (to love) which truly decides--because it can always (and has to) question itself each time whether to love or to not love. And otherwise, my decision to love will be arbitrary.

    But, as you ask, when do I quit or when am I able to say "enough"? Perhaps when you do love the beloved anymore.

    It all depends on my intention: do I love so that I, too, will be loved; or do I love because simply I love? I need not forgive the beloved for she does not betray me or go against me: she "only" does not love me.

    Yet could this not lead me to merely loving in the void or loving alone? Most probably. But that is the very reason why such a love could be the highest form of love: what we call charity.

    I understand completely when you say that the question of love is something that you are pursuing. Perhaps there is no other question worth seeking or staking your life for.

    It is nice to cross paths with a fellow wayfarer. Thank you for this.

  11. Anonymous11/28/2009

    if im not want us to giveway for the one we prioritize their needs and wants before give what their needs inorder for them to be happy irregardless of our own feelings and it realy love..martyrdom???????

  12. Perhaps martyrdom is the extreme limit of love. We see this in the saints.

    Another such form, one which is closer to us, is sacrifice. We see this usually in our parents.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Fields of Amorsolo

The first National Artist in Philippine history, referred to warmly as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art,” Fernando Amorsolo (1892–1972) still stands today as a looming figure in Philippine art responsible for being one of the artists who helped define what we up to now visually imagine as essentially Filipino. The images of rural life, of golden fields below clear blue, blue skies; the smiles of farmers which diminish their weariness as they plant, harvest, and winnow rice;most especially the iconic figure of the Filipina maiden working in the fields—the beloved dalagang bukid--; these, I believe, even after generations of Filipino painters since Amorsolo, have remained in our hearts and memory. Amorsolo did what great masters do for their country: bestow upon it its own icons, represent its native beauty, that is, to give its people and lands an identity and a face. There are, however, as many intentions for art as there are works of art. And these intentions will always remain in…

Without Why (The Rose) II

Lifetime is a child at play; moving pieces in a game.
Kingship belongs to the child.

Heraclitus, Fragment 52

The child at play never asks itself why it plays. The child just plays; and if it could, it will play as long as possible, it will play throughout its life. See its delight and witness its smile.

If it would never go hungry or if the sun would never set it too will never leave its playmates and playthings. Time flies at play because it stops or suspends time. Time -- as we grownups only know too well -- is the culprit for order, schedules and priorities; yet for the child, there is no time, there is only bottomless play. It is we who impose that this or that should be done at this or that time. We stop the absurd and supposedly endless play ("He does nothing but play") because we insist that discipline, order and priorities be instilled in the child at an early age ("He needs to learn other things beside playing"). So that the child will become like us one da…

A Love Sooner than Later

BROWN PENNY William Butler YeatsI whispered, 'I am too young,' And then, 'I am old enough'; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. 'Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair.' Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. O love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.

One cannot begin to love too soon--conversely, one should not love too late or in life's demise. That waiting for the "right time," or the "right person" to love, what are these but the cries or sighs of an unready, even tired, heart? One becomes ready only when one begins to understand love slowly (or again), and one understands love progressively when one, simply, performs the act of love. Love, like mos…