Love vs. Autonomy

I feel like some young people nowadays (myself included) are not fearing relationships, they are fearing to give up their autonomy. The issue or question I want to bring into light is: “Does love means giving up one’s autonomy?” and then as a subsequence, “Is it worth it to give up autonomy for love?”

At first, let’s define both terms love and autonomy:

Love is not about releasing hormones or having giggling butterflies in your belly; it is a mirror. For me, it reveals the beautiful things in oneself. Love is mutual development, it is not problem solving, it is meaning making, it is reason. The beauty of the partner is a steady reminder for becoming a valuable and wisdom-seeking human. According to Socrates, the loved human satisfies our desire for the good, the fortune which is equal to wisdom. With the help of wisdom one can understand the principles that rule the world.

And what is autonomy? By looking at the nature of autonomy in detail, one can say that being autonomous means having the freedom to make your own choices and not becoming completely dependent on another person, especially mentally.

At first glance, the matter seems to be clear. One could argue that loving someone results in relinquishing their own autonomy. But this covers the topic only superficially. Let’s dig a bit deeper into it.

A good friend of mine, an amazing human being called Phillip, told me once that in a relationship the sum of 1 + 1 is not 2, it is rather 3. Two parts are representing the needs of both human beings in the relationship, and one part represents the need of the relationship itself. Assuming a healthy relationship, where both partners are treating themselves with an equal amount of trust, fairness, openness, honesty and acting with personal integrity, the “Me” and “Me” forms an additional “Us”.  This additional “Us” represents the needs or the goals of the relationship. As written above, the freedom and the ability to make your own choices is autonomy. In order to make choices you need to have a certain direction in which you want to move in life or, expressed differently, you need to have certain goals you want to reach.

This intricacy, to identify the goals or the direction of the relationships, this is the challenge of the “Us”. If both partners found their “Me” and now they found their “Us”, we have three, hopefully overlapping, clusters of choices that needs to be made. Each of them should have the character of an own autonomy.

Therefore, through the relationship each human being has thus gained a new autonomy, whose actions and choices hopefully are not in conflict of or even overlap with one's own choices. If this is the case, then autonomy could even grow through the relationship. It is most likely that one's own autonomy will be given less value over time anyway and that its goals will also shift. We would most likely answer the question, “Does love means giving up one’s autonomy”? with a NO.

But if on the other hand the choices of the "Us" or the other "Me" conflict so much with one's own autonomy, then one should admit that a common and mutually equal future is no longer possible. This would only work in patriarchal relationships in which the man develops, the women support him and work on her own social recognition through him. But we have talked about a "healthy" relationship from the beginning. Therefore, in this case, the answer of the above question would be a YES.

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