Love #2 – Constancy and Loss

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Area: Language Arts and Literature
Grade Level: High School & Beyond
Topics: ethics, love, Relationships
Estimated Time Necessary: One to two hours - can be spread across multiple sessions

Lesson Plan

To introduce students to the nature, scope, and limits of constancy of love and generate their own thoughts on the topic.

This lesson plan can be read in conjunction with “Chapter 3. Love” (pp. 45-68) in the freely available teaching resource Coping: A Philosophical Guide (OpenBook Publishers, 2021) with discussion questions (pp. 123-4) and additional teaching materials (p. 119). 

1. Constancy

There are three aspects to the constancy of love: Love should not be subject to trading up; Love should persist even if we learn something about our beloved that is not to our liking; and love should not whither even if one’s beloved goes through changes.

Trading up. You make a list with every feature that you like about your beloved. I find you a person who has all those features to a greater level. Would you want to switch? Why wouldn’t you? And if you would, what does this show about your initial love?

Learning. Are there things that you learn about your beloved which, had you known them beforehand, you would not have fallen in love; however, now that you are in love, you accept these things? And if you didn’t accept them, would that cast doubt on your love being true love? 

Changes. People change over time. Some changes may be such that you would never have fallen in love with your beloved if they had been like that from the start. Does true love require that you stay together? Or are there changes in a beloved that you would not accept, and you would leave them?

What is important throughout this discussion is to underline how loving someone is different from liking something. I may like something intensely, say, my bike, and yet I would trade up for a better one if the price were right, I would lose interest if I learned that its brake system is not quite what I thought it was, and I am no longer crazy about my bike when its parts give out. And this does not mean that I did not once truly like that bike. But love is different: If I am prone to trading up and my love does not persist in the face of learning or changes, then this cast doubt on my love being true love to begin with.

Suggestion: How might you get students to discover these three aspects of the constancy of love for themselves? Ask them to reflect on the quotes below and ask them what they teach you about love.

Trading up. There is a quote on the web of uncertain origin (sometimes attributed to Johnny Depp): “If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” This show that love is not true love if it is tempted by trading up.

Learning. There is a tongue-in-cheek poem by Wendy Cope: “Two Cures for Love: ‘Don’t see him: don’t phone or write a letter. The easy way: get to know him better.’” (Serious Concerns, 1992) The joke in this poem is that this mischaracterizes true love. If love is true love, then getting to know him better should not make love whither.

Changes. The prize-winning journalist Jeanine di Giovanni writes about her divorce: “It was the saddest birthday, the day of his last drink. Not because I grieved for the passing of his alcoholism, but because I knew, instinctively, that he would change and never again be the man I married. Because, in fact, part of that love was based on the passion, the drink, the fury, the rage, the anger, the drive, that made him so intense. Without it, there was a smaller person who looked sad and hardened by life.” Reflecting on this passage, one might ask whether a love that does not survive a recovery from alcoholism is true love.

2. Constancy and Models of Love

How do the eros model, the agape model, and the fusion model secure the constancy of love? How do they guard against love coming to an end?

Eros model. The students may get inspiration from revisiting Thomas Carew’s “The True Beauty.” The core idea is that by choosing to let one’s love be based on enduring features rather than features that may perish, we secure the constancy of love, at least to some extent.

Agape model. The student may find an answer in rereading the passage from Pope John-Paul II’s Love and Responsibility (1993):

We love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults. The strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or even his sins come into the open. One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults (…)

The core idea is that constancy is secured because love is a commitment rather than a passion that may fade, and love is unconditional and forgiving, meaning that one will invest in carrying on the relationship.

Fusion model. There is a passage in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights that offers a clue. The protagonist Catherine expresses her love for Heathcliff by invoking a shared self: “I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” The reason that we refrain from ending a relationship is because it constitutes a death of the shared self. In the same way that I do not commit suicide when the individual self is not experienced as a pleasure, I also do not kill off a relationship when the shared self is not experienced as a pleasure.

The Pangs of Love Lost and the Models of Love

The models have tools that guard against the loss of love, but we all know that love sometimes does reach the end of the line. How is the loss of love experienced on each of the models?

Ask students how they experience a breakup. What do the pangs of love lost feel like? Keep track of what they say and then try to map their observations onto the models. The models each offer you some different aspect of the pangs of love lost.

Start with the fusion model. Use visual images to get students to see what a breakup would be like. If the individual selves merged into a shared self, then pulling them apart again leaves both individual selves with wounded edges. On Nozick’s shared-self within the individual-self model, the loss of love leaves an emptiness inside.  On his individual-self within the shared-self model, the loss of love is a loss of one’s moorings.

On the agape model, ask students to focus on commitment. If you do not live up to a commitment, then there is a sense of failure, maybe even of guilt. A breakup is like a project that you were invested in but at the end of the day, you had to give up on it.

On the eros model, ask students to focus on how the beloved has all these wonderful features that triggered your love. So, with a breakup, there is plain loss – there is the loss of something that was so much worth having to you.



This lesson plan was contributed by: Luc Bovens, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Artwork by Fiorella Lavado.