Stoics can often be misconceived as emotionless or out of touch with their feelings. However the reality is that it’s quite the opposite. They are often very in touch, in control and fully acknowledging their emotional states.
They are not overwhelmed by feelings, and they are experiencing them for what they are. It can be difficult to dissociate and watch your emotions play out in front of you without fully indulging in them, but doing so gives you the space to better analyze and make decisions around your life.
In the first chapter of his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius describes the stoic ideal to be free of passion and still be full of love. He wrote, “Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.” He is referring to a deeper, more foundational form of love over the fleeting emotional form of it. This is at the core of stoicism and love.
Many of Seneca’s essays also deal with blind grief over the loss of a loved one. Seneca focuses on love as the basis of moving through grief and avoiding the overwhelming emotions of bereavement after the death of a loved one. The stoics believed it is a futile attempt to desire love from someone who doesn’t love their fellow human. For the stoics, love is an essential part of life—a life that is meaningful and virtuous, free from greed and passion.
A key facet of understanding love from the stoic perspective is to first understand its ethereal nature. That all things pass, and of course love is no exception to that idea. It is ever-forming and constantly evolving.
Stoicism and Beauty
It’s important as a stoic to not desire a person only for their physical appearance. For a stoic’s love and affinity, it is the character, personality, and moral integrity of a person that provide the fuel for maintaining healthy and loving relationships. A strong foundation that revolves around less superficial aspects of a person are best suited for stoics. Most of their relationships and bonds emerge from personality as opposed to aesthetics.
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The Romans and Greeks both perceived love and lust as inherently different things. They distinguished between the natures of them and despised lust as a shameful act. They are opposed to the indulgence of lust. Seneca noted “the abandoned belly of lust bears the stain of shame,” and thinks people who are angry, greedy, and violent are the least of the sins of male fashion.
That does not mean Stoics should not feel pleasure. Intimacy and pleasure are deeply rooted in the stoic virtues. However, it recommended that the stoic’s relationships are deeper than just physical love. There must be a connection that is cultivated between two partners.
Stoicism and Loss of Love
One of the most difficult aspects of having loved is having to let go. Whether having lost a partner in life, or a relationship coming to an end, losing the person you loved and relied on most in the world can be simply heartbreaking. Stoics know this well and accept the gravity of its meaning. They feel it wise to be careful in committing one’s love to someone in permanence.
However, the reality is that relationships end, it is a part of the human experience. It’s universal and something we all have to accept. Stoics stay aware and acknowledge this simple fact. Though it doesn’t mean they are guarded and hopeless in terms of their future. It simply means they are accepting of the realities around them, and choose to stay focused on the present.
Stoicism and Pain
Pain is also a reality of life and dealing with it is a pillar of stoicism as well. Epictetus offered stoics advice on dealing pain, and the separation from a loved one, “when you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubled.”
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“What you love is nothing of your own,” he continues, “it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool.” To be aware and expecting of pain, but not letting it overshadow your present enjoyment is critical to stoic thought.
Foundations of Stoicism
At its absolute core, stoicism is about having the understanding that whatever is out of our control has no real place in our lives. Wasting a thought on things we cannot alter has absolutely no value, or utility in our problem solving. Stoics believe in using their creative energies to find solutions to problems, it’s a process of shifting your attention from anxiety to possibility.
They stress it is unproductive and irrational to worry about things beyond one’s control, especially when a person’s mind would do better with rest. The Stoics remind us to distinguish between the controllable and the uncontrollable and to not waste our energy on the uncontrollable or undesirable events.
In that, stoicism challenges us to love people in authentic ways. To focus on the deeper connections and distinguish between the superficial aspects too. It’s important to find honesty, within ourselves, and those we are in relationships with. Understand what is not in your control, and in turn what also isn’t in your partner’s control too. Be unattached in the aspects that allow you to love fully and without judgment. Be open and acknowledging of your emotions without unnecessarily indulging in them. These pillars put us in the best position to analyze and improve our lives, and relationships.