Existentialism and Dating – Free Ebook

Dating brings us close to a particular strand
of philosophy that, the rest of the time,

might not seem particularly relevant to our
lives: existentialism. One of the movement’s

major proponents – Jean-Paul Sartre – developed
a set of ideas that help explain, and give

dignity to, the anxiety, excitement and at
points vertigo we may experience as we go

through the dating ritual. A key concept of
Existentialism is expressed in Sartre’s

somewhat obscure but useful phrase: “Being
precedes essence”. What Sartre meant by

‘being’ are the bits of our life that
we are free to choose for ourselves: how we

live, what job we do, how we conceive of what
happens to us. And by ‘essence’, he refers

to things that lie outside our command: our
biological nature, the flow of history, the

position of the stars… What Sartre wished
to point out to us, in a spirit of wanting

to liberate us from certain rigidities of
mind, is that ‘being’ should ultimately

be thought of as more important than ‘essence’.
However much we sometimes like to tell ourselves

that things have to be the way they are, there
are in fact many radically different possible

versions of ourselves available to us; we
can choose to an extraordinary extent how

things might be for us. But much of the time,
Sartre felt, we don’t give this open-ended

aspect of our identities enough space in our
minds. We assert that the way we live is inevitable

and fixed, and imply that we have no agency
over our stories. But Sartre argues that this

is an illusion: the kind of person we are
right now developed as a result of all sorts

of small and large decisions: it could have
been very different, and may be different

again in the future according to the way we
exercise of our will upon the raw material

of life. Surprisingly enough, it is dating
that can bring home some of the richness of

this dramatic existential insight. It is in
our dating years that we feel, perhaps more

than at any point before or since, how much
our future is undefined, how little is preordained,

how many options there really are; how frighteningly
free and fluid things can be. With each date

we’re sketching – even if very lightly
– a possible future. If our date on Wednesday

goes well, we could conceivably be looking
at (for instance) a life in which we have

relatives in the highlands of Scotland, in
which a lot of the people we spend time with

are in the technology sector and in which
we’ll probably move country several times;

we might in time also have a child called
Hamish or Flora. Alternatively, if our date

on Friday evening goes very well, we could
be edging towards a life in which we’ll

be spending a lot of time in Amsterdam; we’ll
get drawn into the theatre world; if we have

a child they might be called Maartje or Rem
and they’ll have a former cycling champion

as a grandfather and an Indonesian grandmother.

Once we make our choice, things may well start
to seem as if they always had to be, that

there was some essence that we were always
moving towards, that we had to end up with

little Maartje or sweet Flora crawling on
the carpet towards us. But in the dating period,

we are closer to a grander and more visceral
truth: that there is no single script. Sartre’s

second big point is that properly recognising
our freedom can lead us to a state of huge

but inevitable and in a way salutary anxiety.
Conscious of our real liberty, we take on

board that we have to make decisions and yet,
at the same time, that we will never have

the correct and full information upon which
to base them with the sort of perfect wisdom

and foresight we might desire. We are steering
largely blind, forced to make choices that

ideally we’d leave to the Gods but that
in a secular world, we have no option but

to take on for ourselves. As we date, we may
wonder: who should we settle for? For how

long do we keep going? How can we tell whether
this one or that one is right? Sartre’s

answer is that we can never properly know
but that we are never more properly alive

and authentic than when we are turning over
such enquiries: the fluidity of our destinies

is then palpable, with all the strangeness
and wonder this implies. Too often, the sense

of fluidity is lost. We assume that what is
had to be and that we have no further choices

left open to us. The dating years defy such
views. No wonder if they feel like high stakes.

Sartre wished to embolden us for the sort
of challenges they present to us. Dating pushes

aside the veil of our normal complacency and
reveals the sublime, terrifying and, at the

same time, thrilling uncertainty of existence.
We should, with a host of existential challenges

before us, at the very least, not be too bored.

To learn more about love try our set of cards that help answer that essensial question; “Who Should I Be With?”

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