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The Ontology of Love

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When Richard Friedlander married, it changed him. Here’s how.

Shortly after my marriage, one of the celebrants approached me and asked, “Do you feel ontologically different?”

I thought for a second, then replied with a smile and a weak, “Yes.” Then I looked up what ontology meant. Briefly, it is the philosophical study of being. Not much of a help. But I took the question to mean, “Has anything happened to you, through your being bound to this person, to change the way you perceive your existence?” And, remarkably, I believed it had. For the first time in my life, I was putting someone else’s welfare ahead of my own. Not because I was trapped, but by my own volition.

I’m not perfect, but most of the time, I do very much put her welfare ahead of my own and I am happy when I do so. When I’m food shopping, I buy things I know she will like. When I criticize her for being who she is, I immediately apologize. Can this happen outside marriage? Maybe. But it never really had happened to me.

Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a Hasidic rebbe, said, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!” Sure he did. My loving my wife does not depend on her loving me. No one is twisting my arm or my conscience.


Neither is this unromantic. Feeling ontologically different in this way can be a tremendous aphrodisiac. Many romances probably fall apart when the primary concern becomes what I am getting rather than what I give. The only one you can change is yourself. I love my wife, but she is another human being and like all others, a complicated one. I can’t possibly understand her, but I do try to accept her. Had I married someone else, our issues might have been different, but my role would still be the same.

If you don’t love, how can you experience love from another?

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is an East Bay author, actor and mediator.

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