What Freakonomics And Jane Austen Taught Me About Love

If you’ve known me for very long, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the mega-nerd I keep locked up inside myself.  She sits in her cell, in a state of quiet desperation, awaiting the chance to be paroled so she can talk about politics, Dickens, philosophy, history, etc. with unsuspecting victims. She’s a little socially awkward and has a lot of unanswerable questions, so as a good warden, I try to protect the public from her presence. You’re welcome.

But as of late, she’s been a little less well-behaved.  A friend recommended she check out Freakonomics Radio podcast, and it has been like crack to her.  Suddenly she’s rattling the bars of her cell and using up entire pads of sticky-notes at work to jot down thoughts and questions about the Cobra Effect and Herd Mentality and the relation between a culture’s language and its views of death.  Yeah, she’s out of control.  But one of the topics she’s been chattering on about is actually pretty interesting and applicable to everyday life.  It came from a podcast she listened to called “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” which discusses how Game Theory works in social settings, among other things.  At the core of the whole podcast is the idea that manipulation can be used positively on an emotional and behavioral level.

Everyone knows this to be true, but it was how wise old Jane had her characters use strategic manipulation to win love that really grabbed my attention.  And frequently, the characters (typically the women) use manipulation to attract prospective suitors to an illusion of who these fair ladies are, rather than gaining the gentlemen’s respect and admiration through authenticity.

Along with my status as a closeted mega-nerd, another thing that you’ve probably realized about me if you’ve known me for more than a few days is that I can be downright inconsiderate and selfish at times.  This week, those times have been especially frequent.  The morning following one of my many moments of idiocy, I was praying on my way to work that a friend I had offended would feel loved, that she would know that I care for her despite my grade A jerk behavior.  And then God said something that cut deep: “What if you spent less time worrying about whether she feels like you love her, and instead spend more time actually loving her?”

In that moment, I realized that I am just as manipulative as the selfish Emma Woodhouse or even someone as pathetic as Lydia Bennet.  I had been trying to make my friend feel like I love her as a substitute for actually loving her.  In my heart of hearts, I am not especially concerned with the quality of love my friend is receiving, as long as she is under the impression that she is well-loved, and specifically that she is well-loved by me. This is such an incredibly self-serving way to “love” someone, and it’s what I try to pass off for love to so many.  I want people to love me for making them feel loved.  I want the credit, the ego strokes for being “such a loving person,” and to some degree, even my friends’ dependence, because it ensures endless opportunities for me to make them feel loved so that they will love me back.

Real love is not about feeling loved; it cannot be about stroking my ego or anyone else’s.  Instead, I think real love is actively desiring that a person become everything God made them to be, and honoring and accepting them in the process.  Real love does this sacrificially, and without thought of getting credit.  And if I am humble enough to do it, the best way I can really, truly love someone is through prayer.  I receive no credit, I do nothing for which I can get recognition, I can’t manipulate the person’s emotions, and I put whomever I pray for into God’s capable, transformative hands.

So all told, this week has been a difficult chock-full of growing experiences, but it has given me three wonderful gifts.  First, it’s given me a new-found humility that will hopefully teach me how to love people more selflessly.  Second, I have a renewed appreciation for prayer.  And third, I have hours of intellectually stimulating entertainment to look forward to in the form of Freakonomics Radio.

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