Bear with me here kids, this post is going to get a little personal- but I promise it's going to resolve to an actual philosophical point at the end.
As readers may or may not know, I've been in love with a Christian girl for the last several years- since back before I left Christianity. Recent events (last 6 months or so) have made it clear that I need to move on from that relationship. I'm now trying my best to fall out of Love with her.
Now, I've got a couple of options here:
1) Forget her. Facebook combined with my lack of self control makes this a difficult proposition, but not impossible. I could certainly keep busy enough to at least minimize the amount of time I spend dwelling on that past relationship
2) Get angry at her. There's plenty of things from our past that I could get angry about (some that I genuinely am angry about, no encouragement required). Villifying another person is a pretty common mode of human interaction. If you're liberal, then those conservatives are souless sycophants. If you're conservative, those liberals are brainless ideologues. Especially in the case of interpersonal relationships, when things go wrong, the safest thing to do is usually to blame the other person. In my particular case, if I'm mad enough, that might assuage some of the pain associated with missing that relationship.
3) Wait. This might or might not work, but either way it's not very helpful in my current position. More to the point, this seems like either a glorified version of option 1, or worse, a claim that the emotional pain will eventually form the equivalent of emotional scar tissue. That which used to hurt will no longer hurt because there are no more nerves left to hurt- not because I'm in any better of a position, and not because I've made any real moral or emotional progress.
Here's the thing: I'm really suspicious of any solution that involves either ignoring or fabricating facts about reality.
I want to understand and act on reality in any given situation. This desire is the basis for my rejection of Christianity, and it would be pretty hypocritical for me to not apply this to my personal life as well. So to me, the problem with all the solutions I've suggested so far is that I actually love her. Forgetting that might be temporarily useful, but it has me dealing with a map that isn't a good representation of the territory of my life. Ideologically, I'm flat out against self-deception, but even practically speaking, this seems like a really bad idea. All it takes for any of these solutions to fall apart is for me to have a single real conversation with her. In that conversation, I'm reminded of all the good things about her, all the reasons I fell in love, and I'm reminded that, while her actions may be objectionable, her motivations are not. She legitimately cares about me, and doesn't want to hurt me. And how angry can you really be with someone who's trying to do what's best for you inside the framework of what they think they're allowed to do? She may be wrong (I think she is), but she's not malicious. And it's hard for me to stay angry at someone who has my best intrest at heart.
Now we're finally getting to the point. Two of them, actually. First, this thing called love is... pure. I can't think of any other word for it. There's a lot in the Bible that I don't agree with, but "love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud"- that stuff is spot on. I've talked before about how I find the existence and quality of love a pretty good argument against materialism, but the further I go in this process, the more convincing it gets. I have absolutely no explanation for why I don't hate this girl. It seems like I should. The only reason I don't is that I have this weird connection to her called "love" that I'm literally unable to overcome (I've tried). It's actually acting as a stronger motivator than my empirical experience of being continually hurt by that relationship- and that just gives me the epistemological willies.
I'm not sure how to rectify this with atheism. The argument can certainly be made from evolutionary psychology that my experience of love is an evolutionarily selective behavior- that people who experience this kind of love are more likely to have a family and hang around for the development of the children, and therefore their children are more likely to succeed. But first, that seems pretty ad hoc to me- it's a decent after-the-fact explination, but not a great prediction. And second, I as a self-aware moral agent value happiness a lot more than I value evolutionary fitness. The experience of love- at least this part, the experience of leaving love behind- is pretty damaging to happiness, in both the short and the long term. It would seem that my optimal happiness strategy (at this point) would be to find a way to circumvent the love mechanism in my head- find a way to be happy without it, and get rid of my need to find love in the first place. If I can find happiness without love, that's a lot less risky of a way to go through life (using the simple heuristic that my own happiness is the ultimate goal of my existence). Once again, here I am fighting against evolution. And this is the core of my ongoing problem with atheistic morality- it always seems to end with me fighting against evolution.
But there's another reason I'm not comfortable with this intentional abdication of the experience of love. I think I'm more convinced of love being a moral imperitive than I am of just about anything else. Call it irrational if you wish (I do), but my empirical, emotional, and consequential experiences all tell me that love is the most important thing in this life. It seems likely, at this point, that my life would be better going forward if I found a workaround for love- but even if that's true, it still strikes me as the wrong thing to do.
The second point of this post is more of a question: how do you kill something that is good? It seems like a lot of people at one point in life end up in a position where they're actively trying to fall out of love. It's sort of nonsensical to try in the first place. The very act of being in love should entail trying to preserve that love- and it's this cognitive dissonance that's rendering my attempts at "moving on" through conventional means pretty ineffective. I can't "move on" because the desire to move on is incompatible with the experience of love. If I were capable of moving on, I would no longer be in love, and would have nothing to move on from.
But supposing we get to the point of wanting (or needing) to kill something that's good, how do you go about it without damaging your moral compass? I'm straying into virtue ethics here, but how do we destroy something valuable without simultaneously devaluing it? Is it even possible to force yourself out of love while also realizing what love actually is? This seems a lot like the argument that God is constrained to good because he alone understands the full consequences of good and bad. It seems like, the more clear understanding you have of what it means to love, the harder it's going to be for you to choose to stop loving.