In love, which do you follow: your heart or your head?

One of my friends posted this question on her FB status: “In matters of love.. Should you follow your heart or your head?” That’s a good question because anyone who has been in love have probably wondered about it at some point. The question got me thinking, again:

First of all, how many real answers can there be to this question?

I have seen a number of responses, including: “your heart/feelings/gut”, “the head/mind/reason/logic”, and “both”. Let me begin by saying that “both” is not really answering the question. I think I know what people mean when they say “both.” They are most likely trying to express that listening to both one’s reasons and feelings is important when pondering about love. That is true. However, the question as stated above was not “should you listen to your heart or your head.” The verb in question here is follow, not listen. The difference is essential because while one you can listen to any number of things or people, one can only really follow one. The action of following dictates choosing one direction. While it is not explicitly stated in the question, there is an implicit assumption that the dilemma involves the heart and the head dictating different directions. Therefore, you must choose one. The heart or the head, but not both.

My answer: the heart.

As I mentioned above, I think it is important to listen to both your heart and your head. Feelings and reasons are both important in matters of love. However, when they tell us different things, and they often will, which do should we follow? I say follow your heart, and this is why:

Following your heart means making your decision based on how you feel. At first glance, it might seem strange for someone like me (an economist, philosopher, and lawyer) to favor feelings over reason and rationality. After all, feelings can be fickle and unpredictable. How can it ever be wise to make decisions on something so unreliable, so irrational? The short answer is, love is very much about feelings. I often say that as much as I love logic and reason, and as much as my life is dictated by them, they fall terribly short when it comes to love. Love isn’t really about reason. Love defies logic. And that is why people can ponder about love for centuries and never get tired of it. Because love defies reason, it is why there will never be a simple and clear cut answer. It will always be a bit ambiguous, amorphous, and impossible to explain fully.

However, that is not to say reason has no place in love. If one abandons reason completely, one will very likely become mad. So it’s still important to listen to reason. Reason can be there to temper the madness of all those intense feelings. But why not follow it then? It comes down to this: Your heart/feelings are indisputable, but your head/reasons might be wrong.

What do I mean by that? Feelings are indisputable because they are not for debate. You can’t argue about someone’s feelings (some might try, but there is no real winner in that argument, ever.). They simply are. If you are happy, you are happy. If you are angry, you are angry. Someone might want to argue and disagree with you, but that’s both arrogant and moot. On the other hand, your head is there to tell you what you should do, or to predict what might happen. When one ventures into the realms of normative and predicative statements, there is always room for debate, and room for errors. What your head is trying to tell you is how you might feel sometimes in the future, but your head can be wrong. What your heart is telling you is how you are feeling in the moment, and it is indisputable.

Because I’m risk averse, I would rather follow something that I know to be true (albeit just for the present), then to trust something that might be wrong (even if it purports to be more long-term oriented). After all, what is the point of long-term thinking if the room for error is so high? To put it another way, I rather have $100 today, then $1000 a year from now, if the probability of getting that $1000 is very low (say less than 50%, which yields an expected return of $500. I’m ignoring discount rate for the sake of simplicity). You might have noticed that there is a certain degree of irony in my conclusion. I chose to follow the heart because I’m ultimately risk averse, whereas normally people might expect the risk-averse to follow the head.

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