When I was nineteen, I remember being told by the boy that I was dating at the time that he thought of himself as an “epicurean.” I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t take my History of Civilization courses which would delve into Greek philosophy until my sophomore year of college. In high school, I only was required to read The Oddessy, and to be perfectly honest, it was one of the few books that I only skimmed and then fumbled my way through class discussion. After they boy described himself as epicurean, I remember retiring to my room to do hasty computer searches to try to understand his description of himself. I was sure it was vital to my understanding of our relationship. After frantic internet searches, I still couldn’t understand the point he was trying to make. The year was 1997, and the Internet was not then what it is today.
Only the following year when I was forced to read the writings attributed to Epicurus, did I finally begin to understand what this person meant. He had uttered this phrase in the context of a long soliloquy about keeping our relationship free definitions with derivative obligations. Instead, he wanted to remain free of the pain associated with expectations and obligations. When I finally figured it out a year later, I thought it was crap. Easy for him to say, I thought. I am the one who cried for months from the disappointment of hidden feelings that I never could voice because of his pronouncement.
But now that I am older, I sometimes wish for simplier versions of things. There is something to be said about the absence of pain because one has managed to avoid unsatisfying complications. It isn’t at all the hedonistic view of life that some think is the result of Epicurus’s philosophy. It is something better, doing what you love out of the motivation that it brings you happiness rather than doing what you are forced to do because you feel obligated. It accounts for the difference that I see in myself when I am with people with whom I can genuinely be myself and be happy than when I with people with whom I am forced to act merely based on some stilted sense of duty. It is the difference between clenching my teeth and laughing out loud. Sure, I can do both, but obviously one is preferred. No, I don’t think that means being selfish either. It means being genuine. I find myself more motivated to care for others when it isn’t based solely on obligation but on genuine affection. As I have aged, I have been lucky enough to feel like the people who I have kept close to me in my life are people with whom I feel I can act based on genuine affection. But it makes the duty-based relationships all the more difficult.
Truly, this is why everyone should have a dog. It is one of the greatest Epicurean pleasures of life.