I had the pleasure of interviewing Drs. Ed Locke and Ellen Kenner, authors of The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason. Edwin A. Locke, PhD, is an internationally known psychologist who has published widely and given numerous talks and courses at Objectivist conferences. Ellen Kenner, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show The Rational Basis of Happiness. She has been a speaker at Objectivist conferences for many years and specializes in applying the rational, pro-happiness philosophy of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism to mental health issues, including self-improvement, romance, parenting, and communication. —Jason Stotts
Jason Stotts: Let me begin by thanking you both for writing The Selfish Path to Romance. I’ve read many books about love and relationships, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is by far the best book I’ve ever read on these topics.
Ed Locke and Ellen Kenner: Thank you.
JS: Would you provide a quick overview of your book, including what makes it unique?
EK: Our book invites you to learn skills to make your romantic relationship thrive. We cover what love is, how to value yourself and make yourself lovable, and how to chose the right partner. We then cover how to cherish one another to keep your emotional intimacy alive and enjoy each other’s companionship. We discuss how to communicate openly and resolve conflicts reasonably, and how to make sex enjoyable for both.
EL: And our book is based on certain fundamental principles identified by Ayn Rand:
- Love is based on self-interest, and is destroyed by self-sacrifice.
- Moral character is essential for romance.
- The visibility principle (originally from Aristotle).
- Emotion and reason are not inherently opposed; you can achieve a harmony between the two.
- Successful romance involves active, ongoing, and sometimes difficult mental work.
These fundamentals make our book unique. However, Ayn Rand wasn’t a psychologist or marriage counselor, so the details in the book are from our personal and clinical experience.
JS: Are relationship books typically based on a philosophy?
EL: The main philosophy I see in such books is altruism—the idea that you should be selfless—and religion.
EK: And some relationship books encourage a philosophy of manipulation in order to get what you want, which is usually called “being selfish.” That’s not what we mean by selfish. Manipulation is immoral, self-destructive, and destructive of relationships.
We mean by selfishness what Ayn Rand meant by it: valuing yourself; building good moral character through, for example, being honest, having integrity, being productive; and learning how to cherish your loved one. That’s a healthy philosophy.
JS: Can you elaborate on the kind of selfishness you advocate?
EL: Ours is based on reason and reality, not whim. Not, “How can I manipulate people to get what I want?,” but, “How can I establish a trusting relationship and create good character for myself, for this relationship, and for life?”
EK: What you hear often is, “My husband is so selfish—all he does is think of himself!” Or, “My girlfriend just does her own thing; she’s so selfish!” That’s the traditional use of “selfish,” and that idea thwarts people’s ability to think clearly and act in a way that is good for their own life. We’ve grown to believe that we should feel guilty doing anything for ourselves. But then we live our lives doing things for other people and sneaking in things for ourselves.
As Ayn Rand emphasized, the word selfish means concern with your own interests. You can be concerned with your own interests in a rational way, you can pursue your dreams without violating anyone else’s rights or trust—or you can pursue irrational goals, like a robber, a drug addict, or a physical abuser does. Such people are not truly selfish; they are self-destructive: they destroy their own character and lives in their dishonest pursuit of irrational goals.
Rational selfishness is about pursuing your own happiness. It’s about pursuing healthy goals, and if one of your top goals is your romantic relationship, then it’s in your interest to understand the principles that will make your relationship special.
EL: Ellen’s use of the term “sneak” is perfect, because if you think altruism or selflessness is the ultimate virtue, then all self-interested activities need to be sneaked in. So, immediately you feel guilty. You feel, “If I’m going to have any fun, I’m going to have to deceive my partner, because if I do something for myself out in the open it’s considered immoral.” Altruism forces sneakiness.
EK: As children, most of us learned that it’s important to dutifully please others—not to genuinely please others in a way that also makes us happy, a win-win situation, but to sacrifice ourselves. That’s tragic. Children need to learn how to properly value themselves. And adults who have been damaged by such ideas need to learn how to liberate themselves with healthier ideas. . . .