The Accidental In Love
A deep dive into how we as humans associate luck with love, scientifically of course.
By Jose Quintero Ramos
Why do we love the Accidental so much when it comes to love? A few days ago I was reading Either/Or by the 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is considered the father of Existentialism and thus an essential figure in the History of Philosophy. Don’t worry, I will not write an article giving my own interpretation or opinion on Kierkegaard’s philosophy - but I do want to shed some light on an interesting observation that he makes, and perhaps with it some insight or food for thought.
In Either/Or there is a section called The Seducer’s Diary which can be read on its own. This piece has been particularly controversial due to its unethical content (although I think that was his point since the book is about either choosing an aesthetic way of life filled with enjoyment for the senses, or an ethical way of life filled with direction and values). Johannes (the pseudonym Kierkegaard picked to write the aesthetic defence) is a young man who enjoys seducing women in the streets of Copenhagen - Imagine a Don Juan or a Casanova. Anyways, Johannes’s diary is filled with observations about the women he encounters and finds attractive. In one of those passages, he seems to be in a Church and feels drawn to a young woman there. The passage I wanted to discuss is the following (cringe alert for those of you who are sensitive to corny prose):
‘Is it wrong of me, instead of looking at the priest, to fix my eye on the beautiful embroidered handkerchief you hold in your hand? Is it wrong of you to hold it that way? … It has a name in the corner… Charlotte Hahn, is that what you are called? It is so seductive to learn a lady’s name in such an accidental manner. It is as if there were a willing spirit who mysteriously made me acquainted with you… Or is it not an accident that the handkerchief was folded just right for me to see your name?’ (Kierkegaard, 1992)
It is so seductive to learn a lady’s name in such an accidental manner. I busted out laughing when I read that for the first time. There was something very exaggerated yet true in his remark. It is such an odd observation, that we enjoy the Accidental so much when it comes to matters of the heart. What might seem like chance most of the time suddenly becomes different when we like somebody. We find joy in such accidents. But why? He points it out in the passage. The accidental is obviously surprising and unexpected, generally unlikely. In that sense it’s a gift that we catch in a moment, it is something that falls on us. In fact, accident can be traced back etymologically to mean “happen”, “to fall upon” or simply “to fall” (Accident | Etymology, Origin and Meaning of Accident by Etymonline). The accidental when we are in love or simply like somebody is not merely a matter of chance, but very frequently in the moment we feel like it could be the hand of fate working behind the scenes or “too unlikely to not be something more”. Even the most realistic and non-superstitious of people can find themselves temporarily puzzled when a very unlikely coincidence happens to unite them with a certain someone.
It reminded me of this other occasion in my own life when I was having a beer on an outdoor terrace in the streets of Barcelona with a girl that I had feelings for at the time. You can imagine the dramatism of the scene. We were there, discussing whatever, enjoying ourselves when suddenly a pigeon decided to defecate over me. My shirt was filled with bird’s diarrhoea, still warm, while she was looking surprisingly at me not knowing exactly what to say. She apologized to me, not finding any other way to react. I replied that she didn’t need to apologise since she wasn’t the one who defecated on me, all while I was laughing nonstop. I of course went to the toilet and washed it off as I could with toilet paper and water. When I was back, she was still in a dizzy state of shock for the whole unlikeliness of the scene. An old lady sitting at a table next to ours looked at me and said: “Eso es buena suerte” (That brings good luck). I smiled at her and replied: “Eso espero” (I hope so). I then took that whole event as an omen of good fortune with this girl. Of course, part of me knew that it was simply something that happens (a few times, probably) in our lives. And it just so happened to be precisely that moment - there was no connection between that and how the date would end. But another part of me, the irrational and superstitious one that I still hold despite the rational and scientific times we live in, thought that perhaps it was something more - that perhaps it was really a sign. Anyways, it didn’t work out at the end with the girl. So, surprise surprise, there was no connection between the bird faeces and the outcome of the date. But what if it worked out? That pigeon would have been solely responsible for our successful and eternally happy relationship.
Irony apart, I do want to bring some sort of conclusion. We could dismiss the accidental in love affairs by simply appealing to the rationality of probability (such a boring answer). That would be what is expected of the scientific, material and sometimes magic-lacking times we live in. I think there is another way in which we can both maintain our rationality, but not lose magic completely. That is to enjoy the accidental in the moment, to believe the accidental in the moment and if the accidental happens to be right hold it as precious magic memory in the story of two people. If it happens to be wrong, then we can appeal to probability and rationality but still hold it tenderly and ironically in our memory as a way to remember how we once felt for that person. Let the Accidental be the magical start of something, or a time machine to how we once felt.
Were we to lose the Accidental in love wouldn’t we be losing something beautiful?
References accident | Etymology, origin and meaning of accident by etymonline. (n.d.). Etymonline. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/accident
Kierkegaard, S. (1992). Either/or : a fragment of life (S. Kierkegaard & A. Hannay, Eds.; A. Hannay, Trans.). Penguin Publishing Group.