Can it be right to COMPEL someone to fall out of love with you?

Imagine you have a dear friend, Jules, who has unfortunately fallen head-over-heels in love with you–unfortunately because you can’t imagine yourself ever reciprocating. Now let’s be clear: Jules is not stalking you; he’s not even doing the passive-aggressive-I’m-a-nice-guy-so-you-should-love-me-back bit. After confessing his feelings and being rebuffed six months ago, he promised never to bother you about it. But though Jules has been as good as his word, he’s also been avoiding you. He says his feelings are paradoxical. Meeting you was the best experience of his life, but being around you is still enormously painful. He’d hoped that time would attenuate his love, but so far that’s not happening. He was a good friend, and you miss him.

Now among your other friends is Suzie, a former Rhymer Enterprises technomage fired for being insufficiently evil. Hearing about your situation, she tells you she has a solution. Before getting tossed out of RhE, Suzie managed to swipe several useful magic items, including a vial of Aphrodite’s tears.[sup]*[/sup] With a drop of those Olympian lagrime, a strand of your hair, and some other crap, Suzie can make a potion that will cause Jules to fall out of love with you. Again, let’s be clear. The potion[sup]†[/sup] won’t make Jules hate you; he just won’t have any erotic interest in or obsessive thoughts about you any more. This, Suzie predicts, will let you and Jules resume your former platonic friendship, and she guarantees he’ll suffer no ill effects. All you have to do is pluck the hair, utter the phrase “Jules, love me only as a friend!” and Suzie will handle the rest.

But there’s a hitch. For complicated magical reasons, this potion can only work if Jules is not aware he is being dosed with it.[sup]‡[/sup] Thus he cannot give consent (informed or otherwise) to the alteration in his mind. By contrast, you obviously must agree to the procedure for it to work.

Take as a given that you have complete confidence in Suzie’s competence. Do you give her the go-ahead (and the hair)? Why or why not?

[sup]*[/sup] A gift of Athena, obtained via brutal bare-bottom spanking. Why Pallas found it necessary to so discipline her great-aunt is none of your fricking business. The point is that Aphrodite totally had it coming.
[sup]†[/sup] Administered by blow dart. No special reason.
[sup]‡[/sup] Why? Eat your spinach, that’s why.

To be clear: does the potion prevent him from falling back in love with you? (i.e. am I going to have the same problem in a year?)

And, if I were to change my mind, is the potion reversible?

Yes, Suzie’s potion prevents Jules from falling back in love with you.

I expect Suzie would have to devise a new potion for that, and I have it on good authority most of her energies are going into warp drive. Besides, while she’s a LITTLE evil (everybody is, after all), she may not be down for that sort of mindfucking. Would you be?


Suppose I buttonhole Jules and say how sorry I am that the our friendship has cooled, and that I wish things were different. In fact, I continue, several years ago a distant cousin of mine found himself in almost the same situation with his friend Pat. But, I tell Jules, my cousin had access to a potion that caused the recipient to fall out of love. My cousin agonized over the decision to use it, because it won’t work if the subject is aware of being dosed.

In the end, my cousin didn’t use it.


In the end, my cousin used it.

Either way, there’s no such cousin – I’m trying to test Jules’ reaction for what the acceptable course of action was. If Jules supports the use of the potion in the cousin’s fictitious entanglement with Pat, then I have no reservations about using it on Jules. If, in contrast, Jules speaks up against the cousin’s use of the potion, I have good reason not to dose Jules.

So – would that scenario count as “knowledge” for the purpose of the potion’s effectiveness against Jules?

Yes, it does. Story-external: for there to be a genuine dilemma, the hypothetical you must be making the decision on Jules’ behalf, and the work-around you suggest obviates that. Story internal: Suzie will have warned you that the act of putting the notion into Jules’ head will be enough to counter the potion’s effectiveness–particularly if Jules knows you’re buddies with a genuine magic worker. Think of it like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

And no, Suzie can’t ask Jules’ permission and, if she gets a yes, suppress his memory. I’m gonna rule that any memory-wiping gizmo she has only SUPPRESSES recollection, and the subconscious knowledge of what is going on would goober up the potion.

On an unrelated matter: you guys know that poison and potion come from the same etymological root?

It’s not even close to appropriate for me to decide which feelings Jules is allowed to keep or not permission or no. The most I think I would conceivably do is give him one of my hairs if he came asking for one to brew his own lethean concoction.

No, I don’t think it’s right to mess with Jules without his consent.

However, I would do it. I have a Jules-like person in my (real) life, and if there were any way of getting rid of it I absolutely would in a heartbeat. In my situation, however, it’s pretty clear that it has had a fairly major negative impact on his life, which I guess isn’t nearly as clear in the hypothetical.

I’m plucking the hair and handing it over to Suzie.

If I am certain that there is no way that I’m going to come around to feeling about Jules the way he feels about me, why prolong the pain and confusion? He’s not going to hate me; he’s going to stop having romantic/erotic thoughts about me. He’s going to stop suffering (to whatever degree he is metaphorically banging his head against the wall), and we can go back to being friends, which sounds a lot healthier for both of us under the circumstances. One can hope that he’ll eventually be emotionally free enough to perhaps fall in love with someone else, hopefully someone who could return it.

I’ve experienced unrequited love. It sucks. Why would I prolong this very unpleasant experience for my friend? So he can write the world’s greatest song or poem or novel about unrequited love? So he can suffer for Love? Road apples!

Go Suzie!

There’s pretty much no way a dude that wants to fuck me is ever going to be happy, because I’m just not wired that way. Suzie can dose him with her juju, and he can get on with his life.

I’m totally opposed to mind-rape, because it’s none of my business who Jules is in love with unless it leads to negative behavior directed at ME (at himself, I don’t care). There is absolutely zero morally or societal or rationally wrong with unrequited love. Have at it.

But also, I think I lack empathy for his pain, which I know can be severe… so that makes me feel conflicted.

Poor Jules. I hope you make a great work of art and meet a nice [your preferred gender and species and quantity here].

Nope. Jules can deal with his unrequited love feelings himself, and besides I may need a lovestruck sap to jump in front of a bus for me sometime.

I think this is seriously the most difficult Skaldithetical yet. My ethics brain is screaming that you (I) just don’t get to mind fuck people in the name of my own convenience and that’s pretty goddamn simple. It’s a total violation of my commitment to allowing others (not under my direct supervision for safety reasons) Free Will. And yet…and yet… yeah, I’ve been there, and unrequited love sucks like sucky thing. And I miss my friend.

But…no. I just don’t know enough about anyone else’s mental state to know if messing with it just a little is going to cause huge problems. What if sitting in front of his shrine made out of Valentine hearts and my yearbook picture is the only thing keeping him from killing himself? What if he doesn’t actually find this unrequited love sucky, but actually enjoys it from a distance knowing that it will never be mutual? ('Cause, I’ve been there, too, content to enjoy a crush from afar secure in the knowledge that I can enjoy the butterflies and warm fuzzies from his smile without all that tedious mucking about with a relationship…)

Nope, it’s not my call. Jules will have to deal with his own feelings.

Then, unless by the sheerest of coincidences Jules and I already batted a similar issue around and I know to a reasonable certainty Jules would be in favor of such intervention (say, for example, we had an in-depth discussion about the lyrics to this song) the answer is no potion.

Interesting hypo, as always, but not that hard of a call for me. I voted, “Not plucking any hairs. I’m not mind-raping a buddy even for his own good.” I’m big on informed consent and free will. Jules can get over me in his own time, and in his own way.

This scenario and discussion has parallels with the movie (and discussions thereof) Inception of a few years ago, the whole plot of which entailed an elaborate and unconsented mind-rape (ETA: with utterly not a hint of any expressed ethical qualms among the participants, in-story). I’m not in the mood for searching it up at the moment, but there certainly was one (or several) lengthy threads about it, probably in Cafe Society.

This is a great problem Skald - using the test that the way I thought I believed about this sort of thing and the way I instinctively feel are totally at odds.

Instinctively I would give the hair, administer the potion and keep silent. Jules is in pain, and is not capable of making choices to remove that pain. Note: it isn’t that Jules is choosing the pain - Jules is stuck.

However, if I were Jules, what would I want? I would want full information, and in this case full information is inconsistent with the choice to administer the potion. I might not object to being involuntary cured of the inreciprocated love, but I would object the hell out of not even knowing it had happened to me.

Virtue ethics says that I don’t want to be the sort of person who takes choices away from other people. In this case, though, Jules doesn’t have a choice anyway. AHHH. This is hard. I don’t want to be the sort of person who keeps secrets. I really don’t want to be the sort of person who keeps information from others “for their own good”.

I’m going to administer the potion. Jules is ill, and the circumstances make informed consent impossible. As Jules’ friend, if they can’t give informed consent, then its my job to make decisions as they would wish if they were in a position to give consent. Obsession is hell. If Jules had a free choice not to be obsessed, they would take that choice.

How do I feel having made the choice? If I die in thirty years time, and Jules finds out about what happened, I think they would be satisfied that I acted from friendship. They may disagree with the choice I made, and resent my making it, but they wouldn’t hate me for it, or hate themselves. I can live with that.

The problem is that love is contextual. You can’t simply pluck it out of existence and leave the rest of Jules intact. It would leave gaping holes in his personality, which need to be filled with . . . . I don’t know. It’s going to affect every thing else he loves . . . the music he loves, his favorite foods, how he relates to other people. It would be like giving him a lobotomy, which removes a part of his brain, while knowing nothing about what else you’re cutting out.

That information is enough for me to believe that he is okay with the idea. He clearly wants to fall out of love. Maybe he’d object to the exact methodology, but that to me is not the ethical issue. To me, the issue is whether the outcome would be one he desired, and I think this means it clearly would be.

The main thing that might hold me back is that my experience with evil hypotheticals, even the slightly evil ones, is that there is usually a catch. Even Suzie doesn’t intend there to be, I must think where she learned of the potion, plus the fact she is not omnipotent. Maybe, for example, Jules’s love for me was part of why we made such good friends. Maybe it blinded him to flaws or made it easier for me to get along with him. Or, if he’s a she, maybe I would wind up falling for her now that she’s not so in love with me, and would have the much harder ethical decision on reversing the potion, since maybe she wouldn’t still be in love with me.

In any story that has evil like this, there seems to be some sort of cosmic balance, a type of magical karma, if you will.

If Jules did know about this, would he want it done to him? If (as I strongly suspect) not, then I wouldn’t do it to him. Golden rule.

It’s a foundational principle of my morality that mental autonomy is the only true autonomy we can have, and as such, anything that messes with that without consent is … I dunno, it’s not as evil as straight up murdering you, or even raping you, but it’s pretty damn evil. Mind control is beyond the pale to exactly the same degree as killing another human being, to me.

So no, Jules is going to have to get over himself. And if not, I don’t particularly care. I have no real time for friends who actively exclude themselves from my company, through things that are not of my doing.