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Love With A Soul vs. Love Without One

Miss Muffet

"Can I trade in the children for more cash?"
Apr 28, 2021
Can soulless beings in the Buffyverse love? This has been a question that fans have talked about recurringly. Canon gives us two different answers. Many of the intellectuals of the verse say, no, they can't. You have to have a soul to love. On the other hand, we have the soulless beings themselves say they can. The Judge can burn vampires if they have humanity, however, when it saw Spike and Dru, with Spike being probably the most human vampire in the show, he only mentions affection, not love.

A great answer to this question can be found in Passion of the Nerd's Buffy Guides. His answer is rather simple: Soulless beings can love, but only selfishly. Anything they do will always have some selfish motive, even if it doesn't appear to. Take Spike's actions in "Intervention", for example. Not giving Dawn up to Glory, even though he was tortured, seems like a selfless thing to do, however, he did this for Buffy. It wasn't because it was the right thing to do, or that his actions would save the world, or even even to save Dawn; it was so he wouldn't hurt Buffy, which would hurt him.

While the answer I just mentioned is a good one, something occurred to me later that sparked another question: Is selfish love even love?
According to the dictionary (of Google) love is an intense feeling of affection, and by that definition, the theory works. But I personally don't believe that is the best definition of love. Although you don't find it in a dictionary, the definition of love I learned was this: To want the best for someone. To put their needs before your own.

By that definition, you don't even have to like someone in order to love them. And if we're using that definition in the Buffyverse, then a soulless being cannot love. It can only use the definition they can understand: affection towards another, just like the Judge mentioned when he stepped out of his box, and saw Spike and Drusilla.


I personally take a much more grey/complex view of love. To me, love is something that exists on a spectrum. I won't count selfish possession as love, because that's all it is -- possessiveness. However, affection is something I'd only use to describe my feelings towards a coworker, classmate, or passing acquaintance. What Dru and Spike have is more than that, and I do think it is love, but it is love practiced by two twisted individuals, so it looks a little off.

One analogy I could give would be like couples dancing a complex ballet routine. The professional couple are going to look breathtakingly beautiful, polished, and simply awe inspiring. A couple made of people who have never danced a day in their lives is going to look awkward and less enjoyable to watch, though their level of passion and commitment to the dance may be the same as the professional couple. The vampires may be a bit twisted, so the love looks twisted, and maybe the love isn't reaching its full potential, but it is there.

Another thing I've always found fascinating about vampire stories, in general, is that they are essentially about damned people. Many ordinary, everyday mortals in the real world feel like they are beyond hope, beyond help, or are simply unworthy. So too is the vampire, the ultimate damned soul, but the appeal of these stories is redemption. Mostly, it is the transformative nature of love that allows this redemption to take place. How can vampire stories exist, then, if vampires cannot love? Sure there are true monster stories, but that's not what the vampire story has evolved to be, what we now regard as the quintessential vampire story. It's sex and death combined one creature, and by extension, through the evolution of storytelling, love as well. To me, that fragment of human love is the get out of jail free card, the last shred of hope for the monster, and it is the single most fascinating part of any vampire tale.


Jul 29, 2016
The two couples that have the longest relationship on their respective shows is Spike and Dru on Buffy and James and Elizabeth on Angel. Both couples are soulless beings. Whilst we don't really get to see James and Elizabeth's relationship beyond flashback since she dies almost immediately when she appears on-screen in present day and the whole episode is James trying to avenge her death, we know that Spike and Dru have been together for approximately 118 years by the end of Season 2. What's also notable about Spike and Dru is they looked after each other when one of them was sick or injured. "In sickness and in health" is a marriage vow and marriage is a sign of love. We know vampires can get married as evidenced by Lyle Gorge and his wife Candy, but given human Dru's religiousness and human Spike being a "good" man, I think their vampire selves would get a kick out of "living in sin"- a term that was often used to refer to an unmarried couple who were living together and having "marital relations".

Some animals mate for life, yet humans would not describe that as "love" because love is considered a human attribute. I think the same holds true on Buffy's opinion of vampires. The watcher and slayers treat vampires as creatures that must be eliminated, they reduce them to "things". In a way this is for practicality issues, it's no good a slayer wringing her hands over killing a vampire when the vampire would happily snap her neck and drain her dry without even flinching. To acknowledge vampires as being capable of human attribute muddies the water when the watchers want the slayer to work in terms of black and white. If love equals human then vampires can not love because they are not human. This is the line that Buffy has been fed and believes because if vampires can love without a soul then it means they are a lot more human than she gave them credit for and that throws up some moral issues that the show doesn't want to deal with.

Vampires may not be able to love to the "human" standard of love, but that doesn't mean they can't love another as much as they are capable. There is an element of possession in love eg someone is YOUR wife or YOUR husband, YOUR girlfriend or YOUR boyfriend etc. There is an element of belonging hence why cheating is seen as such a betrayal, it breaks the unspoken contract that someone is yours and yours alone. This obviously differs from the psycho possessive partner who doesn't trust you and wants to know what you're doing and where you are every minute of the day, but it would be disingenuous to say that love doesn't come with an expectation of loyalty.

Spike and Dru love each other, we can clearly see this demonstrated with Spike feelings towards Dru. However, Dru often gets a bad rep due to what happens between her and Angelus. She is not the "big ho" that she gets labelled as. I believe that Angelus trained Dru to react towards him a certain way in the 20 years pre-Spike. She is his bedwarmer when Darla is not around. I also think Spike's reaction backs up this theory, note that he lays the blame 100% at Angelus' door yet is quick to call Dru out on the Chaos Demon. He's not blind to her faults but he's not going to blame her for something that she isn't responsible for. Given Dru's mental status, it'll be hard to stop her from doing something that she has been trained to do. Note the difference in how she reacts to Angel and Angelus, she knows when her "master" is in the driving seat. Another reason why I believe that Dru honestly loves Spike is that she never stops sleeping with him even with Angelus on the scene, Angelus refers to her as giving Spike "pity access". There is no benefit for Dru to continue sleeping with Spike once Angelus is back, he's no longer top dog, he's wheelchair bound so can't protect himself or her in a fight, Dru would have no practical use for him , yet she sticks by him. Why? Because she loves him. She is deeply hurt by his "betrayal" with Buffy, it destroys her trust in him, and a relationship without trust is doomed to inevitably fail.

It's no coincidence that all of the scoobies relationships fail after the trust is broken. Xander/Cordelia break up after she catches him cheating with Willow. Willow/Oz is rocked by Willow's cheating with Xander then finished by Oz sleeping with Veruca. Buffy and Angel's relationship was never the same after the Angelus saga, Riley never fully trusted Buffy which is why he became obsessed with her "needing him", Xander broke Anya's trust in him when he jilted her at the altar, and Willow and Tara broke up after Tara felt she couldn't trust Willow after the memory wipe spells. The only reason Willow and Tara got back together after that was so that Tara could be killed off.

Nothing is done out of pure selflessness. Even a seemingly selfless act is done because the person gets something out of it, even if it's just a feel good feeling. Buffy sacrificed herself to save Dawn because she knew doing so would mean her sister was safe and that comforted her. Would she have been so keen to sacrifice herself for a random stranger, especially if there were enemies still running around the immediate area that could kill Dawn and the scoobies? Buffy sacrificed Angel to save the world, but only because she had no choice since the re-ensoulment happened at the very last minute when Acathla had already been activated. Would she have done it if she knew Angel was already ensouled before that fight and someone else was going to activate Acathla? If she didn't sacrifice Angel then both her mom and the scoobies would be sucked into hell, by sacrificing Angel, she saved them.

Stake fodder

Feb 6, 2021
Caught on a root
I agree with a lot in the above posts. The reality is, a lot of human love is not entirely selfless, either. We are holding vampires to an ideal standard that not even many human romantic relationships live up to.

Most romantic love is not unconditional. It may be selfless, in the sense that one partner will care more about the happiness of the other, even to the detriment of their own. But we generally expect our partner to reciprocate: treat us well, care about our happiness, and even make minor sacrifices on our behalf. This is not selfish, unless taken to extremes, and where that line is drawn is sometimes unclear.

Angel clearly exhibits selfless love when he leaves Buffy, because he thinks he can never be the partner she deserves. However, there is a lot of debate over whether he is selfish or selfless when he has her memory erased in "I Will Remember You." Of course, he is souled, but I give this as an example that the dividing line can be very muddled.

However, I agree that Spike is selfless in his relationship with Dru. He takes care of her, and as @DeadlyDuo says, he accepts her intimacy with Angelus, because he knows she has been conditioned to give it, and because it perhaps makes her happy. He does this even though it hurts him, because he cares more for her feelings than his own. (I've also wondered if their SM play with torture and bondage is due to Drusilla learning from Angelus to associate that with love, and Spike goes along with it to please her.)

Again, as @DeadlyDuo says, he does not accept her affair with the Chaos Demon. I don't think most would consider it selfish that he expects loyalty. He even continues to love her for some time afterwards, as evidenced by his anger at Harmony mocking her by calling her "Dorkus," which is somewhat selfless, though selfish towards Harmony.

I think he is possibly selfish when he conspires with Buffy to defeat Angelus in "Becoming," because he wants to separate Drusilla from him. This may be for her good, too, but I think his own desires are his chief concern. He is also selfish when he wants to use a love spell or torture on Drusilla to make her love him again. On the whole though, we are given a picture of a romance that is far from two narcissists just using each other.

I disagree that Spike taking a beating from Glory is not selfless. Yes, it is to help Buffy, but it is done with no thought of reward. Just because it makes him feel good to help her does not make it selfish. It's also selfless that he takes a beating from Buffy herself. In fact, his love for Buffy is almost unconditional, because he will accept any treatment from her, except abandonment. However, his love is still selfish, because he is obsessed with her in S5, and does bad things due to that obsession. It is also selfish in S6 when he continues to push her for a relationship when she tries repeatedly to stop it. However, he also exhibits selflessness in these seasons, in my opinion, when he helps Buffy for no reward at times, and cares for Dawn when she is dead.

Once Spike has a soul, his love is both selfish and selfless. It is selfish, in my opinion, for him to return at all after attempting to rape her. It is perhaps also selfish to demand her attention in his adjustment to a souled life; Giles certainly thinks so. But he also helps her frequently in S7 while expecting no reciprocation, and of course, he sacrifices his life at the end.

So, the TL;DR is that both all romantic love, human and vampire, souled and unsouled, can be selfish or selfless, or both at different times. Vampire love may lean toward selfish in general, but it is too simple to say it is always so, and always less than human love. It may be that vampire love has a 'ceiling' that it cannot surpass in selflessness, that human love does not. It may be that a vampire will not be selfless without some hope of future reward. But vampire love can clearly be more than selfish. I think the idea of selfishness arises instead from the fact that a vampire's love tends to involve harm to others, such as killing or stealing for the sake of one's love. And Spike certainly engages in selfish behavior for both Dru and Buffy.


From beneath you, it devours... Spuffy lover
Apr 7, 2019
So, the TL;DR is that both all romantic love, human and vampire, souled and unsouled, can be selfish or selfless, or both at different times.

I agree with this. Conditional and selfish love are very common IRL.
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Sep 11, 2017
Well, I'll admit, It's not my strong point, but I think you have to look at the metaphor. If Vampires represent the monsters of adolescence, then vampire relationships ought to represent the immature evolutionary dead ends you can find yourself in, namely, the immature tendency to see people as the means to an end, as opposed to being able to appreciate someone for whom they are.

I would definitely say that's what Angelus is supposed to be, using Buffy and Dru. I would say that's what William the Bitch is supposed to be, idolizing an insane, faithless woman. Later seasons don't use the same metaphors, so naturally, they don't always hold up.

I once heard a pre-prom mass from a wise old Jesuit (long story) who described love as the ability to finally recognize the image of God within another person, the final step from infancy where people are first seen as vanishing objects. If Vampires are in a state of soulless arrested development, they can't reach that level of enlightenment. Trapped forever as selfish teenagers.

But from a lore perspective, first, Vampires aren't people, they are twisted parodies of humanity constructed from memories and desire and given life by a hateful demon. They don't love, they impersonate love, not unlike how a infatuated youth thinks their first unreciprocated crush is the love of his life.

Second, vampires are not comfortable with their inhumanity. The Vampire is the direct continuation of the person they were in life, an afterlife if you will. Drusilla is the girl from the convent, not a fiend who stole her memories and wears her flesh as raiments. Claiming they are able to love allows them to hide behind the life they once had, when in truth, they are nothing but an empty reflection or a shadow.


Nov 13, 2018
Love without a soul is more obsession in my opinion. Spike loves Buffy but it is in a creepy, obsessive way, like he keeps pictures of her, stalks her, wants her to separate from her friends and is able to almost TW rape her without even thinking.

It's only when he gets a soul that he is able to genuinely care for her in my opinion.

Having said that though, he does do some noble things pre soul like enduring the torture to save Dawn. I suppose if creatures with souls like Warren are able to do bad, then it makes sense that now and again soulless creatures could do good and show some genuine empathy and selflessness like Spike did in season 5.

Still overall I'd argue that most soulless beings have no empathy and genuine concern for others.


Member of the Church Of Faith
Dec 23, 2013
The Moot, England
I would consider Xander risking his life to save Buffy at the end of S1 Prophecy Girl as an act of selfless (romantic) love; it just never gets talked about.

On this thread we seem to be only talking about romantic love; to me the most obvious form of selfless love seen on either show was familial love; Buffy sacrificing herself for Dawn, Darla gives her life for Connor because she loves him and knows that when he is fully born she will cease to love him.
Angel giving Connor the perfect family and walking away contented, thinking that at the time he can never be part of his son's happiness.

We see nothing close to this from vampires, and the closest we get from someone 'maybe' soulless is the Mayor's love for Faith, which seemed to survive even after death. But its unclear if he was actually 'unsouled' or that his soul was forfeit to some demon upon his death.
Ethan Reigns
Ethan Reigns
The Mayor did say that he sold his soul.
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