Love = Feelings?

I’ve been reading a book by Edward Sri called Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love — basically a condensed version of John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility. The most recent chapter I read discussed a topic which I think is extremely important, but also one that a lot of people don’t think about or ignore. I also had a great conversation about it with a friend of mine yesterday, so I decided to write about it a bit while it’s fresh in my mind. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep things short and simple.

Quick note first, though: you should definitely read this book. JPII was a genius. They don’t call him St. John Paul the Great for nothing!

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So, in his work, JPII describes how people are attracted to others in two main ways: physically and psychologically (or emotionally). He calls these attractions sensuality and sentimentality. We are attracted to people’s bodies and also to their masculinity or femininity — that’s a pretty obvious given. We were designed this way, and these attractions are meant to orient us toward another person, eventually leading us to love them in an authentic way.

However, ever since the Fall, lust has entered the picture. People are now capable of misusing their sexual desires in order to use others for their own personal pleasure. The way men and women tend to lust is related to the two main types of attraction; that is, in general, men tend to lust more physically and women tend to lust more psychologically, or emotionally. That’s part of why we have the stereotypes of “all men are pigs” and “all women are overly emotional.”

Now, obviously, we are called to control our sexual desires and orient them toward what they are meant to lead us to: true authentic love. We’re not animals, after all, acting merely on instinct. We have free will. So we hear a lot about how we should be careful about how we look at others, how we shouldn’t use them as objects for our own gratification. And that’s an extremely important thing. It’s certainly not bad at all that we see articles about it all the time (or at least I do; my Facebook news feed is probably different from yours).

However, I don’t see nearly enough articles or hear enough discussion about the dangers of not controlling our emotions properly. And I think that’s a problem. I’m no expert, but I think I can see why a lot of people (especially the younger crowd) jump around from relationship to relationship so much. They get so caught up in the powerful emotional rush they receive from mutual attraction that they (wrongly, of course) think that they’re “in love.” But oftentimes, the relationship isn’t based on anything except the attraction. Just for example, the guy may be dating the girl because of her shapely body, or the girl may be dating the guy because she has idealized him in her head — projecting traits she finds desirable onto him even though he may not possess many (or any) of them. Then, once the feelings fade, there is nothing left for the relationship to stand on, thus leading to breakup and leaving both parties worse off than before.

I don’t want to go super deep into this or go on for too long, but I think it’s important to start a discussion about it. Why is it that so many marriages end in divorce? Why are so many people so unhappy in their relationships? Could it perhaps have something to do with people confusing love with sentimentality? I definitely think so.

The book gives a great example of how we can see this happening in life: James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic. People flocked to see this movie, particularly women (or so I hear). They were drawn to the thrilling romance of the main characters, and the book speculates that they were especially drawn to Jack’s sacrifice to save Rose (do I really need to include spoiler tags for this movie?). Women want that. They want a man who is willing to give everything for her, even his life. And this is a good thing. But because that great message was mixed with a “love story” that was based on little more than a sexual attraction between the two main characters, we end up with an upside-down message: that this kind of relationship is true, authentic love. That this is the kind of relationship we all should strive for.

Again, it’s no wonder there’s so much complication in people’s love lives (so-called). Hollywood (and other sources, I’m sure) has taught people that love is equivalent to romantic feelings. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s high time people woke up to this fact and stopped getting caught up in their emotions.

Yes, emotions do come along with love. But they are not what love is. Let’s stop seeing the people we’re attracted to as the fulfillment of our personal fantasies. Instead, let’s start seeing them for who they really are. And from there, we can truly grow to love them authentically.

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