October/November 2013 - Vol. 70
On Falling in Love and Other Such Ailments
A wise and practical
presentation on the five types of love
by Carlos Mantica
The following essay is adapted from the book, From Birdhood to Egghead: Hatch or Rot as a Christian, by Carlos Mantica. In the forward to the book Fr. Victoriano Arizti, from Victoria, Spain writes: "You are going to experience, dear reader, how these talks and teachings, which ...are Nicaraguan experiences, conceptualized by Chale Mantica in light of God's Word do give a concrete response to the issues and questions that often come up in your communities or in the apostolic field the Lord has called you to. These talks now come to your hands, with the same love and the same apostolic enthusiasm with which their author developed them, and I hope they will be helpful for your own enrichment and to give practical orientation to those who share with you the yearning for a more genuine Christianity, one that will be an effective answer to the problems confronted by today's society."Role of emotions
Modern society has elevated our emotions and feelings to the rank of sole arbiters of our behavior. What we feel has become the major criterion to determine whether something is good or bad, proper or improper. If it feels good, do it!
Unfortunately, our emotions are unstable. Today we feel one way, and the next day we feel a different way. In addition, we are not always responsible for what we feel, and if something as unstable and as difficult to control determines the totality of our actions, our lives will be just as unstable and will be beyond our control.
In this chapter we will refer to one of those emotions that are unstable and beyond our control. We will talk about Eros, the love of those who are in love. We will talk about what this love is like and what we can expect from it, its role in our lives and the problems it poses, its virtues and defects, and how it can be our ally or our enemy, the most beautiful thing in the world or the most painful.
And our first message is this: Married life cannot be based solely on Eros, but in the immense majority of cases it unfortunately is, and this has serious consequences.
Marriage and Eros
Back then, in other words, falling in love was one of the factors that would determine her marriage, but not the only one, nor necessarily the most important of all.
When they fall in love, they will always see in the other the person they had dreamed of, even if he or she is a wild, unbearable being, and by that time they care very little whether they will have to live in Zimbabwe or whether they will see each other only once every six months because he is traveling salesman for the North Pole.
Normal life is usually interrupted by this love (school, travel, relationships), and it is often cancelled forever. In one word, onceyou are in love it is often too late to decide when you are going to get married and who the right person is.
This is very important to bear in mind. Because what this means is that quite often we fall in love with someone, not because he or she is the right person, but simply because he or she happened to be closest. A man and a woman, if placed in conditions of closeness and intimacy for a reasonable time, will end up developing a mutual attraction which we can usually term falling in love. That's why the boss falls in love with his secretary, and female students with their male teachers, older women with their doctors, psychiatrists, confessors or confidants. Personal areas of attraction are not so important.
A girl who deals with various boys with a certain degree of intimacy will discover this by herself, and will gradually develop some kind of immunity. Little by little, it will increasingly be the case that she does not fall in love with every one of the boys she relates closely with. But at the beginning she will fall in love with all of those she relates closely with, to a greater or lesser degree.This depends not so much on who that person is, but on how close the relationship is.
As it is the case that in the world we have to deal with many people in a more or less intense way, it becomes very important to develop a certain immunity, as well as to be able to maintain a friendship without drifting into this kind of more intimate relationship whose effects we already know.
One day they will get just too close to each other and catch the cold.
And if this happens when they are already married to someone else, tragedy
will come. All young people should be aware that,
It is serious enough that falling in love is nowadays the only or main factor that determines whom or when we will marry. But much more serious still is the problem of those who would make being in love the main support of their marriage lives, and the axis that sustains all their husband-wife relationships.
Only too often we meet ladies who resent the fact that their husbands are not in love with them the way they used to be in their early years. Their main point of reference is usually the days of their honeymoon, their first few months of marriage, and all their efforts are focused on reviving those moments and emotions which, for reasons we will consider below, disappeared from their live and there seems to be very little they can do to prevent it.
They then feel frustrated, bitter, disappointed and resentful,not understanding what has happened, and not realizing that those feelings of bitterness and frustration, and the attitudes that often derive from them, do nothing but contribute towards destroying or suffocating the very feeling they are striving to preserve.
Five types of
The second point in this talk is precisely that we need five loves: affection, friendship, being in love, sexual passion, and agape. None of them by itself is able to satisfy the totality of our affective needs.
Eros is exclusive. The first problematic characteristic of Eros is that being in love is exclusive. It excludes everyone else, and it demands exclusiveness from the beloved person. Affection, friendship and agape, instead, are not exclusive. I can feel affection for a very large number of people. Christian love, or agape, is not exclusive either. The Lord commands us to love even our enemies. Friendship is not exclusive; we often hear our friends repeat the phrase, "My friends' friends are my friends." Friendship opens us to others. I would like to have many friends, and I do not feel in any way disturbed by the fact that my friends have as many other friends as they like. But I have never heard anyone say, "My friends are my girlfriend's boyfriends."
The Lord, no doubt, planned being in love to make us exclusive, so that there could be faithfulness between the spouses. He also intended man and woman to have a tendency tobe isolated as a couple and to focus on each other, so that they would get to know each other deeply as a preparation for marriage. A problem emerges, however, when our being in love with someone not only precludes us from being in love with someone else, but also excludes everyone else from our lives from our affection, our friendship or our agape love.
God made Eros exclusive so that we would fall in love with only one person, or at least for us to be in love with only one person at a time, but not for us to be isolated. The fact that I love my wife involves my not loving anyone else in the same way, but it cannot involve my not loving anyone else in any way whatsoever. When love makes us exclusive to such an extreme degree that it absorbs everything, then our partner's affective life depends absolutely on us. As we shall see, this is almost impossible, since man and woman need a very large range of forms of affection, and a large number of marriage problems in today's world emerge precisely because people expect from their partner something that the partner by himself or by herself is not able to give. We shall come back to this later.
A second characteristic of Eros, which makes Eros terribly dangerous, is summed up in that oft-repeated phrase that love is blind. Eros is blind. As in the preceding case, this characteristic also seems to be part of God's plan. Love's blindness is an advantage inside marriage. An older lady whom I have great affection for says that the Lord is so wise that, as we grow further into old age, the Lord gradually blinds us so that we cannot see our spouse's wrinkles, fatness or baldness. The Lord intended it to be thus, so that love would not be over when beauty, which is short-lived, is gone.
But this blindness can be terrible before marriage. Eros will be a support and will strengthen every marriage, but it is a serious danger for choosing one's husband or wife, because if she's ugly we will see her beautiful, and if she's stupid she will seem a genius. The woman we fall in love with has no defects, nobody can be compared to her.
Eros is, then, our best friend as a support to keep and enjoy the relationship with the person we have already chosen as our spouse, but it can be our worst enemy for choosing a lifelong spouse.
Yet there are many other ways in which love is blind. It is also blind
in the sense that it does not necessarily seek our own good, nor does it
necessarily strive for our own happiness. Even if the phrase sounds amazing,
when we put Eros to the test this proves to be true. Like C.S. Lewis points
out: "Everyone knows how useless it is to try to separate two people who
are in love by demonstrating to them that their marriage will be a failure.
It is useless, not only because they will not believe us, but because even
if they believed they would not let themselves be persuaded; because, once
Eros has marked us, we would rather share misfortune with the beloved one
than be happy otherwise. Even if the two of them can foresee that ten years
from now they will be happier if they don't get married than if they do,
yet they would not separate. All these calculations have no importance
whatsoever for Eros. Eros will never hesitate to say, "This is better than
Love is not just blind - it's stupid, and it can also be unjust and cruel. The feelings of love that produce happiness in some people are the same that lead others to cruel unions, to impossible marriages, to pacts of suicide or murder. Everyday, in the name of love, the cruellest injustices are committed; the greatest suffering is caused; the most tremendous disgraces are provoked.
This is because love does not just blind us concerning people, but also concerning principles, values and morality. Being in love serves as a justification for everything. It seems to legitimize all kinds of actions which people wouldn't have dared to take otherwise. And I am not referring only or mainly to actions that go against chastity. Being in love justifies absolutely everything. When we are in love we have our own laws, or own religion, our own god. Being in love legitimizes actions of injustice and even actions against true love. A man or a woman will say, "It is for love's sake that I have abandoned my parents; it is for love's sake that I have neglected my children; it is for love's sake that I have cheated my wife; it is for love's sake that I have offended a friend; it is for love's sake that I have betrayed a brother." True love does not do this kind of things.
Being in love
As we can see, being in love poses very difficult challenges to an individual. They are situations that require a lot of discernment and maturity. But we have not yet said the most important thing.
Eros is a liar, an impostor. It is a liar because it completely distorts reality, because it makes us see things the way they are not, because it makes us consider beautiful, things that are not beautiful, consider good things that may not be just or right and because it promises things that it is unable to fulfill.
It is an impostor, above all, because it can serve as a disguise to a lot of emotions. A girlfriend or wife that tells you, "I can't live without you, I need you, you are all to me," may be telling you the truth, but she does not necessarily love you. She needs you and can't live without you, because maybe you are the only person who has shown interest and affection for her. She needs you because you have perhaps succeeded in healing a complex of inferiority or a feeling of insecurity in her. She needs you because you have felt compassion for her. She needs you to satisfy her own vanity, or she needs you because you have taken her out of loneliness. She needs you because you make her happy.
On the side of women, I have often seen that love is a disguise for mere maternal instinct. This is the case of a girl who falls in love with the weakest guy, because she finds in him a way to channel all her instincts of protection and tenderness.
Maybe this adult married man had never set his eyes on that woman, until she paid attention to him and he detected admiration in her eyes. He who thought he was not able to attract a woman anymore suddenly feels in rapture, not by that person, but by the way she looked at him. He thinks he is in love with her, but what he has really fallen in love with is the admiration she has for him. Let me repeat Eros is an impostor, because it can be the disguise for a lot of different emotions.
Three ways of
falling in love
Falling in love with a need: a pair of eyes is the most dangerous thing in the world, and it's not necessary that they be pretty, because what really attracts us is not the eyes but the way they look at us. It is our need for admiration, our need for tenderness, our need for understanding, our need for security about our ability to be attractive. When a boy or a girl are not especially attractive, or when age makes us wrinkled, bald or fat, feeling admired or loved by someone else is almost irresistible. Eros has the power to become a need in itself. The boy who once has fallen in love is so much in love with what he feels, that he no longer can live without that feeling, and thus seeks to provoke it. This is what we call being in love with love.
We can also fall in love with a symbol. This is the blue prince of schoolgirls' dreams he exists only in their imagination, and very seldom in real life. They have idealized a person to whom they attribute all virtues, all qualities, all the characteristics they would like to find in a man. This can result in tragedy because, most usually, the less we know a person the more we love him or her. But when we get to know him it can be too late. Being in love now disappears, because we have discovered the flesh-and-blood person, full of defects, that was hidden behind the dreamt-of blue prince. Worse still, this same girl, once married, falls in love with the things she finds in others and which her husband lacks.
Finally, we can fall in love with a person a real person, just as he or she actually is, and not with a need or an ideal. We fall in love with that person with his or her defects, with his virtues, and, of course, if we ever fall in love in earnest and intend to establish a relationship for the rest of our lives, we must make sure that what we have fallen in love with is the person himself or herself.
That is why I will devote a few moments to explain how we can distinguish between these three ways of falling in love.
Most usually, when we have fallen in love with a need inside us, our love emerges as a response to the other person's love or initiatives. It does not come from ourselves. The other person elicits it with his or her actions, admiration, esteem or understanding. "If she had never looked at me that way, or if she had not told me what she told me, I would have never fallen in love with her."
One way to know whether we are in love with a symbol or a person is that, when we are in love with a symbol, the person seems to grow when we are not with her, and becomes more insignificant when we are with her, because we then see her just as she is. In her presence we discover that she is spoiled, whimsical, lazy, sloppy. When we are in love with the person herself, instead, the person seems to grow when in our presence. We increasingly discover in her new qualities and virtues, or else we detect and accept her defects and continue to love her just as she is.
Of course, it is the person we should always fall in love with. The other two, fortunately, are relatively easy to fight. When we fall in love with a need, this can usually be healed by way of the truth. If we are honest to ourselves, we realize that we have fallen in love with our pride, or vanity. This person was just a consolation in our loneliness, our self-pity, our need to feel loved. We may not be able to renounce this love because our need is just so great, but we should at least be honest enough to admit that it is not the person we love but what she or he represents.
And when we have fallen in love with a symbol, this is usually solved only through disappointment. Reality itself takes care to destroy the symbol, and we only need be careful that this does not happen just too late.
But I have not yet pointed out the most dangerous feature of Eros, which makes it a real danger. This is something we should all be fully aware of.
It is that Eros comes to our lives without invitation. When it comes, it sweeps away everything, and then it usually leaves when it wills and there's nothing we can do to stop it.
Eros needs no invitation. It can enter our hearts without previous notice, without our consent. We usually discover that we are falling in love when we discover that we have already fallen in love, at least to a certain extent. When this happens, we can either:
Under our control
and at our service
We said earlier that, when Eros comes in, it sweeps away everything. It sweeps away our peace, our common sense, our recreational activities, our values, our areas of interest... and sometimes even our money. It absorbs everything, it wants everything for itself. It is possibly the strongest emotion a human being can experience. It can make us able to carry out the most incredible acts of heroism, it can give us the greatest joys, the most infinite bliss. Or else it can make us able to commit the worst acts of injustice, it can provoke in us despair, suffering, deceit, betrayal, suicide. It is simply a two-edged sword that can act for us or against us. That is why we need to be prepared when it comes, we need to know it as it really is, we need to have a sober assessment of it, we need to know how to guard ourselves against it, we need to be ready to receive it, and to have the necessary maturity to face it.
Because the most terrible aspect of all this is that Eros, whose voice seems to speak to us from heaven, which seems so great, so solid, is not even permanent. On the contrary, it is the most fatal of our loves and at once the most fleeting. It is here today, and its presence covers everything, and tomorrow it is gone and has left no track. And this is the most puzzling part of it on the one hand we have an absolute inner certainty that such a great thing will never disappear, and on the other it happens to be the thing that vanishes most easily.
Love makes promises nobody has requested from it. When we fall in love, our first spontaneous words are, "Ill love you forever, Ill always be faithful to you." These are usually the first words of a person who is in love and he or she is being sincere, not hypocritical. No matter how experienced this person is, he or she will never be cured of this illusion. All of us have known people who fall in love again every year or every few months. Each time, they are sincerely persuaded that the thing will be serious this time, that they have found true love and that they will be faithful for the rest of their lives. Thus, no one is able to convince us of the opposite, not even ourselves, even though we see it happen once and again.
What Eros actually
Eros is exclusive and possessive. Eros is blind. Eros is a liar, an impostor, who demands everything and guarantees nothing. In brief, Eros is not to be trusted. That is why we can't have our lives governed only by that emotion. It cannot be our only or main criterion in making decisions, or what will actually determine our actions. It can show up without invitation. We must be prepared to receive it and to close the door on it if we are not ready; we must protect our lives and our hearts with deep convictions, firm decisions, solid and sound relationships. We cannot take it lightly or play with it, because it is usually Eros that plays with us. This does not mean we should be afraid of it-we should just respect it, with the respect one has for things unforeseeable and unknown.
I think that, up to this point, we can understand well the first part of our message, namely, that our marriage life cannot rely only and exclusively on Eros, because we cannot count on it, because it's here today and can fade away tomorrow, because it can be the disguise for many other emotions, and because it does not necessarily seek always our true happiness.
To love and to
What do I mean? That neither affection alone nor friendship alone, nor Christian love alone nor Eros alone nor Venus alone are able to fill up our need to be loved or our ability to love. That the Lord planted inside us a deep need for all of them, which none of them can fill up by itself. We need them all, and usually one of these loves serves as a support and an encouragement for the others.
For example, sexual attraction towards another person, soon loses its appeal if not accompanied by Eros, if we are not in love with that person. Especially in women, the sexual act loses a great part of its attraction and beauty when the woman is not in love with her partner, or when she has ceased to be.
But, at the same time, when we are in love, this love in itself calls forth the sexual relationship. Thus, Eros supports and encourages Venus.
And when all these emotions and feelings fail, when a moment comes in which we feel nothing but a vacuum and total dryness toward the other person, then the most perfect love of all, the most generous and at once the least demanding, Christian love, brotherly love, needs to be present right there to preserve the relationship, to take the responsibility of the commitment that Eros and Venus entered but which they were not able to fulfill by themselves.
An example of these commitments can be the promises of faithfulness made by Eros, or the commitment to care for the well-being of the children generated by Venus. Agape sustains and perfects the relationship born of friendship, and can also provide the gentleness and the caresses promised by affection. This is our main thesis that we need all of them, and that all of them come together to support one another and to give us full happiness and complete fulfillment as human beings.
We need many different
What I am going to say now may seem somewhat scandalous to some of you, but all I'm doing is pointing out an evident reality, and it is important for all of you to understand me well. Eros is not satisfied with just one person. It is true we fall in love with just one person at a time, but the experience of almost everyone, men and women, is that we fall in love several times in our lives.
The same can be said of Venus. Especially a man may, at a given time, feel sexually attracted to a different person, and this does not mean he loves his girlfriend or wife any less. It is simply that his sexuality has been aroused by some visual stimulus or physical contact.
All of this is true, whether we like it or not. But this does not mean we are approving or justifying someone who betrays his wife or his girlfriend, just because he fell in love with someone else or felt sexually attracted to her. We are pointing out this reality, because modern society unfortunately does justify it. We are just cautioning against the danger. It is modern society that has turned emotions into an absolute criterion for behavior. We are saying all the opposite that we are always responsible for what we do, even if we are not responsible for all we feel. Just feeling something is notreason enough to act in one way or another. We are not at the mercy of our emotions or our instincts.
Loving each other
with Christ's love
When I say that we can hardly find the fullness of love in just one person, what I'm trying to point out is that we need many persons in order to be fully happy and in order to be completely fulfilled as human beings.
I would like to point out a further danger I had mentioned a few moments ago. Modern society is witnessing a series of events that are unprecedented in history, in terms of relationships.
I said earlier that, for the first time in history, falling in love has become the only and main criterion to start a courtship relationship or to enter marriage.
extended family relationships
As youngsters, we used to playas a group and had an awareness of the neighborhood, the community, the parish. The neighbourhood would give us a certain sense of identity and feelings of loyalty. In the workplace, relationships tended to be much more personal, not just functional. We knew people by their names, and nicknames were often used among us. Usually a woman would find company and receive formation not just from her mother, but from her sisters, her cousins, her aunts, her grandparents, etc. In modern society, in technological society, in urban life, most of these relationships have now disappeared. The family is now reduced to the father, the mother, and an increasingly smaller number of children who live in houses or apartments where you can often live for years without getting to know the neighbors next door. Domestic service is fading out. Children no longer play in groups on the streets. Neighborhoods in the sense the word used to have, have disappeared. There is no sense of identity and loyalty in the neighborhood. Work relationships have become purely functional. An expression ofaffection is interpreted as favoritism, paternalism, or even worse. A nickname indicates disrespect.
I'm not saying right now whether these things are good or bad. They're just facts. A consequence of this has been that modern individuals expect to find the totality of these expressions of affection, friendship and love in just one other person. They need them, but they do not receive them from the society around them, and so they seek them and hope to find them in a single person, a man in just one woman and a woman in just one man, and the child in the father and the mother or in his brother or sister. I'm not likely to be wrong if I say that this may be one of the main reasons for the increase in the divorce rate because a man's or a woman's expectations of one another have grown far beyond the other person's actual possibilities.
of Christian community
What I mean is that, when we live in community, we receive affection from others; we receive friendship from them; we can rely on the support, loyalty and commitment of the Christian love of those who are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, who are sincerely committed to one another and even willing to give up everything for us. This satisfies to a great extent our loneliness, our need for affection, our need for company and support.
A husband and a wife discover that their love and commitment become easier, because many of their affective demands are being filled by other people. The wife is no longer supposed to meet by herself the totality of her husband's need for affection, his need for company, his need for fellowship, his need for friendship, his need for enjoyment, his need for recognition, his need for admiration, his need for respect. I'm sure that a widow will also find in the love of her brothers and sisters a great part of the affection she needs. An elderly woman, or a widow, or a divorced woman, can hardly bear by themselves the burden that loneliness involves in modern society. They will usually marry again or drift into promiscuity, because society as such almost never has anything to offer them, and they are supposed to find it all in a man, in whom they will focus in order to find the totality of the five loves.
Community is not enough to fully satisfy what maybe only a man or woman can give. But it will open to them a way to joy, to friendship, to security, to support, to company, to personal fulfillment, to feeling useful, to feeling supported, in fact to feeling indispensable. Because, in a community of brothers and sisters, every one of us is indispensable, in the sense that no one can replace us. If a single one of us disappears, the community will no longer be the same. Each and everyone of us, young people, adults and the elderly, single, married, widows and widowers, we all carry in our hearts and in our bodies the need for these five loves. None of them is sufficient in itself. They all complement each other, and they help and support each other, and there is no one person who, throughout his or her life, is able to provide this to us by himself or herself. We need to experience this and to live it everyday. And, as we strive to build a new society, a new culture, it is only right for us to realize that modern society increasingly denies us this possibility. It is only right for us to realize that community life is, even at the human level, an increasingly felt need our need for love, our need to exercise our ability to love each other.
[This article is excerpted from the book, From
Birdhood to Egghead: Hatch or Rot as a Christian, by Carlos Mantica
Abaunza, (c) 2001. Used with permission.]
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