Am I Loving or Using You?
(This post was inspired by “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from JP II’s Love and Responsibility” by Edward Sri)
I think many of us can agree that desire to be united with someone, to be fully known and seen. We want to enter into someone’s interior life and experience them. I know I can speak for myself when I say that I don’t want to be alone. I want to be understood. But too often, I catch myself speaking with friends, and my friends and I settle for idealizing someone, putting them on a pedestal or seeking superficial attention from guys.
There are a few things that I have been learning about relationships – the difference between really seeking the best for someone and seeking the best for yourself. Here are some of the lessons I learned:
We can use a person’s body even when that person is not present, through using our memory and imagination to fantasize about the person. Consenting to Lusting after another objectifies the person and doesn’t honor their dignity. Longing for the body is not love by itself. That desire can grow into meaningful love if there is a truly good intention to want the best for the other. Sensuality can harm a relationship if one does not want to cultivate commitment, virtue, and selflessness in the relationship.
The reason why we idealize love is because it makes it tangible, real, and accessible. The feelings we vicariously live through, or the projected perfection we put on the other, makes us feel comforted in the knowledge that we can be completely fulfilled by another. We can express our feelings through physical signs meant to build intimacy (hugging, kissing) and that can actually prevent love from growing because we may subtly use each other for both emotional and physical pleasure. Physical intimacy makes things seem intense, and new, and that makes cultivating real communication tough because it requires more work. It requires discipline, self-control, and actually thinking about your relationship - not just acting on your desires. Acting upon physical desires prematurely can create the “what’s in it for me” mentality, that which is the opposite of love. We create a mirage of love, not the reality of love. But it all depends on intention.
C.S eloquently put it this way: “love makes a man really want, not one woman but one particular woman… the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.”
Love should integrate our feelings with responsibility, because when physical intimacy is given or received, we must also accept a greater sense of accountability. Our emotions, along with commitment, should build a relationship and include even deeper intimacy. Feelings alone cannot be the compass to how we love each other because feelings tend to cloud the way we think about others. Feelings can manipulate us to think that we need more pleasure, more excitement now.
Attraction can lead to us exaggerating the value of the person we like and we downplay their flaws because we have this idealized persona of them in our minds. We can idealize a person’s value when in reality they are nothing like the fantasy that is imagined in our heads.
Consider this point by Sri: “if I fall into sentimental idealization, my beloved is not truly the recipient of my affections.” Ask yourself this: do I really love my beloved or do I love the idea of him/her?
It would be tragic to feel like you don’t really know the person that you claim to love.
The affections you feel might be dependent on the ideal values you placed on the person you like and not their true value. Resentment and anger might build up when the other doesn’t make you feel the fuzzy feelings you used to feel. We can even use each other for emotional gratification for idealizing the other in relationships, but that can never last because the person’s limits and humanness will come out and the relationship will end.
Just like a bonfire that is ignited, a spark needs to be lit but without the wood to sustain the fire, the fire will die.
The way to prevent idealization is start all relationships with friendships and be real, see weakness and accept other’s humanness. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Ultimately we just want to be recognized. We want our love to be recognized. Don’t let your emotions control you – balance your head and your heart and take these desires to prayer. Desires are good but how we act on them can be good or bad. So this is a helpful question to ask yourself about virtuously cultivating your relationship: How do I limit my freedom for the sake of love?