After almost three decades of usually blissful marriage – I don’t want to get carried away here – and some bad relationships in my younger years, and after countless failed attempts to elevate my ability to love from the purely physical to the spiritual, I’ve reached some fundamental conclusions, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
You see, for too long I’ve tried to model my ideal of true love after the great lovers of our age: Brad and Jen, Brad and Angelina, Ben and JLo, Ben and Jennifer, JLo and Marc, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. That’s because I often turn to Star magazine for the answers to life’s imponderables but typically come up empty-handed while I’m standing in line at the supermarket, leafing through the tabloids.
Clearly, the primary preoccupation of Americans, after the pursuit of money, is the pursuit of love, which is variously defined as sex, lust, more sex, infatuation, emotional gratification, even more sex, psychotherapy and a partner for the prom.
What poses for love in modern society – the Cosmo, love-lust formula, the recreational sex thing and the Desperate Housewives syndrome – are, of course, nothing more than impediments to real love.
In the ’70’s we were led to believe love means never having to say you’re sorry. Back then, prefeminist girls forced their boyfriends to read the best-selling novel, Love Story, as if it were some sort of primer on true love. If that wasn’t bad enough, then we had to take them to see the movie with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. Most guys would have preferred something more intellectual with fewer teardrops, like "Shaft," but we wanted to prove we were sensitive and caring and strong enough to love in the emerging feminist era.
The irony is that once all of us sensitive guys married the girls we were dating, we learned love means always having to say you’re sorry.
The evolution of love works like this. First, there’s physical attraction, the boy-meets-girl magnetism, followed by infatuation, desire and the part where you fall head over heels in love and can’t eat or sleep. That phase, sad to say, ends fast even though most people spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture it with countless partners.
The physical part often leads to procreation, and having kids raises love to another dimension entirely.
Actually, some of the greatest lessons about love come from having kids. Not because they’re so warm and cuddly and lovable. Not because they give you homemade Valentine’s cards with lots of glue and glitter. Not because you’re proud of them when they get into good colleges. But because you have to love them even when you get nothing in return. It’s a classic case of learning to love unselfishly, even unconditionally, and that’s something that Christ had a lot to say about. Yes, love is giving more than getting.
Kids take. When you love them, you sacrifice for them, often with no return on your investment. After all, that’s what love is – giving freely with no expectation of return – and that’s why the modern world knows so little about love. Those concepts make no sense in a culture that believes taking and getting are more important than giving. The ability to sacrifice for someone else is essential, whether it’s a long-suffering spouse, a sick child or a friend. And that’s why you can’t just "fall" into love, you have to walk up the narrow and steep path that so few of us want to take.
That’s difficult for me because my first thought is generally, "What’s in it for me?"
Another strange thing I’ve discovered is that our longing for love can never be satisfied by human love alone because we’ve been wired to seek something more, something infinitely greater – and I believe that would be God’s love, which is given freely and unconditionally. Happy Valentine’s Day.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.