Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Something About Love

Some of you may be wondering why Seraphic is talking about love on her Singles blog today. Possibly some of you had a painful Valentine's Day, although I hope you didn't--having prepared in advance by making plans with friends, and sending other Single girls chocolate, or just by being busy and having a treat waiting when you got home. (If you still felt pain, that's perfectly natural, life includes pain, but I hope you didn't wallow. Wallowing is death.) One year in my long Singleness I sent myself a valentine; the jury's out on whether that was better than nothing. On V-Day, it's a better idea to look away from yourself to other people.

Love, after all, is about other people. Hopefully you love yourselves, but strangely this healthy self-love seems to be achieved by looking away from the self. Do we get our self-love from looking into the eyes of those who love us or who are entertained by us or who are honestly grateful to us? I keep thinking back to Saturday night, and how good I felt after a day of meeting and chatting to readers.

Environment is so important. I don't think we give it enough credit. If you're constantly around people who are mean to you, of course you're going to develop "low self esteem." If you're around people who make you feel appreciated, of course you're going to be happy.

The problem with Valentine's Day, often, is that advertisers stress romantic love--or even, horribly, a kind of sexual bartering. Love has nothing to do with sexual bartering (although marriage itself sometimes needs moments of sexual generosity) and love is so much more than romantic love. Love is what you feel for your nearest and dearest, for your parents and family (if you and they haven't killed that love), for your best friends, perhaps for some of your mentors, for your favourite saints, for God.

Love does not have to last forever: you may have sincerely loved the best friend you had at 12 or 16, and now you don't love her--possibly because neither you nor she is the same person you were at 12 or 16. But that doesn't render the love you had at 12 or 16 shallow. And yet some love lasts forever. My uncle died when I was 9, and I still miss him and pray for him.

Love is not supposed to hurt. When your family or friends hurt you, hopefully you are confident enough in your relationships to say "Hey! That really hurt me!" and to hash things out and to heal the wound. Romantic love is not supposed to hurt either. The person to whom you give your heart should treat you at least as well as your friends and parents do (or should).

I have found that love for a husband has facets that remind me of love for a good, admirable father and love for God. Somewhere Gloria Steinem is having a heart attack, but it is true. True of me, I mean.

People who have not fallen in love are curious to know what it is like. Personally, I took notes. Sadly, those notes are in Scotland at the moment. However, I can tell you that I felt giddy and happy and I laughed a lot. B.A. grinned so much his face hurt.

My big worry, when I realized that I was in love with B.A. (but didn't know how he felt about me), was that maybe he was this nice to everybody. After all, he was very popular, and his church friends kept inviting him and me, his Canadian guest, to dinner parties or coming to his dinner parties, and he was merry and kindly to all. However, our evening poetry-reading sessions (which, I add with amused glee, have never been repeated) were rather a tip-off that something was going on with B.A. as well as with me.

When we were apart we talked about each other constantly. The people I saw right after I fell in love with B.A. were Der Gute and Volker (whom you might know from MY BOOK), whom I went to Germany to see, and poor Volker got so sick of hearing about B.A. that he begged me to call a girl friend. And apparently someone in his Men's Schola was so bored he told B.A. that he never wanted to hear my name again.

The only thing that hurt was that we were separated, first by continental Europe, and then by the Atlantic Ocean. Although both of us were rather poor, we both managed to cross that ocean: first B.A. six weeks later, then me six weeks after he left, and then B.A. again to get married to me. We had two minor squabbles, both about troublesome people, and then a biggish squabble, the day before the wedding when my stress levels were through the roof. But other than that we sort of shone at the universe and laughed a lot.

B.A. got on (and gets on) like a house on fire with my family, particularly my mother, which was a very good sign, as in many ways I am like my mother. And I got on well (and get on well) with his friends, who are much more in evidence than his family.

I present all this heavily experiential stuff not as the be-all and end-all of what it is to fall in love but as a model (not THE model, but A model--don't forget that we were 36 and 37 at the time). One of the sadnesses of having divorced parents (and, by the way, only 12% of people aged between 40-44 are divorced) is that you do not have a model of a happy marriage before you. If we could be a model, that would be awesome.

And what I am trying to say is that, although falling in love is incredibly exciting and powerful, making very laid-back men (like B.A.) exert themselves radically (like fly across the ocean to see you) and very friends-and-family oriented women (like me) leave friends-and-family behind, it is not that far removed from the love you have for your family and your friends and that they have for you.

I very much hope that in reading this that you don't feel a stab of loneliness and longing for a man (or woman) you might not have even met yet. Instead, think of where love is in your life right now, and what God is asking you to do in your life right now. Think about how your most beloved family members and friends treat you and how you treat them and compare this in your mind with the last person you had a crush on or who had a crush on you. A true friend (and a husband is a friend) never makes you do anything you really don't want to do, and a true friend doesn't make you cry.

Well, B.A. did make me cry, but that is because he wired me flowers for Valentine's Day, and I didn't think he would. And they were carnations. I was weeping over carnations. My twenty-two year old self--a rose snob--would have been amazed.

Update: The statue is of the Rev. William Corby, C.S.C. He was a great friend of my great-grandmother, who named my grandfather after him. (I think Fr Corby may have been his godfather, too, since he gave the baby a silver cup with his own name engraved on it.) My grandfather's eldest son, my uncle, was also named after him. In the photo, I am asking Fr Corby to pray for all the family, both living and dead. Holly sneakily took the picture.

Update 2: My article on the Edith Stein Project 2011 in the Toronto Catholic Register here.


Anonymous said...

Just when I thought I couldn't love your blog any more than I already do, you revealed an awesome connection to a personal hero of mine, Father Corby. You never cease to amaze me, Seraphic. And now I'll leave before your self-esteem gets inflated. :)

Seraphic said...

What I find awesome is that so many people love Father Corby, who died in 1897. Over a hundred years later, people still learn about him and love him and feel enriched just by seeing his name. Isn't that amazing?

Ginger said...

I am always glad when people recognize that Valentine-love doesn't have to mean romantic love. After-all, according to the traditional story of St. Valentine, the first "Valentine" was sent to the daughter of the prison guard, for whom whom the Saint had a fatherly love.

However, I do disagree with the sentiment that true friends and people who love you don't hurt you. People make mistakes, people say things they don't really mean. I think love is a stronger thing than can be whisked away or nullified by human short-comings. I also don't know why you say love doesn't hurt. Of course, love itself doesn't hurt... But often we are hurt BECAUSE we love someone. We cry when someone dies because we loved them. God Himself wept for His children, whom He loved. Maybe you mean something else that I'm missing?

Seraphic said...

It's not the love that makes you cry, but the death or suffering of someone that you love.

I'm taking a potshot at the idea that suffering "for love" is romantic or normal. "Stand by your man" makes sense when it means that your man returns from the battlefield badly injured or loses his job. It doesn't make sense when your man hits you, goes after other women or even just doesn't notice you're alive. It's amazing what women (and men) will put up with just to prove to themselves how loyal they are.

People do make mistakes, but for the most part healthy, mature, love-worthy people do their best not to make the mistakes that hurt other people, let alone the people they love.

Yes, "love is patient" but it is not masochistic.

That's what I'm getting at.

Seraphic said...

I think the bit you missed is where I say when our friends and family hurt us we tell them, hash out the problem, and heal the wounds.

Meanwhile, Jesus certainly wept, but it is not super-duperly orthodox to say that God weeps, as God-as-God is impassible.

Sheila said...

On the topic of "sexual bartering" -- have you ever seen those jewelry ads with the slogan "Every kiss begins with Kay"? I loathe them with an overwhelming disgust ... seeing as their jewelry usually runs to four or five figures, that would make kissing prohibitively expensive! Thank goodness I do not, like the women in the gushy ads, wait for a diamond or an expensive necklace before I will kiss my man!

And I agree with Seraphic here -- love makes you happy, not hurting, a big majority of the time. If you're hurting because you are with the person you love (not because you are NOT with them -- that's natural) then something is wrong. Perhaps fixable, but until you are actually HAPPY with a person, you can't be sure it's going to work out. I know an awful lot of people who excuse their relationships with "Well, when it's good, it's really good," and yet it turns out "when it's good" means "once in a blue moon, when he actually makes the effort." In real love, the other person is as loath to hurt you as you are to hurt them. If it happens, it's accidental and they quickly try to make it better.

Becca said...

I really liked this post but I'm not sure I agree with the idea that love shouldn't involve pain.

Isn't love defined as self-gift? Of choosing what is best for the other? Doesn't that, in a sinful and selfish world, require self-denial, selflessness and sacrifice? And, at least in my experience, that can involve suffering.

That's not to say that I think love = suffering, but I think that it certainly involves suffering.

After all, isn't the greatest example of love the sacrifice of Christ on the cross? Total self-gift.

That said, I agree that blindly being loyal even in an abusive situation is not love.

But maybe I'm confuzzled about the point you're making...

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Sheila! That's exactly what I'm talking about.

Some of us have "family scripts" where we were told as kids that we have to put up with bad behaviour of our parents, uncles, aunts, etc, because we love them and, let's face it, are powerless anyway. And we watch aunts and mothers and maybe fathers and uncles putting up with terrible behaviour from their spouses out of love and "loyalty"--and possibly a sense of powerlessness.

However, it is important to know that when it comes to choosing a spouse, we can and should throw away unhealthy "family scripts" in which a "good person" ignores or suffers anti-social behaviour. I'm not talking towels-on-the-floor, here. I'm talking habitual nasty comments, etc.

One of the greatest skills you can learn is how to bicker amiably and constructively with a spouse. BA and I bicker amiably and constructively about my bad habit of leaving towels on the floor. But I would never intentionally say anything hurtful to him, nor he to me.

Seraphic said...

Aaaah! Becca, no, Aquinas defines love as "desiring the other's good."

When you tell a seven year old he can't stay up past his bedtime, you are desiring his good, and therefore loving him by compelling him to go to bed at his bedtime.

"Self-gift" is what John Paul 2nd says in his theology of the body about the marital act. Sadly, I think women are more into this idea than men are, because they write in and tell me that they long "to give" themselves to another, whereas men are traditionally rather slower and less enthusiastic about giving themselves utterly and completely.

Love helps you withstand suffering, or willing to take on suffering (like poverty) because someone you or someone you love is suffering. Love makes you patient with those who are driving you nuts (but not harming you) because you feel for them or feel protective of them.

When I read of another women touting self-denial, selflessness and sacrifice I get really nervous because quite a lot of the time it is not Catholic women who have a problem with these things but the men they hope to marry.

Practically, self-denial means not buying the cute dress because the family budget can't afford it. Selflessness means not going to the party because your husband is sick. Sacrifice means not going home to see your parents for Christmas because this year it is your husband's family's turn.

It is not the love that makes you hurt. I just want to underscore that. Yes, it hurts to become a better, more loving person, but that should be a hurt like the kind you get from working out: your spiritual muscles are sore.

The reason why I am banging on about love not hurting is because too many women (and some men) think love means having to put up with really terrible and even abusive behaviour. Death hurts. Self-sacrifice hurts a little, and then you are glad--just like exercise at the gym. Ditto selflessness and sacrifice. But overall, when you are with the man you love, the man who says you love you, you should be HAPPY most of the time.