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Filling the Space Between Attraction and Love

6:00:00 AMEmma Lindle

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High School Musical 3: Senior Year was a captivating movie for me as a freshman in high school. I definitely saw the attraction Troy and Gabriella had for each other as something good, and something I hoped to experience myself. Discovering my attraction to particular boys, I began entering into relationships, but they weren’t playing out as something good for me. This was confusing. I was attracted, but the relationships seemed empty. I learned something: attraction doesn’t automatically lead to love. I still believed attraction had this possibility, but I needed help beyond Disney Channel to show me why.

Karol Wojtyla chooses attraction as the point of departure for love between a man and woman. For a woman who had grown skeptical and even afraid of attraction, but had once been so captivated by its power being portrayed in High School Musical, the Lizzie McGuire Movie, and many ABC family shows, I was ready for things to be reconciled. Wojtyla’s words gave me hope. He saw attraction and love not only as compatible, but also essential to each other. Here is a man who’s not afraid, and firmly believes, attraction is essential to love.

Attraction is the Origin of Love
Our end goal is love, and this is not an abstract concept, but something discovered and experienced between persons. “Love is always a mutual relationship between persons. This relationship in turn is based on particular attitudes to the good” (1). Attraction comes in at the beginning of this attitude toward the good. “The attitude toward the good originates in a liking for, their attraction to each other” (2).

Here is the beginning of the solution. The liking, the attraction, is the origin of our attitude toward the good of the other. Therefore it must be deepened by a growing into, integrating, education, and testing of love. 

Where Attraction Originates
This initial attraction happens naturally between a man and woman because of the sexual urge (which is always something more than animalistic because it belongs to persons). Troy and Gabriella were first attracted to each other when they met on Christmas vacation and sang “The Start of Something New.” They were attracted to the good of each other’s sexuality, confidence in singing, and probably physical beauty. Why a woman is attracted to a particular man and vice versa in its totality is mysterious, but we can come to understand some of the reasons. Wojtyla’s gives a thorough explanation:

      “The kind of good to which any given man or woman is capable of reacting to a special
      degree depends partly on congenital and hereditary factors, partly on characteristics
      acquired either under extraneous influences or as a result of conscious effort on the part
      of the particular person, of work by the person on himself or herself” (3).

These factors make up our unique emotional lives and determine what will attract us. If attraction is to lead to love, then it can be helpful to note the things that are attractive about the other. This happens spontaneously. I am attracted to these things. I am not attracted to those things. Keeping ever in mind the person to whom these qualities belong. This gives room for ordering what is important for a particular man or woman and gives freedom in responding to attractions and opening oneself to love which is infinitely deep.

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Attraction and Knowledge

There is a cognitive commitment involved in attraction, but knowledge doesn’t amount to attraction. Troy and Gabriella knew very little about each other from their first song together, but they experienced attraction to one another. A man is often attracted to a woman long before he has deep, intellectual thoughts about her and vice versa. Attraction, therefore, is not only intellectual knowledge, but sense knowledge. And, not only knowledge, but also involves emotions and will. The emotions and will play into the cognitive commitment man and woman has for one another.   For example, a woman entrusts a particular hope she has to a man she is dating. This is an emotional experience and the man naturally wills to enter into the conversation. Afterward, he finds his thoughts about her to be deepened.

For love to develope, there is discovery, intentionality, and choices that must follow the attraction. Many RomComs I have seen, lack this development. Attraction jumps to love without a good representation of the characters discovering the good of each other. One moment they are attracted to each other, and after some physical intimacy, they are suddenly able to genuinely care for one another. Attraction doesn’t lead to love simply by physical intimacy, but we can be deceived when many movies develope relationships in this way. We are made with a mind, a will and a heart.

True love develops with the engagement of the whole person.

A good example of this is in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the end, Ian loves Toula beyond the pleasure she gives him. This is seen in the way he encourages her with her family and is willing to undergo some sacrifice from her family in their dating. The scenes chosen to show their relationship development are mostly passionate kissing. So much so that the deeper values of the other person seem to be lost, hardly discovered, and not articulated throughout most of the movie. The pleasure is the emphasis and there is no sense of real wonder and discovery of the other outside of the context of physical intimacy aside from the initial attraction and the first dinner date. The care they have for one another in the end doesn’t seem to match the emphasis of their relationship development.

Attraction More than Sensations
“There is more to an attraction than the sensations awakened by the contact between two persons” says Wojtyla (4). The source of our attractions is another person. The object of our attractions is a whole person. This is why Wojtyla can say, “Attraction is of the essence of love and in some sense is indeed love, although love is not merely attraction” (5). For example,a woman may possess generosity and magnanimity to which a particular man is attracted . Because she possesses these values love can exist, for the man responds to the woman, not just values, and in doing so loves her. As we read earlier, love requires people, not just values.

We’re Uniquely Sensitive to Particular Values

Attraction develops uniquely in a person, and a person becomes particularly sensitive to certain values for various reasons. Between a man and woman, these particular sensitivities allow them to perceive and respond to these values in one another in an important way. Wojtyla gives an example that explains my confusion with Ian and Toula’s relationship. He says attraction can take a variety of forms. If one is only able to respond to sexual and sensual values, the relationship will develop differently from one who is capable of more eagerly responding to spiritual and moral values (6). Imagine the woman who is only capable of responding to the sensuality of the man verses the woman who readily responds to the humility of a man. Many movies emphasize man and woman’s response to sensual and sexual values without showing eager responses to spiritual and moral values. In my experience, the first seems to leave relationship stunted. Sensual and sexual values are good and beautiful, and are intended to lead man and woman to a sensitivity to each other’s deeper values of gentleness, charity, humility, generosity, and the list goes on!

(1)   Wojtyla, Karol, Love and Responsibility, 73.
(2)   Ibid, 74.
(3)   Ibid, 76.
(4)   Ibid.
(5)   Ibid.
(6)   Ibid, 77.
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