In three months, I get to marry the love of my life. Man, oh man, am I excited. I wrote a little bit last week on the uniqueness of man and woman and how essentially different they are. I ended that post by quoting Dietrich von Hildebrand on the unique mission that men and women have towards each other. Today, I want to continue that discussion. Falling in love is the epitome of discovering the beauty that lies within this unique relationship, and it has marvelous effects upon us. Love is one of the greatest sources of human happiness that we have; it has such a profound impact on our lives. With that being said, there is so little out there about what exactly happens to us when we fall in love. So buckle up people, we’re going to go on ahead and dive into the deep, into an existential philosophy of love.
Being in love is pretty awesome. Hildebrand calls it a “liberating power”, and it is truly experienced as such. He writes that, “the true state of being in love is a blissful, awakened condition of the soul… In order to see that the truly being in love is something great and noble, we have only to realize how much more beautiful a human being becomes when a great love and a state of being in love fills his heart ” (2). Being in love makes us better people. It wakes us up to the realization that there is beauty in the world. It leads us to deeper encounters with the divine. Since meeting my fiancee, I can honestly say I have become a much better man. As I’ve grown and gone through this journey of life over the past five years (since I’ve met her) I have matured and become more virtuous. I have come to know the love of God more as I become more open to receiving love through Shannon.
Of course it is not all sunshines and dandelions, but no love is. One of the hardest things about being in love is having to recognize the areas where we fail to love. It’s easy for us to think that we’re selfless and patient people, but being in love teaches us humility in recognizing that there is so much room for growth. This is where that “mission” that I mentioned at the end of my last post comes into play.
I’m going to be real here: I fall into a lot of the typical traps that men do. I can be incredibly stubborn. I’m really good at putting up walls and compartmentalizing my emotional life. I slip too easily into complacency. I can be immature at times. That line from Hildebrand when he mentions the effects that falling in love has on a man could not ring any more true for me since meeting Shannon: “The chivalrous attitude awakens in the man a stronger self-control, a more humble attitude, a greater delicacy and purity, a certain melting and enlivening of his nature” (3). We become more responsible. We are awakened to the hierarchy of value and are able to put first things first.
What is it that causes this movement of the soul within us? Hildebrand gives us some strong evidence for a solution when he says that “spousal love aims at an irrevocable gift of self” (4). There is a desire for unity with the beloved which goes beyond mere physicality. And Hildebrand wasn’t the first Catholic theologian who saw the beauty of this desire. St. Ambrose, a famous preacher and theologian who helped facilitate the conversion of Augustine wrote that “Those who kiss one another are not content with the donation of their lips, but must breathe their very souls into each other” (5).
Keeping in mind the great depths of joy which being in love brings us, we cannot forget how crucial this element of self-donation is. Perhaps no man has written as beautifully about this as Karol Wojtyla. In his book Love and Responsibility, he writes extensively about the beauty of love, while also warning of dangers and false loves which often creep in. He writes, “The fullest, the most uncompromising form of love consists precisely in self giving, in making one’s inalienable and non-transferable ‘I’ someone else’s property. This is doubly paradoxical: firstly in that it is possible to step outside one’s own ‘I’ in this way, and secondly in that the ‘I’ far from being destroyed or impaired as a result is enlarged and enriched” (5).
One is reminded here of the words Jesus spoke to his apostles when he said he who gives his life will find it. A crucial element of love is that it never demands anything in return. It simply gives. Any love that says “I have given enough” is not truly love. Though it is one of the greatest sources of joy, obtaining personal joy or self completion should never be the goal. It is in setting aside our own wants and needs, and putting the beloved first, where we find love. What a beautiful mystery it is that this also leads to deep interior peace and joy. We can pour ourselves out, yet never run dry.
In our human weakness, it isn’t easy. I don’t think it would be possible to count the amount of times I’ve let the people I love down in some way. But life goes on, and love grows deeper all the same. C.S. Lewis captured the rawness, yet beauty of love in this famous quote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will by wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love at all is to be vulnerable” (6).
Fall in love. Stay in love. Post a comment below and jump in on the conversation.
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, Man, Woman, and the Meaning of Love p. 46
- Ibid, p.109
- Ibid, p. 48 (emphasis added)
- Ibid, p. 63 (Hildebrand quotes Ambrose)
- Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p. 97
- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 316 (in my copy which also includes Surprised by Joy)
- Image 9-Me and Shannon during our engagement photo shoot!