By choosing to love in hard moments, we can develop long-lasting, selfless relationships
Garrett Thomas Graham CONTRIBUTOR
Image: CATHOLIC EDUCATION
“I love you.” “I love pizza.” “I love Fortnite.” What is love, really? We all desire to be loved, but often we can have trouble understanding what love actually is. If we want to discover how to have a truly loving relationship with someone, we can start with St. John Paul II and his timeless work, Love and Responsibility. St. John Paul II hits some key points that can help us discover much about love by helping us figure out how to find a relationship in which we’re loved for who we are. Whether you’re Catholic or not, St. John Paul II can help you understand how to be valued as a person and not as an object.
How do attraction and emotions fit into love? Is “falling in love” really love? This phrase we use presents an idea that when we are attracted to someone, our emotions drive us toward this person at full-speed, oftentimes making us feel like we don’t have control. We’re attracted to someone and all of a sudden, we can’t stop thinking about this person. In Love and Responsibility, St. John Paul II makes an eye-opening statement: “In the eyes of a person sentimentally committed to another person, the value of the beloved . . . grows enormously — as a rule out of all proportion to his or her real value.” He’s saying that when we’re attracted to someone, we always overestimate that person’s own good qualities. Our emotional attractions to people are good and can serve as the training wheels of love. However, this is important — they’re just the training wheels. It is immature to see love as only attraction and having nice feelings for someone. This is the danger. We can start to view a relationship as only existing to make me feel good. Will we grow up and choose to love the person as he or she is, or only as long as he or she makes me feel good?
St. John Paul II’s writings lead us to ask a very important question about our relationships: Is my love for the other person centered on that person or on the pleasure I receive? We all know the pain of being used. We’re not objects. Tools can be used. Money can be used. But we all know that people should not be used as it destroys our dignity. Some might say, “If I get pleasure from someone, and that person gets pleasure from me, what’s the harm? We’re both happier.” But St. John Paul II warns us with an important point: “The moment they [a couple] cease to match and to be of advantage to each other, nothing at all is left of the harmony. Love will be no more, in either of the persons or between them.” There’s no foundation for this type of relationship. It’s a house built on sand. The commitment lasts only so long as the pleasure does.
Think about a relationship in your life. Do you love this person for who he or she is and show it by your actions in difficult times? Or do you only love this person because of how good you feel? When we stop and reflect on our relationships in light of this, we can be truly taken aback by how we are able to use those that we say that we love. Don’t despair though — selfishness doesn’t have to be the final word in our relationships with others.
So, how do we love people without just using them? By choosing to love them unconditionally and completely, through their good qualities and bad qualities. In doing so, we truly love the whole person and not just the good things that person does for us. St. John Paul II says, “We must love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults.” By saying “up to a point,” he seems to be implying as long as these bad qualities do not result in abuse toward the other. The fundamental question becomes: Do I really love my friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend? Or, do I just love the nice feelings that arise for me from that person’s presence? When a friend fails or when things get hard and that person is particularly bothersome, will I just give up? If we apply St. John Paul II’s teachings on love, we can develop a relationship centered on authentic and selfless love; a relationship that can make it through all of life’s challenges, leading us to the joy that comes only from being truly loved for who you are.