Monday, June 30, 2014

Love at First Sight--Myth Busted (Maybe)

I've been thinking on and off lately about love. Okay, actually I've been thinking about it almost constantly in one form or another for the last several years, because I'm a 19-year-old girl who's pretty convinced she has a vocation to marriage. However, on and off lately I've been thinking about it from a more philosophical point of view. More specifically, I've been meditating on the question, "Is there such thing as love at first sight?"

I've read other blog posts and articles about this lately, and I've heard different ideas bounced around, but the answer most Catholics (and other Christians) give is essentially "No." The basis for this answer is this: Love and attraction are two different things. When you think you love someone the moment you see them, it's just the initial physical attraction. That's okay, but it's not a good reason to start a relationship with a person, because the relationship is going to fall apart as soon as the initial attraction wears off. Unless, of course, you're one of the really rare and lucky couples who manage to start actually loving each other before the attraction wears off, but the chances of that are so small that it's better to be safe. So, get to know people and start really loving them as a whole person before you date them, because that'll save everyone a lot of pain.

This answer is a good one, and the love vs. attraction issue is very true, but I've always found it aggravating that the word "love" in this context is always assumed to mean Eros, or romantic/marital love. Looking at love from a Christian point of view, the most necessary and perfect kind of love is actually Agape, or charity. This love can be defined as "willing the good of the other". If this kind of love is not present, no relationship can work well for very long. If two people are in a relationship or married, but no Agape is present, then even if they do "fall in love", so to speak, and form a deeper connection than just initial attraction, the relationship is ultimately selfish. This is exactly what a good relationship of any kind shouldn't be. Selfishness kills everything from friendships to familial bonds, and most definitely kills romantic relationships. However, if both parties are willing the good of the other, the relationship will thrive. Since both parties do what is best for the other, both parties end up happy and having the best thing done for them. It's the ideal situation for everyone.

Now, to answer that pressing question: Is there such thing as love at first sight? Well, let's define love. If love is willing the other's good, then the answer is definitely yes. In fact, Christ teaches us that we should all love one another in this way, so really we should love everyone at first sight. From the moment we know that someone exists, we should will their good with all our hearts, whether or not we will ever get to know them, be their friend, or marry them. It shouldn't matter whether that person is a man or a woman or a child, a good person or a bad person, your college professor or your annoying coworker or your sibling, or some stranger ahead of you in the checkout line. It's perfectly possible to look at anyone who crosses your path and simply think, "I hope he/she has a great day. I hope he/she has a happy, fruitful life and goes to heaven at the end of it." There. Bam. You just loved someone.

However, that's a pretty general way to love someone. If you want to love someone more deeply and specifically, as an individual person, you will have to get to know that person. The more you know a person, the more you can truly love them. Suppose you happen to notice that that person ahead of you in the checkout line is buying cat food; then you can think, "I hope that person doesn't go home to find that the cat has made a mess." You could also think, "I hope, for that person's sake, that the cat is in good health and will remain so for a long time, and won't die or run away." However, unless you talk to the person about their cat, you won't know for sure whether they actually like the fact that they have a cat and want it to stay alive for a long time. It could be that the best thing for that person to cease to have a cat, if they are in financial difficulties or have suddenly developed an allergy to cat hair or have accidentally ended up with an extremely vicious cat. In other words, you can will a person's good in a general way, thinking something like "I hope whatever is best for that person happens to that person," but without getting to know them, you can't will any more specific goods for that person. You also can't express your love for that person by doing anything except praying for them, giving them a smile and a greeting, or maybe picking up the cat food for them if they drop it. Those things are important to do and should be done, but they're pretty nonspecific and almost impersonal. They're things you should do for everyone, but they aren't as deep and meaningful as the things you can do for someone you know.

Now, if you are going to marry someone, there are quite a few things you should know about them, because you should be able to will that person's good and express that love for them in a wide variety of specific ways. After all, you're going to be spending your whole lives together, willing the very best for each other all the time. You should probably know as well as you can what that best is so that you can will it better and help to bring it about. This means that you should definitely get to know a person really well before deciding to marry that person. Specifially, before deciding to marry someone, you should probably try to find out if marrying you is the best thing for that person, because, depending on what kind of person you are, it might not be. (No offense.) If you are attracted to someone, it's natural to want to find out more about them. You might find out that what makes them the happiest and what is best for them is something you can't provide -- for instance, if the person you're interested in has a serious medical condition that requires expensive treatment, and you're planning to be an English major (ha ha). On the other hand, if you find out that the thing they love best is having romantic poems written to them, and they already have a successful and lucrative career, maybe your English-major skills are exactly right. (It's a silly example, but hopefully you get what I mean.) Simply put, before you can love a person deeply and individually enough to marry them, you have to get to know them pretty well. The longer you get to know them, the more perfectly you can love them and express your love by helping to bring about their good. This includes getting to know the person's faults as well, since married people are supposed to help each other reach the ultimate good, heaven.

So, the conclusion I have reached is that love at first sight is possible only to a certain extent, and only in the sense of Agape. A deeper Agape, as well as Eros, is only possible after getting to know a person. Therefore, I would put forth the theory that "love at first sight", in the way that most people mean the expression, assuming Eros-love, is not possible; but love at first conversation might be. I have met and heard of several couples who say they felt an immediate connection upon meeting each other, and sort of "knew" that the other person was going to be their spouse, but they all seem to have talked to that person at least a little bit before thinking this. It seems that exactly the right kind of conversation can happen between exactly the right people which enables them to get to know each other well enough to start to fall in love right away. It may not sound as romantic as love at first sight, but love at first conversation definitely sounds more possible. So maybe you should strike up a conversation with that cat food person. Who knows how much good you could will for them someday?

Disclaimer: no cats, cat food, or customers in checkout lines were harmed during the writing of this blog post, although there was a cat nearby overseeing the process and meowing loudly. This post is not approved by any eminent theologians or philosophers, nor has the theory contained therein been tested by the writer, as she has virtually no experience in this area, and has yet to fall in love with someone at first anything. She also apologizes to any hopeless romantics whose childhoods full of fairy tales are now ruined as a result of reading this--her own is rather ruined as well, if it's any consolation. (Darn philosophical principles...)