7 Insights from Love & Responsibility

Utilitarian attitudes weaken the foundation of friendships

Utilitarianism affects the way we live out our relationships. We view our relationships in terms of how useful this person in achieving my goals, or in terms of how “fun” I will have. In practice, this means we fail to commit. For example, if we are invited to a party, we might say “oh, maybe, I will have to see… Can I get back to you later in the week?” and put off definitive responses to keep  our options open in case something better comes along.

The assumption here is that pleasure consists in happiness.

If my main goal in life is to pursue my own utility/pleasure, choices in life are made in light of how much they lead me to this goal.

This explains why many friendships and “dating” relationships (and even marriages) today are fragile and easily dissolved. If a person’s value depends on their whether I derive some pleasure from being with her, as soon as I stop receiving some benefit from my time with her, she is no longer valuable and the relationship ceases.

The “personalist principle” means that “a person must not be merely the means to an end for another person”.

The Three Types of Friendships

Aristotle mentions that there are three types of friendships:

The first type is of utility. This is based on the benefit or use the friends derive from the relationship. Friendship grows out of each person’s self-interest and the mutual benefit of the relationship is what unites the two people.

Second, in a friendship of pleasure the basis of affection is the pleasure one gets out of the relationship. This friendship is primarily about “having fun together.” Friends may listen to the same music, play the same sport, or like to hang out at the same nightclub. The two people may sincerely care about each other and wish each other well in life, but what unites them as friends is primarily the pleasure or “good times” they experience together.

Useful and pleasant friendships are basic forms of friendship; but they do not represent friendship in the fullest sense. When the mutual benefits or “fun times” no longer exist, there is nothing left to unite the two people. For example, if Sam leaves the nail selling business to go sell books, what will happen to his friendship with Bob now that he no longer sells the nails Bob needs?

The third form of friendship is friendship in the fullest sense. It can be called virtuous friendship because the two friends are united not in self-interest, but in the pursuit of a common goal: “the good life,” the moral life that is found in virtue.

Unlike useful and pleasant friendships, where the emphasis is on what I get out of the relationship, in the virtuous friendship; the two friends are committed to pursuing something outside themselves, something that goes beyond their self-interests. It is this higher good that unites them in friendship.

Authentic love is the result of authentic friendships

What does this have to do with relationships? John Paul II says the key way two persons can avoid using each other is to relate in pursuit of a common good, as in the virtuous friendship. This common external aim unites people internally. If we live our relationships with this common good in mind, we avoid using the other person as a means to an end.

For example, friendship in marriage must be centered on the bond of a common aim. That common aim involves the union of the spouses, serving each other and helping each other grow in holiness, and the procreation and education of children.

Individual preferences and agendas are subordinated to these higher goods. The Husband and wife give themselves to each other and to the good of their children, and actively work to prevent any selfish individualism from creeping into their marriage. This unity ensures that one person is not being used by another or neglected by the other.

Physical attraction is the initial but not final spark

One day walking down the school hall, you notice a gorgeous girl. An immediate attraction occurs. Even though you have never spoken to her, you feel that she is the most beautiful person seen.

This physical attraction is called sensuality or the ‘sexual urge’. It is meant to draw us to the body of the opposite sex, not as an outlet for lust, but so we can know them as a whole person.

While sensuality is good, alone itself, it is not love.

A man can go out with a woman. But if he is using her for sexual gratification, in reality, he has no commitment or interest in her as a person. What if the man finds another woman that he finds more physically attractive? He will leave her and their relationship cease.

We can see the effects in today culture’s excessive emphasis on sexual feelings;

If people start basing their happiness on a sexual relationship, they will unavoidably end up using the other person.  In reducing a person down to their physical qualities iand the pleasure one can experience from these qualities, we can miss the person completely.

But what about the saying ‘I can look, but can’t touch’ ? – a sensuous attraction blinds a man from responding to a woman as a person. It has a consumeristic orientation; it only touches the person indirectly.

Feelings alone don’t maketh a relationship.

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In the film Titanic, Rose and Jack develop an intensely emotional romance. Rose and Jack have only known each other for a few days, and have no real commitment – yet, viewers idolise this relationship as one that would have lasted a lifetime.

Emotional attraction, also called – Sentimental love – can happen instantly or over time. “Sentimental love keeps two people close together, binds them—even if they are physically far apart—to move in each other’s orbit.”

Love in its fullest form is not a cold, calculated decision lacking feelings.

Real love is very different from ‘Hollywood love’ portrayed in the Titanic. Real love is not just about feelings, but requires much effort. It is a virtue that involves sacrifice, responsibility, and a total commitment to the other person. “Hollywood love” is an emotion. It’s something that just happens to you.

This does not mean feelings alone are bad, but our feelings need to be integrated with other nobler aspects of love. Feelings are ‘blind’. Feelings are not concerned with the truth about the other person. I know that 2 + 2 = 4 not because it feels like 4. I come to the truth through reasoning and logic that 2+2 equals 4.

Similarly, I need to ask questions to find the truth about other person.  ‘Does he or she really have these qualities and virtues I’m so attracted to?” “Are we really as good of a fit for one another as I feel we are?” “Is there a problem in our relationship that I’m overlooking?”

Feelings do not address these questions. We can get swept away, exaggerate the value of the person we have feelings for, downplay their faults and ignore any problems we have in the relationship. As a rule, we start bestowing idealised values ‘out of proportion’ – values she does not necessarily possess instead of real ones on our beloved.

Evaluate both sides: Attraction and Choice

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How do I tell if my relationship is one of authentic love or something that will fail?

When boy meets girl in the early stages of romance, it leads to the first side; the ‘subjective’ aspect.

The subjective aspect includes all the powerful feelings and desires of love.  Its like being on a rollercoaster, but in reality, it is really a pleasurable psychological experience happening inside of me. These emotions and desires are the first step, but true and deep love comes when that attraction ‘instinct’ is transferred into the will and the person chooses to love the other.  Romantic love therefore has two elements; attraction and choice.

This is why we need to evaluate both sides of love by looking at its ‘objective’ aspect.

Being objective means looking beyond my inner emotions & desires. It means looking past the enjoyment I receive from being in a relationship. Instead of saying how I feel about this relationship – I examine the relationship that exists between me and my beloved in reality.

One of the hallmarks of the objective aspect of love is the gift of ‘self’.

Imagine a single man named ‘Bob’. Bob can decide what he wants to do , when wants to do it and how he wants to do things. He can quit his job, and move to the other side of the country. He can make all life decisions on his own.

However, if Bob decides to get married – it will significantly change his life forever. If Bob decides to quit his job and move elsewhere, all the decisions he made on his own when he was single must be made with his wife, and with a view to what is best for their marriage & family.

In betrothed love, two people are not just attracted each other – each person surrenders him or herself entirely to the other. While it is impossible on the natural & physical level to give yourself to someone, in the order of love, a person can limit his freedom and unite his will to the one he loves.

Out of love, Bob freely gave up his autonomy and his freedom to commit to his wife and to the common good.

Because of love, a person may desire to give up his free will to bind it to the other person.

You may ask ‘Why should I give up the freedom to do what I want with my life? Why should I ever want to commit myself to someone in this radical way?’

As John Paul II says ‘Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom –  it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another. The Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love.

The Law of Self-Giving

To live our relationships well, we need to make sacrifices; we need to surrender our will to serve the good of others. This law of self-giving is a conviction that by limiting my autonomy, I will gain much more in return. It is a belief that if I bind my will to my beloved, my life is not diminished but is profoundly enriched – for in putting God and family first in these relationships do I find my happiness. If I am to love my wife and kids and commit to them, then I must be free of my selfish desires to do ‘whatever I want, whenever I want’.

The most common ‘How to?’ and ‘What is?’ question asked on Google are ‘How to love?’ and ‘What is love?’ Modern-day culture struggles with any kind of love that goes beyond feelings and intimacy; the cross-shaped, self-giving, Easter-day sort of loving rather than Valentine’s Day sort of loving. Self-giving in betrothed love – to entrust one’s self to the beloved demands a profound responsibility in terms of their well-being, happiness and social security. Authentic love is a choice not to be self-centred, rather it looks outwards in wonder to the beloved and places responsibility on the lover.

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