Love Is Other-Directed, Joy Is a Gift

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci

Love Is Other-Directed, Joy Is a Gift

by Mary Beth Bonacci

Oh, goody. Valentine's Day is coming again.

Such a wonderful holiday It's all about love, and everybody's happy. Well, almost everybody. I guess the people who aren't currently in a romantic "relationship" generally aren't too thrilled. They're sitting at home thinking about all of the romance and flowers and champagne that they're missing out on and what's the matter with them anyway and why aren't there any decent women/men left in the world and why are they doomed to die old and alone and bitter and never again experiencing romance and flowers and champagne?

Then there are the people who in romantic "relationships", and they spend Valentine's Day fuming over the fact that he forgot to send flowers or that she's moping all day or that the chocolates don't make up for the fact that this guy is a or that he just met her and it just doesn't seem so wonderful to be romantic with someone he barely knows or that she has been married to him for ages and he's slurping his champagne after she's told him nine million times that slurping in public makes people think she married a hillbilly.

St. Valentine must be rolling in his grave.

Where did we go wrong? How does a holiday about love get so twisted? Easy. The same way love has been twisted. Valentine's Day has become a holiday about feelings. We want a "feeling fix"-we want to experience that rush, that thrill of romantic love. We want our love lives to have a warm fuzzy focus and soft background music and the ecstatic joy of togetherness like we see on the soap operas.

Guess what? Real life doesn't work like that. Sure there are moments, when two people are in love, where they both feel overwhelmed with love and they get lost in each other's eyes and they could swear they hear music playing somewhere. But those moments aren't scripted. They don't appear on command and you can't just flick a switch to make them happen. And they happen like clockwork every February 14th.

C.S. Lewis writes extensively about this phenomenon, albeit not in a romantic situation, in his autobiography He tells of his own experiences of being filled with total, utter joy at times when he least expected it. He then relates his attempts to recapture that joy by deliberately for it -by focusing his attention on the feeling itself. It never worked. He concludes that we must indeed be "surprised" by joy -that it happens when it happens, when we are going about the business of doing what we are supposed to do. But we must stay focused on what we are doing, and what we are called to do. As soon as we focus our attention on the feeling itself, it disappears.

Although Lewis wasn't talking about romantic love per se, the same principle holds true. Love is, as I keep saying, wanting what is best of the other person. It is "other-directed" not "self directed." If we love, our attention should be focused on the person whom we love, not on the feeling in ourselves which are generated by that love. I can't tell you how tired I get of people digging around inside of themselves to try to figure out how they "feel" about the person to whom they are married. (Witness, once again, Nina and Victoria on I want to reach right into the TV and strangle them both.) Who cares? The marital commitment isn't a promise to feel a certain way. Its a commitment to love, to look out for what is best for the other and the family.

My point? If you want to have a nice, rewarding, fulfilling Valentine's Day, spend the day If you have a spouse or fiance or whatever, be extra nice to that person That's good. But do it for that reason-to be loving. Don't do it because you want something back or you want to generate a certain feeling in yourself.

And if you don't have a "significant other" (or whatever we call it these days), don't sit around feeling sorry for yourself Instead of bemoaning the love you don't have in your life, celebrate the love you have. Reach out in love to your friends and your family. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Do something nice for them. Be a loving person. And then you too may be "surprised by joy."

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the February 6, 1997 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1- 800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.

Copyright (c) 1997 EWTN Online Services.