The journey down the pathway of love involves four stages: attraction, desire, goodwill and marital love. These are laid out briefly in Pope John Paul II’s book, Love and Responsibility. In this post we’ll look at the first stage of love: Attraction.
Attraction is not love, but the doorway that can lead to love. If the relationship pathway were likened to a staircase leading to happily-ever-after, attraction would be the first step. Without question, this stage of love can feel the most powerful, complete with all of the beautiful feelings and sensations that accompany it — butterflies in the stomach, the feeling of ecstasy, and floating on cloud nine. God made emotions and feelings good. Without them, I might not be married today.
At a birthday party, I was talking to a group of friends, when a light (who would be my future wife) entered the room. My whole world instantly stopped and shifted into slow motion as I glanced toward this very attractive lady coming through the door. Forgetting my current conversation, I crossed the room to “welcome” the new girl. Three years later we would be happily married.
These feelings are all wonderful and exhilarating, but they also have a tendency to be shallow and blind. Yes, they helped propel me toward my wife, but the real work of love was yet to be done.
The initial feelings of attraction don’t give you an in-depth look of who the person really is on the inside. Yet, some people invest in relationships based solely on these powerful feelings. The problem with basing a relationship on feelings is that when the feelings fade, so does the relationship. This is one reason why people “fall out of love.” That is why feelings, no matter how powerful, can never lead the way or be a relationship gauge.
In fact, sometimes feelings and love are opposites. A man, for example, might desire to have sex with his girlfriend. Despite how strongly he feels, to do so would actually be unloving and would take both of them to a place of sin. This is one reason why Pope John Paul II said that it’s impossible to tell how much you love someone based on feelings alone. Feelings are fickle and constantly change with the day, the mood, or the time of the month.
Like most people, I grew up believing that the more a girl generated strong feelings within me, and the more I day dreamed about her, the more it must be true love. Now, I realize that no matter how powerful attraction and emotion can be, they are only the first step of the staircase. Much more is needed: deep friendship, hard work, faithfulness, character, integrity, good communication, selflessness, and a mature desire to do what is good for the other person, even if it’s a sacrifice.
This first stage is often the most difficult to navigate successfully. Basing a relationship on feelings alone can impede or even destroy love. Over the next several posts we will examine the pitfalls and problems that many Catholics fall into.