I love Karol Wojtila’s Love & Responsibility (Pope John Paul II before he was Pope). In it, he writes of romantic love as being more than a feeling about the other, but that “true love” is a mutual creation of two individuals who recognize the good in one another and the good that would manifest itself through a life together. As Wojtila understands it, “true love” in a romantic sense then becomes something greater than the mutual feelings two individuals have for one another though it does start there. (And I use “feelings” in the broadest and deepest sense, as feelings will originate from beliefs/conclusions about the other person. Emotions are the product of both conscious and unconscious reasoning processes). The couple before marriage decides whether they both believe in the goodness of a union. And if so, then they pledge to be faithful to it, which means faithful to one another, but also means faithful to the vision of that greater good. This is why, in Catholic teaching, children are considered to be the fruit of love and a willingness to have them considered to be a fundamental part of being faithful to the marriage covenant. They are a part of the good that is created when a man and a woman decide that they believe that a life together would be good and fruitful. Be fruitful and multiply. In other words, don’t only enjoy the benefit that comes to you personally from love, but allow that love to grow into something beyond the satisfaction of your own desires.
But what happens when one person believes strongly in the vision of the good that could manifest itself with another person, yet that person does not see it? Interestingly, Wotijla attributes the phenomenon of unrequited love to “a stubbornness.” It is a willful refusal to accept the other’s judgment that, “No, I do not see a life together producing good or a greater good than either of us would produce otherwise.” Because true love is a mutual recognition of a potential good, and a desire to embark upon nurturing that good together, where such recognition does not exist in either person, true love cannot be present. Oftentimes, a couple disagrees about whether joining together, or remaining together would be good. One thinks yes, the other thinks no. Sometimes people are tempted to blame the other, indulging in fault-finding as a way to explain why the other can’t see how good things could be. “True love” can be a tricky thing to come to agreement upon, and many find disappointment before they find its fulfillment.
While people may well make poor judgments, have unrealistic expectations, lack grace, etc., insofar as their judgments are a genuine reflection of their attitude and outlook about life, the wrongness or rightness of those judgments is actually not the important part. We are all maturing (or should be!) and will one day look back and see how wrong we were on some point(s), and perhaps sometimes with regret (though hopefully not too much). But, nevertheless, true love cannot be created by “should-ing” someone into recognizing the good in another or the good that could be between them. The recognition has to come authentically from within. (I speak of those who have not yet entered into the marital covenant. If one has already entered into that covenant, the task now is only to remain faithful to the good purpose for which it was formed. For the married, there is no “unrequited” or “requited” love, only “unfaithful” or “faithful” love).
What makes this “stubbornness” of unrequited love so intractable for some is a deep seated belief that it is the depth and intensity of one’s own feelings that measure the truth of the love. As I mentioned above, emotions are based on our beliefs and judgements–conscious or unconscious, and we might well be wrong about them. But even if someone is right about the potential good that could be, no matter how much one person sees it, and no matter how wonderful one person finds the other, the intensity of those feelings for someone gratifies the person feeling them more than the other person. Our feelings about others are in large part a reflection of how they make us feel, and a reflection of our beliefs about the good they bring into our lives, and are not about how we make them feel. And thus, even those who feel in love, or once felt so, can find themselves feeling out of love according to how they believe they are benefitting from the other person at the moment. But here is where Wojtila points us to the true love generated by faithfulness to a person and vision beyond ourselves rather than to simply the feeling of being in love, generated by the good we believe a person will bring to us.
Valentine’s Day is a day when we choose to celebrate eros, the exclusive love between a man and a woman. Expectations and pressures can run high, and many seek to find that one who will make their days and lives brighter. Let’s go further than this and seek to make that one’s life brighter, and through the fruitfulness of our love, brighten the lives of our families, friends, and communities.