Its no great revelation that “infatuation doesn’t last”. We know, and yet we all forget when the time comes, that the infatuation stage or mode in a relationship is passing and short-term and should not be the basis of one’s relationship. Even in the stage of infatuation, two lovers must be thinking longer term – asking deeper questions, seeking to learn about one another, seeking to become better lovers.
Now that I am married, while I do have days when I feel infatuated again with my wife, most days I am content with peaceful joy in my marriage rather than the flighty infatuation I once had.
Of course the biggest change that occurs when the infatuation leaves is that whereas before one’s lover seemed to be able to do no wrong and the act of charitably loving them in every situation was almost instinctual rather than willful, now one’s will must often be engaged. The choice of love now loses the feelings of infatuation that made the choice so easy.
Though infatuation itself is simply a state of one’s feelings, mostly brought on by biology, and thus shouldn’t be pursued, relied upon, or expected to last forever, I think we can learn some valuable lessons by reflecting on our hearts in the state of infatuation. Especially on days when we are struggling to love, struggling to be patient, or struggling to fulfill our responsibilities – during these times, reflecting on the state of our previously infatuate hearts can be very insightful, and not necessarily in the ways you might initially think.
Two instances of infatuation come to mind that bear reflection – infatuation as it presented itself in the early days of my relationship with my now-wed wife and infatuation as it is still stirred up sometimes in my heart today.
First, thinking back to the early days of my relationship, It is interesting to recall the state and movements of one’s infatuate heart. Again, the choice to love didn’t even feel like a choice – it was a movement, a passion, and a drive almost. In fact this often gets people into trouble because they forget that love is indeed a choice, and aren’t prepared when the feelings settle.
But it is nevertheless helpful to remember our hearts as they were in infatuation. Not just “how easy it was to love then and how much harder it sometimes is now”, but precisely how did I love? What things did I do? It seems that in the struggle with the choice to love in the present, I may be able to gain insight from the past.
This struck me most poignantly one day when I had found myself frustrated with my mother. After a trying phone call, I had felt the old teenager in me rise in my chest. For a moment I seethed and prayed for patience. But suddenly and inexplicably two thoughts shone clearly in my mind: 1) How I treated my then girlfriend (now wife) and 2) how I treated my mom.
The former I had been decidedly infatuated with, the latter, obviously not. But the comparison hit me nevertheless like a load of bricks. With no small help from infatuation, I was patient with my girlfriend, would listen to her on the phone for hours without growing weary, and would receive every possible irritant with ease. However in the case of my dear mother, I was constantly impatient, could find no time to listen to her, and would instantly become defensive and irritated at the slightest provocation.
However the epiphany did not end there. I saw not just the passive ways I loved and respected my girlfriend for whom I pined, but also the active ways. I always asked how her day was, I constantly inquired as to her feelings, likes and dislikes, and I bought her gifts and left notes as gestures of affection.
But how did I actively love my mother? Certainly one’s infatuated love for one’s girlfriend and the familial love for one’s mother are going to look very different, but nevertheless the comparison shone true. I never asked in any sincerely curious or caring way how my mother was doing. I rarely went out of my way to show her any affection or respect. I realized I knew (or remember) almost nothing about my mothers’ likes, dislikes, past life, or feelings.
As said, the realizations hit home and took root. I began to put these things into practice and love my mother better.
The second instance of infatuation that bears reflection are those days and times when infatuation returns.
All day today I had made small choices – an act of laziness here, letting myself be distracted there, and being selfish in little ways, right and left. Unsurprisingly, later on today when I found myself in a situation that called for patience and charity, my heart was hard and peevish.
As my wife went out to do errands I rallied slightly, saying some prayers, making a to-do list, and shaking myself out of laziness. By the time she returned I had completed my to do list, sought God in prayer and some needed silence, and was feeling in a much better mood all around.
Furthermore, as she walked in with the groceries, I felt a bit of the old fire rekindle in my heart. Conversation came quickly, I found myself feeling concerned and interested, and I was up on nimble toes setting the table for the dinner which I had prepared while she was out.
The summary and conclusion of these two reflections, for me, constitute a personal lesson in the nature of love, emotions, and the relationship between the two.
In the first reflection, recalling the instances where infatuation had made the choice to love my girlfriend practically a non-choice, showed me where I was falling short in loving my mother as I was called to do. However even more practically, the reflection had given me specific suggestions as to how I was to love her.
Sometimes this can be the struggle. Its not just that we are having a hard time choosing to love, but rather in the hardness of our hearts we almost temporarily seem to forget how to love, and all we can think of is how annoyed we are or how tough the situation is (feels). When in this situation, it can be helpful thus to return in reflection to a time and a relationship where infatuation/feelings had made the choices to love quite easy, and then to procure from this reflection specific acts of love and mercy that we can perform in the present.
This first reflection is practical enough and mostly common sensical, but the second reflection shines additional light. In the second reflection we see two instances where actions produce or prompt feelings. Lazy/selfish actions produce an apathetic and selfish heart. Loving/obedient/humble actions produce a heart of charity. It wasn’t until I consciously, willfully performed acts of charity that I began to really feel appreciative of my mom again.
The key here is that while we often look to feelings, emotions, and indeed “infatuation” to be the motor for our actions, while these are sometimes given to us as a grace, WEcan control and are responsible for our actions, regardless of our feelings. Whereas we often wait for and are dismayed when we don’t have “good mood” to be able to “act like a Christian”, we always have the choice to love, even in the worst of moods.
In summary, I have a very obsessive, anxious, inward personality and when I hit a situation in which I am finding it difficult to love, often the “head-game” is what really gets me.
Thus, I offer to you the same advice I give myself: When a time of desolation is making it difficult to love, reflect on the times of consolation. Reflecting on my past infatuation with my girlfriend I can glean specific acts of love that I should put into practice even today, when my feelings aren’t providing much help. Furthermore, reflecting on current instances of infatuation, I recall the oft forgotten common sense that I am always in control and responsible for my actions and that where my will leads, my heart will follow.
Recall the actions of love and reclaim the primacy of your will to accomplish them. Then, take heart and trust that if you choose to love in action you will in turn kindle (or rekindle) the passion.
The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist. — Pope St. Gregory the Great
We can do no great things; only small things with great love. — Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’
Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. – Pope John Paul II