By Kachi Ngai
WHENEVER I go back to Hong Kong on university break, I always take the chance to catch up with old high school friends.
Usually the conversation revolves around future goals and love life – as 20-something-year-old boys are prone to discuss.
But one particular conversation stuck with me, when on the topic of relationships my friend asked: “What if I don’t love her later in life?”
The “true love” that we see on TV unfortunately portrays a poor understanding of what love really is, and unfortunately more and more people seem to buy into this version of love.
On the topic of love, as it is addressed many times in the Bible, I will start there:
“Love is patient; Love is kind; Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6 NSRV)
Most importantly is what the passage says love isn’t. Patience, kindness, humility; none of these virtues are emotions.
The second point is the matter of language.
The English language tries to encapsulate every aspect of love into one word, whereas the Greeks used different names.
Amongst them were eros and philia, eros being the romantic side of love and philia referring to brotherly love between friends.
But love cannot be encapsulated purely by its romantic side eros, and especially not emotion because they both fluctuate.
I’m not trying to downplay the beauty of eros, after all, romance is one of the reasons people are attracted to one another.
But if an entire relationship is built purely upon emotion and romance, how will the relationship stand when the romance “dries”?
Agape and eros must “find a proper unity in the one reality of love” as described by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, where both of these loves must work in tandem.
To ignore all the other aspects of love for romantic love gives a very truncated view of it.
With a priest, their celibacy vows prevent them from taking a wife, but that doesn’t mean that their lives are devoid of love because they don’t have the romantic emotional side of love.
Here’s another example: a mother has been woken at 3am by her child of 12 months.
Despite the tempting comforts of the bed, sheer willpower gets the mother up.
She may not “feel” like she wants to get out of bed but she is compelled by her maternal nature – her baby needs her.
Emotional love is good, but it cannot stand alone, it needs to have the strength of self-sacrificial love, the type of love that requires you to give yourself to your spouse-boyfriend-girlfriend, the same type God shows us and which we need to show Him – just in the same way that it’s not enough to have the desire (the emotion) to lose weight, but discipline is required to maintain a proper diet and exercise regime (the self-sacrifice).
Relationships are hard enough, so when the emotion and romance goes out of a relationship, does this mean the relationship has run its course?
Emotions will fluctuate just like our moods, but real love cannot last if it’s not reinforced with agape, the emotionally unattached self-sacrifice.
When you may feel the emotion is missing, it doesn’t mean you have failed.
St John of the Cross and Blessed Mother Teresa both encountered the Dark Night of the Soul, where they felt so emotionally unattached from God, that they felt separated from Him.
This didn’t mean that their relationship with God had failed, if anything they persevered and their relationship grew.
As with St John and Mother Teresa, sometimes we need to experience that painful sensation of the emotionless state – the Dark Night of the Soul within our relationships in order to understand that relationships are not built solely upon eros.
Tests like these push us to the limit, but may be God’s way of strengthening us like gold that’s tested in fire.
So “Agape must enter into this love, for otherwise Eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).
Recently I read the blog of Audrey Assad – a Catholic musician I couldn’t recommend more highly – on her pregnancy, and the thing she looked forward to was being “shorn of my self-centeredness”.
Romantic love can make you go on an emotional high, but this falls without the self-sacrifice which must come first.
Love can endure if the self-sacrifice is present but will fall if, as the TV shows suggest, it is purely driven by romantic love.
Kachi Ngai is a Brisbane-based Catholic university student.