Apparently, the Google Internet Information Matrix thinks my love life needs some help. Daily my inbox is flooded with emails peddling solutions to dating woes, commitment issues, and problems of a more, well, intimate nature. I’m trying not to take it personally. Mostly, I blame one of the Catholic dating sites to which I once belonged. I think they sold my email address.
Or maybe my mom is just getting desperate for more grandchildren.
Either way, from these emails I’ve gathered that there’s major money to be made in “Spicing Up Your Love Life” scams. Which makes sense. Marriage is a mess, the dating scene is even worse, and people are desperate to find the love for which they long.
Naturally programs promising to answer questions like, “What To Do If He Has Issues” (for five easy payments of $39.95) sound mighty attractive.
But before you go shelling out big bucks for tips from secular love gurus, read on. I too have some foolproof advice for improving your love life. And unlike theirs, mine is free.
Get your priorities straight.
The Four Loves
Remember how I mentioned last week that love has many faces?
There’s this one:
And this one:
And this one:
Collectively, those four faces are known as “The Four Loves.” As C.S. Lewis explained in his book of the same name, the ever-clever Greeks had a different word for each kind of love. They called the first love eros (meaning romantic love), the second storge (affection), the third philia (friendship), and the last agape (charity).
That diverse vocabulary kept their thinking about love neat and tidy. Which is important, both because all loves are not the same and because all loves are not created equal. There is a hierarchy—a proper ordering—and proper loving requires proper ordering.
Now, for the better part of two millennia, the consensus of Western culture was that agape belonged at the top of the love pile. Charity, or the love of God, came first. Everything else followed.
Then came the 19th and 20th century parade of “isms”—modernism and post-modernism, romanticism, materialism, secularism— and the sexual revolution they helped spawn. Charity was unseated and now, in the cultural imagination, romance reigns in its place.
In other words, when most people hear the word “love,” they no longer think of this:
Instead, they think of this:
And that’s a problem.
Because when we value most what we should value most, that right ordering has a trickle-down effect, illuminating how we see and go about everything else. When we value the wrong thing most, however, the same trickle-down effect occurs, only it brings darkness not illumination.
This is true in business. A businessmen who values profit over serving the common good, respecting his employees, or making a good product, is far more likely to sacrifice integrity, honesty, and quality. Because he values the wrong thing most, he’s more prone to failing at everything else.
The same is true in love.
When eros is the god we worship, it’s tempting to sacrifice all the other loves—love of God, family, and neighbor—on the altar of romance. And many give in to that temptation.
That’s why most everywhere we look, we see broken vows, abandoned families, aborted babies, forsaken faith, and neglected friendships. The pursuit of eros has trumped all else.
That same single-minded pursuit also has confounded our culture’s understanding of love.
Some now see eros in every intimate relationship: between hobbits and battle buddies, mothers and sons, holy men and holy women. They can’t conceive of a true, deep, and lasting love that doesn’t terminate in the bedroom.
Hence nonsense like this:
Others know only eros. It’s the only love they recognize, or the only love they consider important, the only love they believe can truly satisfy and make a life worth living. Those are the folks who equate the Church’s rejection of same-sex marriage with a condemnation to a life without love.
Then, there are those who confuse the early stages of romantic love—the thrills, chills, and giddy highs—with all love, and think that love ends when the thrills and chills subside. To them, love is a feeling. Not a duty. Not an action. Not a choice.
To them, love works something like this:
In sum, when eros reigns, it doesn’t strengthen the other loves; it consumes them. It devours love like a fire devours all in its path, turning great and beautiful things into smoke and ash
Putting that fire out requires getting our priorities straight and returning charity to its rightful place.
You see, when charity is the love most pursued, the other loves aren’t consumed; they’re subsumed. Charity illuminates, clarifies, and strengthens, leaving the lesser loves greater and more beautiful than they were before.
How does that work?
It’s simple really. When we prioritize our relationship with God, seeking to know him, love him, and do his will, we start to understand that every other type of love is just another reflection of his love.
In romance, we see man imaging the Divine Lover.
In familial affection, we see man imaging the Divine Family.
And in friendship, we see man imaging the Divine Friend.
As we see how he loves us—as Lover, Father, Brother, and Friend—we learn how to better image him—as lovers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends. Likewise, the more we love him, the more his love begins to fuel our own. From him, we receive the supernatural grace to love as he loves.
Which means we don’t abandon our spouses, neglect our children, abort our babies, or forsake our friends. We don’t cheat. We don’t betray. We don’t bear grudges.
It also means we are thoughtful, not thoughtless. We are kind. We are generous. We are affectionate. We are welcoming. We are forgiving. We are patient. We love when we are unloved. We remain faithful to the unfaithful. We give more than we receive. We deny ourselves for the good of another.
And we do it all, whether we feel like it or not. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and health.
It doesn’t always work that way, of course. Even those with right priorities regularly mess up. There is still that whole Original Sin thing.
But, for as long as bedroom adventures trump divine ones, the world and the love lives of those within it will remain one hot mess. Getting our priorities straight when it comes to love is the first step in addressing that mess. It’s a step that promises to yield fewer broken hearts, broken families, broken bodies, and broken lives.
Plus, unlike the scams filling up my inbox, it’s a step guaranteed to actually work.