Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Infatuation vs. Love

There’s no such thing as love at first sight. Infatuation at first sight? Definitely. And I suppose that infatuation can segue smoothly into love making it feel like love at first sight, but I am convinced that love takes years to fall into.

What got me on this train of thought was someone’s contention that love is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Something goes off in your brain and someone you wouldn’t look at twice before is suddenly the most exquisite creature on earth. Doesn’t matter who, it was just the first opposite sex member (in most cases) that you laid eyes on.

Patent hogwash, but it does raise the question of why we are attracted to someone. It can’t just be looks, because ugly people fall in love (thank the Lord. Thank you, Lord). As you might have guessed, I think I know. It could be Divine Intervention, but that aside, I think it is body language. Yes, pretty helps, but I believe subtle mannerisms, expressions, gestures and body movements are what attracts us, and, in fact, infatuates us.

Body language consists of thousands upon thousands of tiny and large movements. We subconsciously catalog body language of people we spend time with, assigning them values. That funny person we really enjoy moves his shoulders just so? Mom crinkled her eyes in that peculiar way? And thousands of attributes, most so subtle you don’t even consciously see them, from people we really care about (and those we don’t) go into our mental computer and creates a subconscious list. The reason your buddy has a girlfriend who makes you shake your head and wonder “what does he see in her?” is that she had a preponderance of checkmarks on your friend’s list (there are other things on that list as well, of course, but once a certain threshold is reached we become infatuated).

So what is infatuation? It’s your subconscious saying this person has the hallmarks of someone who can get our motor running. Infatuation is potential; love is the reality. Love is complete knowledge of, and complete acceptance of another. God has the “complete” part down, and we lowly humans have to substitute “some knowledge” and “mostly acceptance”. Infatuation knows little and ignores much. Love that knows and tolerates isn’t love. Moving from infatuation to love takes time and more time (knowledge isn’t gained in a day).
Men and women handle this transition differently, however.

Women will give and give and give to be accepted.

Men are happy to take and take and take just for the greed of it.

Women want the acceptance more than to be known (but you can’t have one without the other) and many will do anything to get what they think is acceptance.

Men want sex, and give counterfeit acceptance and forego knowledge and quite often food to get it.

Yes, we’re shallow creatures. Pity us.

What does this mean? It means that if you get intimate before marriage, the guy isn’t ever going to move from infatuation to love, and the girl isn’t going to be able to tell. She sees love as him wanting to be with her, talk to her, etc. He gives all that to get what he wants, which ain’t love, baby. He’ll say it, he’ll even likely believe it, but it isn’t love. Proof: if the intimate girl breaks it off with the guy, he then has to evaluate a few things: Is she worth waiting for? Quite probably he’s going to look at the reality that is his girlfriend for the first time and do a quick tally of good and bad. If he doesn’t try to restore the relationship then the bad outweighed the good. If he comes back then either the good outweighed the bad or he’s desperate or too lazy to look elsewhere. IF they get back together and resume intimacy, he’s not going to move forward. If they get back together without sexual intimacy, he can finally get on the road to figuring out if he loves the girl or not.

I’m willing to bet that a lot of men aren’t really in love with their wives when they get married. They think so, but they probably haven’t done the math yet. Forever changes things, though, and so does marriage. Necessity makes both of them whip out their calculators as they get to REALLY know each other (dating doesn’t do it, living together doesn’t do it, marriage is its very own kind of animal) and now they have to figure out if they can accept each other. This is, I think, the reason for the divorce statistics.

The safe bet, then, is courtship, with the emphasis of actually getting to know each other without the blinders of sex getting in the way. It’s risky because you reveal yourself (to be known) and acceptance isn’t guaranteed to follow. My wife and I are proof that this approach works. We made conscious decisions to get to know each other, and there were critical junctions when acceptance had to be carefully weighed. We called it off twice to gain the distance to really figure it out, obviously getting back together each time. Lucky for me. J

The really cool thing is that in a vibrant, growing relationship, the rush of infatuation can co-exist with love, because there are always new frontiers to learn about each other, and marriage is a covenant to accept anything in the other even if (when) it’s difficult.