True Love And Its Expression
( Originally Published 1918 )
WE use the word love to indicate various degrees of feeling. Probably we would do clearer thinking upon some subjects if we had a more definite idea of what love is, in contradistinction to liking, affection and passion.
When we feel the first faint drawings of attraction, we may well say that we like a person. It seems to us that this individual is going to prove agreeable to us. This liking may develop into affection ; it may develop into love.
Affection is a word rather difficult to define, although the majority of us are so familiar with it that it is easily recognized by us. We have an affection for those who belong to us, those whose personalities have grown familiar to us through long years of association. It is calm, steady, burning with a clear flame, but never flaring up into a sudden intensity. It is a steadfast feeling, the product of time, and, therefore, able to withstand the assaults of time.
When passion is spoken of, we are apt to think of it as an overwhelming physical impulse, losing sight, it may be, of its higher forms of expression. Not only is there the passion of a man for a maid; there is also the passion of the patriot who throws his life with the fervor of devotion into the service of his country ; and the passion of the martyr and the saint, whose consciousness of self is burned away by the flame of his devotion to a religious ideal.
The essense of passion would seem to be intensity of feeling. For this reason, passion cannot be expected to be enduring. It is not possible to keep the human soul at white heat all of the time. Its elements may be present at all times, but only on rare occasions do they fuse and give forth the intensity of ardor which they are capable of producing.
What is love? It combines the gentle attraction of liking and the steadfast calmness of affection, with frequent intensity of passion, and raises them all to the highest plane of dedication to another's welfare and happiness.
Much that is called love is not worthy of that name. True love is essentially unselfish, and it is by this touchstone that we may test and discover whether or not that which is offered to us is genuine or spurious.
With this differentiation in mind, we would not call the attraction which children feel for each other, love; it is simply liking, or, if their friend-ship endures, it becomes affection.
The friendships of children are a valuable part of their life training and should be encouraged, but never should the suggestion be made to these youthful comrades that theirs is a relationship which bears in it any of the elements of sex The children should be allowed to associate together in all of the self-unconsciousness natural to their period of life. It is very advantageous for boys and girls to play together freely, and so lay the foundation fora thorough understanding of each other in their later development.
With the beginning of the adolescent period, there comes an increasing intensity in the emotions which may cause the developing boy and girl to think that they are in love with each other. It is not advisable to laugh at them for their early sentimentality, which is sometimes called "puppy love." Rather would it be advisable for older friends and guardians to accept the expression of extreme admiration in a very matter-of-fact way, admitting that the individual in question is most attractive, and that it is not strange that the two have formed a very agreeable friendship. By consistently holding up the ideal of friend-ship before their eyes, one may be able to pre-serve for them a beautiful relationship, and may thus enable them to avoid some of the pitfalls of the adolescent period.
It is quite natural for young people who feel these new emotions stirring within them to give expression to them. Especially will this be the case if they have received no instruction which would enable them to understand the real meaning of this novel experience. This, I verily believe, is the explanation of that form of familiarity known as spooning, which takes place among so many adolescent boys and girls.
This question of spooning really becomes quite a problem in the lives of many young girls. They are going out into social life for the first time by themselves. They know, it may be, very little of social customs; they find that their older companions are indulging in so-called innocent forms of physical familiarity, and they timidly accept the standards of conduct which they see round about them.
If they are a little hesitant, they are informed by the boys that all girls allow these things, and they are given to understand that they cannot hope to be very popular if they insist upon refusing these privileges to their escorts and male companions. They are told that there is no harm in these things, because no harm is intended. It would not be strange if their own feelings inclined them more or less in the direction they are urged to take, and so we find today that a great many young people have allowed themselves to drift into relationships which are anything but healthful.
The consideration of this subject is apropos at just this point, because sometimes young people enter into what they acknowledge to each other as a temporary engagement, simply in or-der that they may feel free to indulge in as much of this kind of love-making as they care for. They think, by thus satisfying Old Mother Grundy, as they would doubtless characterize the conventional requirements, they have escaped all rightful censure. They have not escaped, how-ever, the real consequences of their own acts. These results are to be found in themselves.
In the first place, they are taking a very light and trivial attitude toward that most serious phase of life, love and marriage. They are making common that which should be sacred. They are defrauding those whom later on they will choose to marry of much that is choice, and of rare and delicate beauty, in the relationship of two who have entered upon a lifelong companionship.
There are, of course, other possible dangers. Two young people who have entered into this sort of relationship are not striving to find the mental and spiritual qualities in each other which will bring lasting delight. They are looking only for the physical thrill which they derive from their association together. They are, therefore, meeting each other upon the lower, rather than upon the higher plane of their being. There is danger that the result may be disastrous for them both. The clasped hands, the arm about the waist, the good-night kiss, seem to be little things in themselves, but they are liable at any moment to stir into activity the strongest impulses that dominate the human being.
The instinct to perpetuate the life of the race has necessarily been made even stronger than the instinct to preserve the life of the individual, for the former goes directly contrary to the latter. We give up life when we bestow life, and it is for this reason that the racial impulse must be made so dominating.
Girls have asked often what it was they had to fear in their relationship with young men. They seem to think that if they could know in detail the very act which would deprive them of their virginity, they could, therefore, defend themselves successfully in their time of danger.
The truth of the matter is that the only time a girl can be absolutely sure of protecting her-self is before any of these intimacies have been allowed. She is in complete command of the situation at that time. After the first step has been taken, however, she can never be sure that the moment will not come when the passions which have been aroused in both through their undue intimacy shall sweep them on, regardless of consequences, to their own tragic undoing.
These facts must be borne in mind, also, by young people who are honestly engaged and looking forward to marriage as soon as circumstances will permit. They, also, cannot afford to indulge in too ardent embraces. It is not well to stir their feelings to the depths and produce in each other the white heat of passion before their union has been legalized by the community or sanctified by the Church.
It is most unfortunate when young people allow themselves to be so indiscreet as to enter into the intimacies of marriage before they have conformed to the requirements of law and custom.
For the woman, it will probably mean lifelong regret, for, strive as she may, she never can regain the self-respect which was once hers. Her husband may never be so much of a cad as to taunt her with her inability to resist the pleadings that led her into temptation, but she will always have the feeling that the thought must be there in his mind. Then, too, she will always be afraid that some one may discover the fact, and if a little one has been conceived, there is always danger. of that discovery being made.
For her peace of mind, therefore, for the welfare of possible children and for the good of her husband, she should hold firm to the ideals that she was taught at her mother's knee. Moreover, let her remember that the man who urges, the woman he claims to love to give herself to him before he has shown his worthiness of that gift by assuring her the protection of marriage proves that he loves, not her, but himself. He is seeking his own personal gratification, and is not pausing to consider what the sacrifice which he demands may mean to her.
If every girl under these circumstances could read her lover aright by his words and acts, and so perceive the colossal selfishness that actuates him, the glamour of romance would be dispelled in the glaring light of reason. She would have no difficulty then in resisting his advances, for her own perception of the falsity of his plea of love would kill within her all impulse toward self-giving.
Let the two who are looking forward to a life-time together take this period of courtship as an occasion for discovering in each other those lasting qualities in which they may always expect to find pleasure. There is no danger in such association, however intimate it may be, but rather does it promise greater hope of success in the future.
It may help the young woman to maintain the proper barrier of reserve between them to re-member that one of the greatest charms of womankind is her mystery. So long as the young man feels that he has not yet penetrated her nature to the fullest degree he will ever be allured by the charm of her personality. For this reason, therefore, let her always keep something just out of his reach.
Let her remember, also, that in their intimate relationship it is she who should control. There is a good reason for this, because upon her rests the greater part of the burden of parenthood. She is more keen to feel its responsibilities; her physical impulses are not so suddenly overwhelming as his, and she has, therefore, a better opportunity to exercise her judgment and her will power, which are strengthened by her sense of racial responsibility.
It would be well for her also to realize that, as I have said elsewhere : "The physiological results of too ardent love-making in the way of bodily harm are of special importance. Not only will the misguided young people suffer from injury to the emotions due to unsatisfied sexual excitement, but they will have to contend with the weakening effect of the congestion and inflammation of the organs concerned, when passion has been aroused, and then left ungratified. The results are serious in many instances. As for the young man, varicocele and more or less inflammation of the prostate gland naturally follow congestion of the parts due to this practice. When extended over a period of months or years, it would tend to produce impotence or other sexual weaknesses. To the young woman might come a congestion of the parts which would occasionally produce leucorrhea, and do not forget that the emotion-strain involved in awakening passion when it cannot be satisfied, is a powerful factor in many cases in bringing on neurasthenia."
The highest expressions of true love are not found upon the physical plane. The sacrifice of one's own desire for the sake of the welfare of the beloved is the true expression of real and abiding love.