Thursday, June 21, 2007

Post Re-instated

Having spoken with the person who felt so uncomfortable; and having listened to comments by Andrew Hamilton and Ben Askew, both of whom I respect greatly; and having made a few minor clarifications to my original post, I am re-posting “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” along with a comment that was added to it at the time:

I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

I’m not sure how this will end up coming across, but I’m trying to get at something significant in the dynamic tension between ‘falling in love’ and ‘loving someone.’ Let’s start by defining these two phrases. Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) cites M. Scott Peck’s claim that ‘falling in love’ is not really love at all, because 1) it is not an act of will or a conscious choice; 2) it is effortless; and 3) the one ‘in love’ is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person. In contrast, then, ‘real’ love is an act of will, a conscious choice; involves effort; and is concerned with fostering the personal growth of the beloved. Peck concludes that falling is love is “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour…the temporary collapse of ego boundaries…which serves to increase the probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of the species.” [Chapman, pp. 33, 34]

But I’m not convinced that ‘falling in love’ is confined to the sexual aspect of relationships; indeed, I’d suggest that aspect can be entirely absent. And I’d suggest we can, at least in some circumstances, reframe Peck’s third point from the ‘negative’ “not interested in growth” to the ‘positive’ (though flawed) “seeks to preserve the other person as they are.” Let me also add that, in its concern to foster the personal growth of the beloved, loving someone cannot include coercion or be deterministic and remain love.

Is it not true to say that, in the majority of cases, parents look at their baby and fall in love? That this is an essential mechanism for the survival of the species, not now in terms of creating new life but in terms of caring for a life utterly dependent on, if not it’s biological parents, adult humans? That where this ‘falling in love’ does not take place – as it does not, for all manner of reasons – this is considered a problem? Is it not true that parents fall in love with their children at various stages of their development; and that negotiating the tension between ‘wanting them to stay like this forever’ (being in love with them) and wanting them to grow to maturity (loving them) is the process by which children, hopefully, grow up neither ‘too soon’ nor ‘too little’?

I’d say that I fall in love fairly frequently. That I fall in love with women other than my wife – and that I don’t want to have affairs with them; I don’t ‘fancy them’ or objectify them, but find their company an effortless pleasure. That I fall in love with men – and my heterosexuality is not called into question; but that there is something about their personality that is attractive, causing me to want to spend time getting to know them. That I fall in love with other people’s children. And as someone who currently works in an infant school, and who is seeking to be ordained, living in a culture where paedophilia is a high-profile concern, that is the most risky admission of the three. But in fact the urges of a paedophile are radically different from falling in love with a child: the one is predatory, involving both choice (targeting) and effort (grooming), and seeks to consume; the other is involuntary and effortless, and seeks to protect from harm. In my defence – if defence is needed – I’d simply point out that I know several people who have fallen in love with my children, and it causes me no concern. We have no choice over who we fall in love with; but we do have a choice as to how we respond appropriately. Each week-day lunch-time, I supervise children in the school playground. Whenever a child falls over and hurts themselves, I experience a completely involuntary reaction: the sensation of my blood ‘dropping’ inside me. And then I make a conscious decision: to go over to the child, and clean and cover the graze with a plaster.

I believe that God both falls in love with us, as we are; and loves us, fostering growth.

Perhaps being ‘in love,’ emphasising the positives and being temporarily blind to the negatives, is to celebrate what God has already done in another’s life; and ‘loving’ them is to celebrate what God is yet to finish?

My gut instinct is that, just as in raising children, in the nurturing of Christian community the dynamic tension between being ‘in love’ and ‘loving’ is significant. Most (all?) of what I’ve ever heard focuses on the ‘loving,’ even to the point of telling us we don’t have to like each other, so long as we love each other! Perhaps it’s just that (contrary to popular belief) I’m a Myers Briggs “F” (Feeler, as opposed to Thinker), but I can’t help thinking we’re missing something. I’m not sure I’m any clearer than I was when I started typing, but…

May be I’m wrong in this. May be I’ve just stumbled into a minefield that only exists because I laid it myself; and may be it will explode in my face. But then again, may be not…

On 14/06/07, That Hideous Man commented:
Is the English languauge the only tongue to have only one word for all types of 'love'?
Do many (most/all?) other languages not benefit from having their discussion of such matters conducted with a more nuanced understansding of loves - and we are hampered by have one huge, lumbering catch-all term to contend with?

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  1. thanks Andrew, think this is really interesting.

    Often we are encouraged (I think) to "fall in love with Jesus" and I guess there has to be a place to fall in love with each other.

    One question - do you see the "falling in love" as being a permanent thing or something that builds to the state of love withing relationships. I think I had seen it al the latter, but wonder if your dynamic involves a call to fall for others (some time the same people) again and again.

    hmm, you really got me thinking (ok, actually feeling) here.

  2. My sense is that you [have to] fall in love with another again and again. That is my experience of being a father, for example. I think falling in love and loving then work together, like the two sides of a water-wheel, to keep love from drying up. That falling in love (again) re-invigorates loving; and loving takes the falling in love on.

    Perhaps that falling in love enables us to protect the other, to be willing to lay down our life for the other...and loving them enables us to release them so that they are exposed to the place of risk where faith can be tested and so grow...?

  3. Anonymous5:27 am

    As the unnamed 'uncomfortable' person mentioned, and after having caused so much controversy, (unintentionally) I feel the need to clarify a few points!

    Firstly the comment I made about feeling 'uncomfortable' in reading the post was made in very breif passing to Jo in the nursery que, so I didn't have much chance to explain why I felt uncomfortable.

    I think my immediate reaction over Andrews confession to falling in love with other women was of concern for Jo. I know that I would find it difficult if my husband has used those words to describe his friendships with other women. So thats why I felt immediatly 'uncomfortable'. What can I say, I'm just a girl!

    But what I would also like to add is that it was so refreshing and lovely to see a different side of your thoughts Andrew. I felt like you were being truly transparent and vulnerable. I like reading your theories on church and culture, but I really read your blog to find out whats happening with your family and to see cute pics of my gorgeous godson and his bro and sis!

    I'm really glad you put the post back and sorry for the fuss!

  4. Ben - a further reflection on the dynamic of falling in love / loving, and your point about being encouraged to 'fall in love with' Jesus: does the charge against the church in Ephesus, that they have forgotten their first love (Rev 3) imply that it has been so long since they fell in love with Jesus that the cycle of falling in love / loving has dried up, and they need to fall in love again in order to prime the pump?

  5. Lorna - at last I have succeeded in flushing you out - no longer merely a lurker here, but a commentator :-)

    Nothing in what I am getting at when I speak of falling in love compromises the exclusive nature of my relationship with Jo, or with our own children. I can honestly say that nothing in my feelings towards, thoughts about, or actions towards other women need cause her concern.

    As for the dread of "What has he said now?" that is an occupational hazard of being married to me that Jo is well used to by now :-)

    In part - as Gavin [That Hideous Man] raises - the 'problem' is one of limited language. I'm not sure whether we need more words for 'love' or simply to recognise a greater range of ideas that can be conveyed by the word; and perhaps that is a case of the-chicken-and-the-egg?

  6. When I think about the succesful, long term relationships I know of I see that dynamic of "falling in lover" time and again. I'm sure there is an element of that in the Rev. 3 passage you mention.

    I like you're water wheel illustration.

    As for the language problem - conversations like this seem to be useful exercises, forcing us to re-imagine the meanings a little.