The subject that I intend to discuss came to my mind as I was reading The Fountainhead.

In that novel, one of the main characters – Gail Wynand – confesses his love for the heroine, Dominique Francon. What struck me in reading that passage again was how strange the whole situation would seem to someone in our own time. Wynand has only known Dominique for a week. And Dominique – aside from her personal rejection of him – doesn’t find the confession to be out of place. To get a clearer picture of why this would seem odd to me, imagine if you had witnessed such a scene happening between people you know – or imagine what your friends would have said had it happened to you. If you’re anything like most of us, your first reaction would have been either disdain (because, after all, those two people can’t possibly be in love) or unease (aren’t they moving a little fast?). This experience led to another discovery: that old authors in general – and even those of only a few decades ago - are much more liberal about letting their characters “fall in love” than the modern mind would appreciate. Lewis, for instance, is content to say that the protagonist in The Screwtape Letters has fallen in love almost immediately with a girl of his acquaintance. Dickens does the same in Great Expectations and also in Tale of Two Cities. And old fairytales, legends, poetry, and so on don’t seem to think that they are moving too fast when their characters fall in love left and right. It’s difficult, in fact, to give examples because of how basic a difference is contained here – in almost every romance I can remember reading, aside from those written in the past twenty years or so, it’s simply assumed that the characters are in love, sometimes even from the moment they lay eyes on one another. This led me to a realization which has occupied me for several days now: namely, that our culture is afraid to use the word “love”, especially to describe young love or new relationships. And this is a very new fear. The Fountainhead was published in 1943 – as

recently as seventy years ago there was no question about whether the word “love” could rightly be used of a young couple or a couple just met. Which leads to the question: why, then, are we so afraid to say the words “I love you”? I think that there are a variety of answers to this question, and I’m sure that there are many fruitful conversations to be had about them. But there’s one in particular that I want to put forward. I think our fear of saying “I love you” is because of our respect for (or should I say adoration of?) love. We don’t feel that our youthful infatuation is worthy of the name, we don’t think our feelings are yet strong enough or sincere enough to be graced with that title. Really to love is the height of virtue; or, if you don’t believe in virtue, the height of the human experience. Is it right to give that hallowed name to something so muddled, so confused, as our very temporary and common teenage passions? The implication here is that love, true love, is something which is pure and stainless. There are no faults and no imperfections in love – or, at least, there are very few of them. You don’t have to look very hard to see 1 Corinthians 13 being used, incorrectly, as though it described romantic love, as though Eros is the thing which is greater than faith and hope. Not only is love perfect, it is also, in theory, the center of one’s entire life. Nothing else is as important as your beloved and the feelings you have for them. That commitment, whether formal or informal, is more important than your friends and perhaps your family, more important even than your morals and beliefs (witness that awful movie The Notebook). And, above all, love is eternal and unchanging. A couple which has entered the Holy of Holies will not come out again. If two people should fall “out” of love, then it’s almost a certainty that they were never in love to begin with (the entire thing is vaguely Calvinistic at times).

Such is the modern idea of what it means to be in love. But perhaps those aren’t the right words. The idea I’ve just described is embedded in myths and fairytales just as much as it is in the modern youth. The difference now, I think, is that the average person a few centuries ago knew this description to be only a myth. Among the poets or the philosophers – in other words, among the educated upper class – there was indeed an almost religious idea of what it meant to “be in love”, but the common person would never have held it. Tristan and Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice, Lancelot and Guinevere – all of them are marvelous stories, but no one would ever dream that they were descriptive of the ordinary love that happens between ordinary men and women. We’ve lost that distinction. I am not educated enough to speculate as to when, but at some point or another we decided that these stories were not merely stories, but rather ideals to be sought after by every young couple. All of us now want to find “the one”, the person with whom we can have a soaring or a tragic romance. Such a pursuit as I have described is embedded into our cultural understanding of what it means to be “in love” – is it any wonder that my peers are afraid to apply this understanding to their own relationships? Meanwhile, our investment into this kind of literary love has blinded us to the fact that we should not seek it even if we are given the opportunity. There is very little about it that I can praise, and there’s much that I can criticize. In the first place, the idea of a “perfect love” is not only a myth, but a dangerous myth. I can think of few things more likely to create spite, resentment, betrayal, and bitter disappointment than the expectation that being in love will conquer all and make our lives complete. We are not angels, we are humans – imperfect, fallen, sinful humans. There will always be things in our partners that need to be forgiven, there will always be habits of theirs that infuriate us, they are always going to be saying and doing things that give cause for offense or anger: and the same is equally true for us. If you accept this, you

will understand the need for patience and forgiveness and compromise. But if you’re still searching for the fairy tale ending, these imperfections will be intolerable to you; at worst, it will leave behind a string of broken relationships and broken promises, at best, it will leave you constantly frustrated and dissatisfied with your lot in love. And then there is the expectation that being in love means placing your beloved at the center of your life. Now there is a sense in which this might be acceptable. If by “center” you mean “very important”, and if you are simply trying to say that you ought to care more about your beloved’s happiness than your own, then there’s nothing wrong with this kind of sentiment. But I don’t think that’s what most people – to say nothing of most movies, books, songs, and so on – really mean. I think they really do believe that the object of your affection should also be the object of your total devotion, the person whose interests you put above everything else, the person who holds the highest claim to your time, effort, or even obedience. This is unacceptable for any Christian. As Christians, we ought to know that the only one who deserves to be “first” in our lives is God; our faith must always reflect the words of the old hymn: “Thou and Thou only, first in my heart”. Our obedience to God, our receiving of His gifts by faith, our service to Him by means of service to our neighbors; all of these are more important than our romantic love, no matter how deep or passionate that love might be. I think even unbelievers can agree with this principle to some extent. Perhaps they don’t put God as the center of their life – but they can agree with us that love does not justify everything. Love does not entitle you to break promises, to be cruel or hurtful to your family, to abandon your children or your spouse, to be jealous and possessive, to neglect your duties and obligations. Your beloved may be high, very high, in your heart, they might be the second greatest thing in your entire life – but they must never be first.

Of course, having criticized the current view of love, it’s only fair that I should be asked to provide a different one. And I’m happy to do so. If we take the time to stop and think about it, I don’t think it is a very hard task. All of us know to some extent what “love” in the romantic sense means. To be in love is to be delighted with another person, to be so enamored with them that even to be with them or to think about them is a pleasure, to want them in their totality – and this, of course, all mixed in with sexual desire, though it is now sexual desire operating within different boundaries. One of the first things that I want to point out about this definition is that it makes no limits on who can or can’t experience it. We’re very mistaken nowadays when we say that young people “don’t know what it’s like to be in love”. Of course we do. Youth is when we first encounter love. Almost all of us were quite young when we were awakened, for the first time, to how beautiful or how handsome (inside and out) another boy or girl in our class was. What you can say, truly, is that our experience of love in our youth is immature. And there I would agree with you. But that doesn’t make it any less love. “Love” is not some plateau to be reached by a chosen few. Instead, it’s something almost organic. It grows, it changes, it matures. The love of a man married for fifty years and the love of a sixteen-year-old boy sharing his first kiss are very different – but they are both still love. To deny this is to deny what we all know by instinct before we have the “romantic” movies or books preach otherwise. Yet there is something else we have to reconcile. Though the old man’s love may be deeper or more solid than the boy’s, both are still imperfect. That is something I’m eager to stress. Sometimes we speak as though all we have to do is get married, or stay married for a certain amount of time, and that will instantly gift us with all the benevolence and grace we need to have a happy life with another person. This simply isn’t true. Love takes work. The emotion in and of itself will never be enough. We have to couple the emotion with fairness, with honesty,

with compromise, and so on – and this is as true of the sixteen-year-old as it is of the old man long married. To grow in love doesn’t just mean that your emotion gets stronger; rather, it means that your love becomes something more than just emotion, becomes something in your will as well as your heart, something deeper and more permanent. That is “true love”. Not a transcendent emotion, not a mystical experience, but the kind of love that puts your partner first and is willing to forgive and ask forgiveness, to work all the while to make sure your beloved is happy and provided for, the kind of love that still loves even when you aren’t in the throes of passion or tasting the sweetness of infatuation. It is something that every couple can experience, if they will only pray for the gift and make the effort. No relationship is excluded, no matter how young or flawed or immature. I don’t believe we ought to be so hesitant to say, “I love you”. I wish we could get rid of the vocabulary we’ve invented to avoid saying it. Let us get rid of “crushes” and let us stop saying that a boy “likes” a girl. There’s something to those words that has always struck me as false and unnatural – even if you’ve never felt the same, it is far more direct and honest simply to say, “I am in love” than it is to substitute a whole lexicon of soft, gelatinous self-deception. Moreover, I think we’ve done real harm to the men of my generation (I can’t speak for the women, but this may well be true for them) by associating the word “love” with fear, anxiety, and hesitation. It has robbed us of both a right and a responsibility. The first is our natural right to the blessings that come from being in love and acknowledging that we are in love. To do so brings with it a certain gaiety, a joyous courage, a humble pre-occupation with the object of your affections. But we have made our young men afraid of being in love, and so they must either diminish those blessings (by diminishing their love and downplaying it as a “crush”) or they must lose them to fear. Of course, the gifts also bring obligations, and we’ve undermined those

as well. To say “I love you” is at once liberating and demanding, it requires that you be ready to back up your words with action, to prove your sincerity through kindness, integrity, and effort. We know this. But there are people who want to avoid those responsibilities – and we’ve made it easier for them to do so. Granted, those people have always existed, no matter what culture’s attitude was towards love. But now we’ve equipped them with ready-made excuses, excuses that society is all too willing to accept: “Of course I don’t have to treat her well – I never said I was in love”; “Why should she be the only one I see? We never said that this was something exclusive”; “I don’t know why she’s making such a fuss, it was only a crush”. If dishonest men want to deceive women then I have no way to stop them; but let’s at least make it more difficult by forcing them to acknowledge the obligations inherent in pursuing a relationship. Perhaps then there will be enough general outrage to discourage them. At the risk of losing some people, I end now with an appeal to my fellow men. All of us have heard the complaint of our female friends that there aren’t any real men nowadays. If their complaint is true, then I think that regaining the word “love” is one of the first steps we can take to understanding what it means to be a man. Masculinity requires courage, assertiveness, and leadership. What builds courage more effectively than the pursuit of a woman whom you love, where can you learn and exercise assertiveness more fully than in confessing your feelings and taking action on them? But masculinity also requires sacrifice, gentleness, patience, and integrity. Where can you find a better opportunity to realize those virtues than by caring for your partner and honestly putting into practice everything contained in the words, “I love you”? Let us cease our cowardice and doubt. Let us cease our faithlessness and philandering. Instead, let us learn to proudly and boldly confess love when we feel it, and to defy the pressures of society for us to hold any lower convictions. If we wish to be regarded as men, then let us love like men.