Well just a few days ago, I was sadly reflecting to myself that despite all these years of thinking, reading, reflecting – hard! – on all these issues, I still did not really understand the difference between “true love” and infatuation. But over the last few days, I believe that the truth has slowly distilled in my mind – and I believe that I am now in a place to talk conclusively about the difference between these two things!
And guess what? The answer has been really easy, all along, and should have been blindingly obvious to me with everything else I have written on this blog! Also, I have actually answered this question countless times since I started writing this blog, but without realising it.
Why does this matter?
Because I want crazy love! I want feelings, and fireworks, and a certain amount of spontaneity, and emotional compatibility and oodles of passion and holding hands, and endless heart to hearts, and hugs and hugs and hugs and hugs and hugs and hugs and hugs!
But you know what, I also want sensible love! I want character, and consistency, and reliability and earth-shatteringly excellent character, and pursuit of Christlikeness (no pressure, Huggie-Wuggie!) I want mutual faithfulness between him and me, I want deep, constructive communication even about difficult, challenging matters. I want fighting fair, I want financial responsibility, I want us to be best friends.
You know what, there is simply no way I am going to choose between both of these types of love. If I am getting married, I am going to insist on both of these sides of love – or I would rather remain single.
You know why else it matters? So that I could feel confident about my choice of husband, not just at the outset, when everything is shiny and sparkly and bright, but perhaps a few years in, when the marriage may have started to face obstacles, and people might subtly plant a few thoughts in my mind, undermining my confidence in my marriage – “Are you sure this was ever based on anything real?!” Or “And you are certain that it was God who led you into this marriage?!” Without this confidence, I might take a few of these questions to heart, and let the questions start sowing the seeds of doubt in my husband and my marriage, but with confidence I could tell these people where to go, ever so politely, of course, and I could develop the necessary internal resolve to persevere through whatever. For me as a person, when I know I am right, I can take on the world and I can stand there stubbornly, refusing to budge an inch. (This is very different from certain people I can think of – perhaps of a certain gender! – who refuse to budge an inch – especially when they know, and everyone else also knows, that they are very wrong – but that is a different blog post for a different day!)
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the almost unavoidable reality of life, that even where marriages do start off truly exciting, where both “the sensible side” and “the crazy side” of love are very much there, life happens and work happens, and it gets extremely difficult to maintain a high-octane level of excitement in a marriage. So please do not beat yourself up if you are reading this and you feel that your marriage is in any way lacking in excitement or passion. I hope that I am realistic enough to acknowledge that even with all my hopes, thinking, my blogging and my not-quite-getting-round-to-actually-praying for my marriage, the initial excitement will inevitably wear off, and a lot more quickly than I would like. And Mr Eventual Huggie-Wuggie and I will have to work hard at maintaining it, like everyone else, and like everyone else we sometimes will be too tired or decide we cannot be bothered.
And yet this is still such an important question for me to answer! So here we go!
Firstly, the real question at the bottom of all of this is not really about “love” versus “infatuation”! Oh no it is not! The real question is about the distinction I wrote about at the beginning of this specific post: it is about the difference between “crazy love” – feelings, fireworks etc – and “sensible love” – character, responsibility, reliability.
I’ve kinda already answered the question when I have spoken about the “two sides”. In a way it is like there are “two sides” of love – crazy love, and sensible love. Actually, it is more complicated than that: When you are falling for someone, there are two very important aspects to consider: the character of the person you are falling for, and then the feelings that you feel for that person! “Sensible Love” happens when the person you are falling for has outstanding character, and you give yourself enough time to get to know that character. “Crazy love” is about the depth of the feeling and attraction that you have for them. There is also the question of true compatibility, but as I write this I cannot decide whether it should sit in “sensible love” or “crazy love” or have its own category. Perhaps compatibility is an expression of how well your lives truly fit together, and also how willing you are between the two of you to work hard and to compromise to ensure that your lives continue to fit well together.
So to put it simply, there is who they are, and there is what you feel. And perhaps we could also say that there is a third category “compatibility” – which is a combination of how well your lives truly fit together, with similar values and life goals etc AND how willing they are to invest into the relationship, how much work they would put into it etc.
So when you are assessing a potential relationship, perhaps these are main things you need to consider: Who are they? What do you feel for them? How well do the two of you fit together? To get a great relationship, you would have to score them highly across all three questions. And because it takes two to form a relationship, then they would equally have to score you highly across all three questions. And then there is once again a confidence in knowing that you genuinely score them highly across all three questions, and they simultaneously score you equally highly.
Here is where I believe infatuation comes in:
I believe that “infatuation” is often an expression of “love” or a focus on love that only recognises the “crazy love” side of love. This is where I believe my thinking differs from that of many other people: many people would say that “crazy love” itself is in and of itself wrong or misguided. However I would completely disagree! Many people would say that “crazy love” itself equates to infatuation! However, I completely disagree! Rather, I believe that “infatuation” is an excessive focus on the feelings that you feel for someone, without taking into account who they are, or how well the two of you truly fit together. And in many cases, I believe it is precisely the fact that it is one-sided, that makes it excessive. So in those cases, if you had exactly the same amount of “crazy love”, but that was adequately balanced by outstanding character and genuinely compatibility between the two of you, and genuine mutual willingness to invest hard into the marriage, then that would no longer represent “infatuation”, but rather something deep, profound and powerful to base a future together on.
This following is why I believe infatuation so easily gets confused with “crazy love”, so that people talk of them as if they are one and the same thing. Some people seem to frown on the idea of being strongly attracted to your partner at all – which surely is ridiculous.
Let me speak for myself. As a human being, walking around, living, I have developed strong emotional needs that I am hoping that my eventual husband will fulfil. However these needs are already a part of me. They exist even though I am yet to meet my husband. Hunger is a great metaphor for this. It is not because I meet someone who might be able to meet my needs that I suddenly get hungry. Rather it is more likely that the depth of my hunger is what spurs me to go out to meet someone who might be able to fill those needs. Sometimes people seem to talk as if you “shouldn’t” get hungry until you meet your spouse, or as if it is meeting your spouse that should make you start feeling hungry. As I say, I speak for myself, and I know that that is not true in my case. Emotionally speaking I am starving! Perhaps you simply should not let yourself get so hungry – the question is how to prevent this?! Whatever the case may be, the truth is that as things currently stand, I am emotionally starving.
Within this analogy, infatuation might be as simple as latching onto people who look attractive because you think that they might be able to satisfy your emotional hunger. Imagination plays a huge part in this. So there is natural attraction, someone has a great smile, and it is so easy to imagine that smile being smiled at you in tenderness, and to imagine that person filling all your emotional needs. As I am sitting here, I am asking myself what really makes me feel attracted to someone. There is definitely the physical aspect – absolutely. But there is also the emotional aspect. Because my emotional needs are so…insistent, there has to be something about him that communicates that he is deep, that he could exist on that same emotional wavelength as me, that he would want to pour out his heart to me. Because for me, infatuation takes place mostly in my mind, or in the realm of my imagination, I have to give my imagination something to work on. And then my imagination will happily do the rest! So the point here is that this infatuation can often be founded on small hints, like looks, (although sometimes the person will not actually have looked at me!) It is not about who the person is, rather it is more about what my imagination can persuade itself/herself that he can be. And then when the thing strongly exists in my imagination when I have focused on it, and embellished it with every memory of every look we’ve ever shared, when I have cut and paste an image of him laughing into a fantasy of him sharing a joke with me, when I have built it up in my mind until it becomes so real that it is almost tangible, then it is a case of trying to make it happen in real life. Because I can already see it! I can already imagine it! it is already real to me!
For love to work in the real world, I also have to consider who he is, and how compatible we are. But because this all exists in my mind, my mind can and does effortlessly create the various fantasies around him assuming perfect character from him, and perfect compatibility between us. Also perfect communication; my mind will sometimes invent obstacles just so that they can be gloriously and triumphantly overcome…in my mind.
I believe that this is how infatuation works, but where infatuation is unreliable, what I have described is not all bad. I actually believe that a version of this “imagining” is essential in any relationship; in a sense you have to be able to envisage the relationship working successfully before you can express interest in the other person; that is what gives you courage to face the fear of rejection. Conversely where a man asks a woman out and she turns him down, (sticking to stereotypical gender expectations) that will often be because she cannot see it, she cannot imagine it. However you keep yourself grounded by remembering that what you have inagined is after all only in your imagination; it might not be real, to really come to life the desire for it would need to be matched by the other person and it would need to be accompanied by sensible love and true compatibility. However infatuation I believe occurs when either 1. you are so inexperienced with human beings that you take it for granted that the person you are attracted to will have outstanding character or 2. you are so consumed by your emotional needs and a desire to meet them that you manage to persuade yourself that what you’ve imagined in terms of his character and compatibility is already true, just because you so badly want it to be true. And then it proves itself to be infatuation, and not real when the object of your infatuation either 1. rejects you altogether, shattering your fevered dreams or 2. demonstrates who they really are, and the weakness of their character, once again shattering your fevered dreams!
I believe that this is why infatuation is so closely linked with crazy love – because the emotional needs we feel would be satisfied by crazy love – or we feel that they would be. For me personally, when I am feeling lonely, I dream of emotional connectedness with someone else, expressed through pouring out my heart to him, holding hands through the rain, being able to look into his eyes – and really look, and keep looking. I dream of lots of talking – but also not talking – sometimes just laying my head on his shoulder. I dream of someone who wants, and needs this emotional connectedness as much as I do, someone who will spontaneously draw me into his embrace, not only because he knows I want it, but because he also needs it. So because this is what I need, or what I think I need, this is what I am dreaming of! So this is what I am tempted to treat as real before it becomes real.
So infatuation often acts as an outlet for “crazy love”. And infatuation often ends badly. So because of this, infatuation and crazy love are often bundled together, and people dismiss both of them. And then people sometimes use “infatuation” and “crazy love” as synonyms for one another. So sometimes when you start talking about feelings and passion etc, people will instantly dismiss it as infatuation: “That is infatuation Tosin, be very careful!”
And yet, I hope to be able to demonstrate here that while infatuation is often all about “crazy love”, “crazy love” is not actually a synonym for “infatuation”, but is distinct from it – and what is more, “crazy love” is absolutely necessary for an amazing marriage. I believe that it is “crazy love” that makes you excited in one another’s presence. I believe that it is “crazy love” that makes you want to share your thoughts – or persevere through communication awkwardness – the hope of the longed-for beauty at the end of all the pain. I believe that it is crazy love that enables you to risk rejection from one another, or make yourself vulnerable. I believe that it is crazy love that powers intimacy. Much of married life must be extremely awkward. The mutual vulnerability that is necessary must truly be phenomenal. This person will see you at your best and at your worst, and will very quickly get to know all your bad habits. To persevere through many of the difficulties and challenges of marriage, and to furthermore have an amazing marriage, I can’t believe that there can be a sufficiently cogent incentive – except for crazy love. As I am writing this, it occurs to me so strongly that crazy love is not just something doled out at the beginning of your marriage, that you get one measure of, that you need to stretch out to last all those years, rather you will need to keep working at it, throughout your marriage. This might sound counter-intuitive, because we are taught that it is something spontaneous and magical that we cannot control, that to try to control it, or conjure it up, is to kill it altogether. But that cannot be true. Marriage can potentially stretch out for so long that to keep feelings fresh we must be able to work on our crazy love, to some extent, to generate fresh supplies. Crazy love is also what grants excitement about this person, about our lives together.
I have read about women who married “good” men without any really deep attraction or passion, and even though many of these people seem to remain faithfully committed to their spouses, reading between the lines, they do not truly seem to live lives of marital joy. Being deeply attracted to one another is also about being able to laugh with one another, and also to tease one another; it is also about being genuinely animated in one another’s presence.
So it is not that there is anything wrong with feelings and passion and hugs and (sexual) fireworks in and of themselves. Actually these things are both good, and necessary.
Here is my big argument in this post: marriages need both crazy love and sensible love! Not just my marriage, but every marriage needs to be founded on a happy union of real, deep crazy feelings and sensible, reliable character, as well as compatibility. If you choose one side over the other, you are likely to end up with a lopsided relationship. If you did have to choose one, then perhaps it would be wise to choose character as you could possibly persevere with someone of excellent character for many years. That is, truly, truly outstanding character is so rare, that if you happy to meet someone demonstrating that, who is interested in you, it might seem too excellent a chance to miss out on, even in the absence of any strong attraction. But many years of married life might stretch ahead of you, and you are hoping to only marry once, so why force yourself to choose? Why would you create a situation which would force you to have to persevere unnecessarily? Why not go for the jackpot at the outset, and insist on both character and crazy feelings? So if such a man showed up, and his character was outstanding but there were no real feelings between us, I would pray until hopefully those feelings hit, with force. And if feelings refused to come, I think that I would take that as a sign, and not marry him. Or perhaps I could be honest with him, then he could pray!
With all that said, I have to emphasise once again that truly excellent character is extremely rare. So the danger for me is always going to be that my feelings are ready and eager to be expressed towards any particular attractive man, but in many cases the man himself will simply not have the necessary outstanding character to fulfil the “sensible love” side of the love equation. So for myself, infatuation is a very real ongoing risk that I have to guard against. I have to sit down and acknowledge my tendency towards this, and learn how to be extremely strict with myself about breaking off all those feelings, while being friendly to the man himself. While attraction tends to be immediate, I have to remind myself that it will typically take two full years before I can say with confidence that his character is what I want, or that he and I are truly compatible. In practice, this means for any particular man that I might have to stave off my attraction towards him for two full years, but in a constructive way (ie not just blanking him or running away for two years – apologies to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of this behaviour!) This is not just something I am writing here. I have to actively go back and rework my everyday life around this. I have to acknowledge how big the issue is in my heart (very big) and construct and implement a response that is sufficiently robust to deal with it, thoroughly, systematically, everyday. Otherwise, I’m just going to keep falling into these situations where I am so overwhelmed by a combination of attraction and fear that I cannot bring myself to speak to someone!
So then the real questions behind “love versus infatuation” are these: are you sincerely crazy about him? Have you known him long enough to be absolutely certain that 1. you truly know him, and he has phenomenal character and 2.you are truly crazy about who he truly is and 3. the two of you are truly compatible, and mutually committed to investing lots of effort into the relationship? I believe that those are the questions you need to ask, and if you can answer yes to all three of these questions, which admittedly is a big if, then go for it! For myself, when hopefully, finally, someone comes along who truly satisfies these three aspects two years down the line, it will be so rare and extraordinary that even before I start praying in earnest I will be quite confident that it could only be from God! But all the same I will pray, of course – very very very very very very very intensively!