Excellent question! It is one to which many young people struggle to know the answer. The Oxford Dictionary describes infatuation as being “inspired with intense, usually transitory, fondness or admiration.” It also states that it is to be “affected with extreme folly.” I think that’s a good starting point for a comparison between infatuation and real love.
"Inspired” refers to being animated by a feeling, an emotion. And obviously it is a very intense emotion. The fact that it is “usually transitory” refers to the fleeting nature of infatuation. As the expression goes, “Here today, gone tomorrow!” “Fondness and admiration” are certainly good emotions to have towards someone else. However, it is the intensity of these emotions which often leads to “extreme folly” – which is foolish behaviour.
As we do our brief study of infatuation, it is plainly obvious that these are not the characteristics of a relationship that will have lasting qualities. In other words, while we might experience infatuation as very real – we had better not invest too much into it, since it is not likely to be around for too long. And we would do well to guard ourselves carefully that we do not carry out such extreme folly as to have regrets when the infatuation is history!
The problem with the feeling of infatuation is that when one gives over to it, there can be a sense of a loss of control. The words we use to describe this feeling give evidence to that.
“I’m crazy about him.”
“I’m wild over her.”
“I’ve really got it bad for him.”
“I’ve fallen in love.”
“I’m head over heals in love.”
These all seem to say that “love” is something that just happens to us – beyond our control. Realize, though, that these expressions are describing infatuation and not love at all. And of course – we are in control, even when we choose to act like we aren’t.
So what is real love? When we speak about “real love” bear in mind that all authentic love IS real love. The love between a parent and child, between brother and sister, between friends and, of course, between husband and wife are all very real forms of love.
I suspect though that when you are asking about “real love” in the context of your question you are asking about the kind of love between a man and a woman which leads to the total and lifelong commitment of marriage. And you are trying to sort through the feelings and experiences which go into the formation of that “real love”. In other words, you want to know about romantic love?
To answer this question I turn to the most reliable source that I can find for a description of love: Holy Scriptures. What do we read there?
St. Paul tells us:
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all tings, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
(1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)
And Jesus, Himself, gives us the greatest definition of real love. He says:
“Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
(John 15: 12-13)
Do we find these definitions of love romantic? We might not, because we have bought into the cheap imitation of love and romance which the world has sold us through a very tainted media. But the story of God’s love for His people is the greatest love story and romance of all time. And all real love will reflect this same love which God has revealed to us through His Divine Son.
The title of the novel I wrote was Arms of Love and the book has an image of a crucifix on the front cover. I had one person ask, “What does a crucifix have to do with romance?” My answer to that was, “Read the book and find out!”
Do you want romance and love in your life? Then you need to be willing to sacrifice for the other person. You have to be willing to lay down your life for that other person. Though you may never actually die physically for the sake of your loved one, you will have to die to yourself in many ways. You will have to die to certain desires at times, in order to serve the one you love. You will have to die to your selfish tendencies, in order to put the other person first. Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. By the same measure, another word for love is sacrifice.
So is real love just a series of hardships and sacrifices? What’s the point? Where’s the joy? Where’s the romance? What’s in it for me? Why bother at all?
Remember the words of St. Francis: “It is giving that we receive.” We discover who we are and all that we can be through the relationships that we have with others. The more we give in the name of love, the greater will be our joy.
And while real love does involve many sacrifices, remember that the one you love will also be making many sacrifices for you in return. When you both are giving of yourselves selflessly for the other, you will discover all kinds of joys and pleasures which God has in store for you. And I’ll guarantee to you that if you love in this way you’ll discover romance in your life beyond your deepest longings for romance.
God is the designer of romance. The pleasure we receive from someone giving us a flower is part of His plan. The excitement experienced between two lovers holding hands is all in God’s design. He gave us those feelings and desires because He is a loving God who showers us with many blessings, big and small.
Romance is part of the bigger picture. And in many cases, real love begins with the sparks of infatuation (intense fondness or admiration). You may find yourself very attracted to someone – to the point of infatuation. But be careful – not all infatuation leads to real love. In fact, most doesn’t. Still, there is nothing wrong with having feelings, even intense feelings, as long as you keep your head about you and don’t allow yourself to be ruled by foolish emotions.
Self-control is the mark of maturity. Real love cannot blossom where there is no self-discipline. It takes a mature person to be able to discern real love. Just because you have certain intense feelings, it is by no means a reason to act upon them. Right judgment is an essential virtue when it comes to discerning real love.
As you move along in a new relationship – past the initial excitement of it all – time will tell whether or not it is going to blossom into real love: the kind of love which leads to a total and lifelong commitment in marriage. The key in this whole process is time. Real love does take time to form. It could take a matter of months before you know whether or not someone you are interested in is who you are seeking in marriage. It could take much longer.
It is for these reasons that I recommend courtship. Courtship provides the framework that allows a couple to let their heads rule over their hearts in a romantic relationship. First of all, courtship establishes friendship as the basis of the relationship – a solid foundation upon which to build a romance. Keep in mind that courtship is about discernment and self-discipline, but it is also about romance: beautiful, virtuous, dynamic romance!
One last idea I want to leave you with is the importance of prayerful discernment. Without an active prayer life, you will have a hard time being able to know God’s will for you. God has a plan for every relationship that comes into your life. Pray to have the wisdom to know what your calling is from God. Seek guidance and advice from those around you who love you and have your best interest at heart: your parents, your family, your closest friends, teachers, a good spiritual director.
I hope these ideas will help you, Alicia, to sift through the confusion that many young people experience between infatuation and real love. Know that we will remember you in our prayers and we ask that you remember me, my family and this ministry of promoting “real love” in your prayers.
In His Most Holy Name,