Falling in love is perhaps the easiest thing to do. It often requires no action on the part of the lover, simply coming about when the right circumstances occur. Yet once this first step is undertaken, the will comes into critical play. I may fall in love a hundred times, but unless I choose to act out my love it will lead to nothing. It is equally true, however, that we do not simply know how to love; it is something we must learn.
The critical question is, from where do we learn to love? The source of an education changes the result. We can learn to love well or we can learn to love poorly. There are several major sources which teach us what it means to love and how we are to go about it. The first and greatest is our own family.
A child has his first encounter with love (specifically of the romantic sense) in seeing his own parents or, as is common today, not seeing them. When a child is exposed to a mother and a father, loving through the struggles and sufferings, he gains an understanding of what marriage is and how one engages in it. On the other hand, if he sees that a parent has left him and his mother (or father) he is going to gain a different understanding of love, one that sees it and marriage as something perpetually temporary.
Later education in love comes from stories, both those portrayed by media and those which are more direct, coming from family and friends. In the case of the latter they are regularly accompanied by the people in the stories, but the child (or onward) encounters the stories more than the people behind them. If most of the people one meets are divorced, even if one’s own parents are not, the idea that love and marriage are transitory is implanted.
Likewise, the stories told to us by movies and books is a powerful tool in learning what it means to love. Each of us can only experience so much love directly and even second hand from family and friends. Fiction gives us the chance to engage with a vast tract of ways to love and, hopefully, will teach us about the trials and tribulations all couples face. (This is one of the insidious problems with modern Romance fiction; it gives all the joys with none of the sufferings). These stories, young and old, long and short, teach us the wide spectrum of love and how to deal with its challenges.
An old source that is gaining new power today is pornography. In a sense it is simply a story, but its prevalence and damaging nature deserves special attention. Pornography teaches men about sex as being something free of the person and, more particularly, free of commitment. Further, it provides an instruction booklet for the way to treat woman, particularly in bed, but also in the regular parts of life. The woman in pornography are built around a pleasure paradigm, and young men are taught by it to consider woman and their sexuality (the foundation for romantic love) as things which exist for pleasure. It is a subtle, but powerful and insidious instructor.
The final instructor of love (there may be more, but these are the most fundamental) and the most powerful are the women themselves. Men learn what to do with woman most particularly from those whom they date and marry. If a young woman waits in the car for her date to open the door, he learns that women (or at least some women) expect to be treated well. If she makes out with him on the first date, he learns that women are sexual aggressive, or at least want to have sexual pleasure quickly. If she gives in to sexual pressure he learns that a women’s ‘no’ is only a temporary thing which will dissolve (and that he might as well continue as if it never existed, because it doesn’t).
A man’s heart and its actions are shaped by these sources of education. He is not limited by them, but it takes integration and reflection to notice them and to overcome their pull, particularly the more powerful ones (the family and, after lengthy exposure, pornography). A man can also regulate the stories he encounters and the women he dates, so as to help shape his own heart. But he can also be taught directly by those who know him, via their own stories and straightforward education. Falling in love is natural; everything after that requires an engagement of the will and the will can be trained and taught to seek the very best, and that is what we must do if the destruction of love is to be turned around.