Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unlocking the Mystery of Love

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Since my recent self-hurdle into the dating sphere, I've collected various works of non-fiction about male/female relationships, living life as a Singleton or other self-help style dating improvement prose.  I've had friends who have recommended particular books, even bought copies for me and as I've continued my online dating hiatus, filled the empty space with catching up on this particular reading material.  Although I've had some real-world experience over the last few months (a heck of a lot more than I'd had beforehand!), a little outsider, expert opinion can never hurt.

To kick off this educational period of my life as a Singleton, I've started with "Men, Women and the Mystery of Love" by Edward Sri.  Recommended by a friend who has read it and passed it on several times, it seems like it's going to be an easy read and so far, is quite thought-provoking.  This book is basically an easier-to-read interpretation of the lifelong work of Pope John Paul II, "Love and Responsibility."  I'm only a few chapters in, but in just thirty or so pages, Mr. Sri (care of John Paul II) has made some very interesting, very valid points, all things I knew existed in my life, but hadn't really thought of in words, you know?

Pope John Paul II categorized human relationships (even beyond romantic) into three distinct versions:  utility friendships, pleasant friendships and virtuous friendships.  (Substitute "relationship" for friendship if that makes you feel more comfortable considering this is a blog about dating.)  His characteristics for each category really got me thinking and analyzing all of the relationships in my life.  Hopefully they'll make you think, too...(and inspire comments!). 

A utility friendship is the kind based on what you as an individual can get out of the relationship.  Mr. Sri used a very G-rated explanation for this, but rest assured, I'll dirty it up for you.  Mr. Sri asked his readers to consider a work-related friendship as a "utility friendship."  If Bob sells paper for a living and Sam works for a printing house, they can establish a friendship based on this common need of one another.  But, then let's say that Bob quits his paper business and opens a rental car company.  Bob and Sam will probably lose touch, at no fault of either of them, just that their connection to (or need for) one another is gone. 

If you think about this, it translates perfectly for modern day "romantic" relationships.  How many times do people get married because they need something from the other person, whether consciously or unconsciously?  People who are with someone simply because of their financial status, looks/sexual appeal, or social connections are in need of that particular element and create a relationship with that person based sometimes solely on that characteristic, potentially overlooking any huge red flags.  When you look at it like that, it makes sense that these relationships fall apart.  Mr. Sri's point is that you're objectifying the person, you're no longer appreciating them as a human being but as a trait, characteristic or function they can perform for you.

The second type of friendship is a pleasant friendship, which means your relationship is based on something that you both enjoy.  Remember when you were in college or high school and you connected with people who were also interested in your obscure hobby?  You wouldn't necessarily invite those people out to dinner, but you sure thought of them as friends when you were discussing Japanese Anime in the Student Center every Wednesday night.  Once those interests or hobbies change, your friendship changes and usually eventually fades away.  This type is easy to translate into a romantic setting.  It's that "we have to have something in common" syndrome.  I'm starting to learn that it's the things I have uncommon with men that attract me to them.  Maybe I'm finally approaching maturity!  Who wants a cookie-cutter version of yourself in the other gender anyway?  Snooze fest.

The third type of friendship, and the most true and honest in Pope John Paul II's opinion, is a virtuous friendship.  This type of relationship is rooted not in self-interest, but in a common goal of creating a good life together.  This one, I think, is harder to grasp in the non-romantic sense.  But, I thought of it in terms of giving and receiving Christmas gifts.  It's the difference between wanting to get something that makes you happy and wanting to buy gifts for other people that will make them happy, in turn making you happy.  When you reach that point where you are truly happy if the other person is happy, then you have a virtuous friendship. (That's a lot of "happy.")  Now, Mr. Sri is careful to point out that the goal of this level of friendship is not to be subservient or self-denying in order to please the other person.  It's a mutual exchange of happiness.  It's a respect and love for the other person as a human being as you work towards having the best life possible in each other's presence. 

Mr. Sri and Pope John Paul II conclude that although utility and pleasant friendships can be harmful (for example, you know, whenever you throw sex in there, it might get a bit dangerous), all in all they are normal and commonplace.  But, we should all be striving to have a virtuous friendship with our spouses, currently or in the future.  Utility and pleasant friendships don't have the strong foundation that virtuous ones do and because they're sort of set up and expected to fail, attempting to establish a committed relationship of marriage based on these principles is difficult and oftentimes impossible.  When you need something from someone all the time, once that element is gone, the relationship is over.  When all you have together is a common entertainment or pleasure, once that need or desire changes, the relationship is over.  Makes a lot of sense... 

I don't know that I've hit the highest level of virtuous friendship yet, but I can definitely recognize that several of my relationships don't fall into the other two categories, so hopefully I'm close.  I do realize that I've had some friendships along the way that were utility or pleasant and actually, no longer exist.  Sure, we catch up on Facebook every year or so, but we aren't what you'd call friends.  Really more like people who know each other exist on the planet and who used to have something in common or some need for each other.  The more I think about it, the more attractive a virtuous friendship/relationship becomes.  Wouldn't it be ideal to be in a relationship where both people were mutually happy?  It's almost hard to comprehend! With society telling me that I'm loved if I feel needed or that I need to "complete" someone or things like "Match".com pairing me with people who have also listed the same hit/search words that I have...it's hard to change that mindset.

Mr. Sri promises to elaborate in more detail about each of these types of friendship in subsequent chapters, so I'll keep you posted.  But, tell me Singletons and Marrieds, what to you think about these analyses?  Do you recognize times when you may not have seen that a relationship was utility or pleasant, but can see it looking back now?  Do you think there can be a combination of these three types?  Like a utility and pleasant friendship?  I've also been invited to hear Mr. Sri speak about this book mid-November and will be happy to ask whatever wonderful and thought-provoking questions I'm sure you will come up with!

3 comments:

  1. Nighttime Queen of HeartsOctober 21, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    This was so eye opening. I agree that the theories can be tailored to all kinds of friends or relations! I think until u meet the person that accentuates your best qualities and adds splendor to your life you shouldn't settle for the mundane.

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  2. I definitely think a lot of Facebook friends fit in the utility or pleasant friendship category (or maybe a blend of the two). I think I'll add this book to my "to read" list...

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  3. @Kassia, Susan actually turned me on to this book. I've read a few more chapters and might use them as blog post topics too!
    @Nighttime, I can't wait to tell you about the follow up chapters, because they fall right in line with what you mention here. I think this book is going to continue to build and build on these principles. Stay tuned...

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