Saturday, June 5, 2010

Romantic Love: the sweetness of desire and the need for humor

At a recent conference in Rome dedicated to the work of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the American Catholic philosopher Michael Novak spoke about the virtues and myths of romantic love as opposed to the "low love" of eroticism. It is a kind of love that "is not a sated appetite but quite the opposite," he explained. "It loves the feeling of never being satisfied, of being always caught up in longing and dwelling in the sweetness of desire; it feels a murderous hostility to any rude awakenings of fleshly, ordinary things."

But he added that with consummation, "the illusion is shattered" and the "reality of human condition sets in." The most satisfactory ending for tale of romantic love, he said, "is not, as one would think, physical consummation or even growing old together. It is actually death. While longing still pierces the heart, death, for then, the living member of the couple can go on living forever above the ordinariness of mere earth."

But he argued that Christian love "is not about love and escape, it's about suffering." Humble love, he said, "is very down to earth. [And] so in a fascinating way, spousal love [with it's many trials], is the nexus of all loves."

As an aside, he said marriage "is a lot of saying 'I'm sorry,' and a lot of being asked for forgiveness, but mostly it's about good humor." If you have good humor, he said, "you have a good shot at marriage and being successful in marriage, especially in bad situations."

Also to much laughter, he made a couple of light-hearted quips: "Once you've had grandchildren you actually realize it's so much fun, you could have skipped the children," he said. And he recalled that amusing truism: "Every woman tends to think after marriage her husband will change, and he seldom does, and every man thinks his wife will never change, and she always does."

Source: For more about Dietrich von Hildebrand's Philosophy of Love, visit

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