“but I’m in so deep” – Infatuation, Relationships, and the Sufficiency of Christ, part 1
I have a confession to make.
I fall in love. A lot. I mean, like with almost everyone. If you are a) close friends with me and b) not a boy (or a relative), odds are I have felt a deep, strong, impulsive attraction to you at one point or another. You’ve probably noticed.
Why is it so hard for me just to be friends with a charming, beautiful, Godly woman? Am I alone in this?
I used to think so.
Now I know that this is normal for boys. And maybe for girls, too.
A recent study published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin examined the rather “new” phenomenon of the now-commonplace boy-girl platonic relationships that pervade everyday life. Researchers interviewed and surveyed hundreds of pairs of college-age men and women, intent on discovering previously-hidden patterns of interaction and communication. Their final analysis? The team claims that “emerging adult males reported more attraction to their [female] friend than emerging adult females did [to their male friend], regardless of their own or their friend’s current relationship status.”
There’s more. Nearly one half of the study’s over 100 young-adult participants mentioned attraction as a significant problem in their platonic friendship before the researchers even suggested the idea as a potential issue.
The project’s head researcher, psychologist April Bleske-Rechek, explained her findings in this way: “I think men and women do want to be friends, they do want to engage in platonic friendships. But the data I’ve been collecting suggests that attractions can get in the way.”
So I’m going to break this post into three parts. Part one will examine infatuation by discussing a) how we fall into it, b) the consequences of catering to it, and c) how being in Christ redefines our relationships. In part two I will recount some of my own struggles and how I have ultimately (with much effort) been able to break out of this destructive pattern. Part three will close with a discussion centered on the sufficiency of Christ and the transformative nature of our new relationship with Him.
As you read some of my more personal experiences, I pray that if you identify with them, Christ through these words would work in your life to change even one iota of your story for the better. I call to mind the words of Paul as the attitude I wish to have in this piece: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Sound good? Cool, let’s jump right in.
Like I was saying, I tend to get infatuated. A lot. It’s not love, but a “falling in like” of sorts. But it’s worse than that. It’s total dominion of my thoughts. It’s obsession.
Maybe you’re familiar. Every once in a while God will bring someone into your life that you find you cannot keep your mind off of. Maybe you didn’t even like this person at first. But soon enough you start to realize that this is actually a virtuous (and rather attractive, if I’m not mistaken), caring, smiling human being choosing to spend their time with you. You are kindred spirits. Maybe you didn’t know that there were people like this out there in the world. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that there is something evil about this. There’s nothing inherently wrong about guy-girl attraction and close friendships with the opposite sex. Jesus called us to be loving and friendly and open to everyone, not just to our own gender, right? So there can’t be anything wrong with spending so much time with her and nurturing these feelings…
After all, this person could be my future spouse someday. We’re already spending so much time together, and I think it could probably work out, I mean maybe she even feels the same way I do but geeze, I don’t even know her that well.
Aaaaand just like that, I’ve fallen into the trap of infatuation. But it’s a gradual slip! When exactly did this happen? When did I start absentmindedly thinking about her as I fall asleep, scrolling her twitter and Facebook posts, talking about her so much to my friends with that huge smile? When did I stop thinking of this person as just another sister in Christ and start building the we-end-up-together, fairy-tale adventure, happy-ever-after up in my head?
I think a metaphor may help. Have you ever gone bowling? You know how they make you wear those special shoes and you can’t step beyond this certain line of your and your partner’s lane or you will slip and brutally fall to the floor? One second you’re having fun bowling and the next it’s you that’s bowled over, left completely stupefied and trying to collect yourself. It’s embarrassing. I think falling into infatuation, it’s kind of like that.
Probably, the worst part of infatuation when it takes over and kicks in full force is that we neglect those closest to us. Our friendships suffer, our schoolwork is our last priority, and – most importantly – our relationship with God suffers. Our minds are consumed with this one person and we shut out anything not them-related.
And infatuation is dangerous not only because of the duties and relationships we neglect but also because it seems to shut down every ounce of rationality we once thought we had.
This is, on some level, natural. But dwelling incessantly on somebody, anybody, is not healthy. Lingering infatuation leads to brokenness. Whether we realize it or not, when we trick ourselves into thinking that this one certain individual will fulfill us completely, we’ve invested our ultimate hopes in a someone and not a Someone. We have lent everything to another broken soul who, probably, we will not be close to a year from now, and who, certainly, will disappoint and wound us deeply in one way or another. The only one deserving of this much of our affection is the One whose love for us is so great that He let Himself be nailed to a tree…so that one day we could come home to be with Him. Even our future spouse is not to have the greatest place nor be the greatest joy in our lives. I know that one day my wife and I will complement each other, but we will not complete each other; we will constantly fill each other but never completely fulfill each other.
Infatuation comes about when we place others in the place that only Christ deserves in our lives.
We have to remember that no matter how strong our feelings, no matter how badly our hearts ache and pull us toward someone, the brief stirrings of anemic attraction we feel in our hearts are not even the palest, weakest, flimsiest, most pathetic imitations of the Christlike, agape love that we are called to love each other with. Love is a choice, not a feeling. These “stirrings,” as a famous pirate once called them, do not even come close to the real thing. They are not even scraps.
Infatuation is to true love as masturbation is to marriage.
Hollywood, fairy-tale endings are not real. Even when we do choose that person we will spend the rest of our lives with, surely we know that there will be strife, conflict, and bitterness. The flittering feelings of infatuation are not enough to sustain any relationship. As followers of Christ, we can no longer hold our greatest hopes in others’ deliverance of us. We have already been delivered.
Being in Christ redefines our relationships and clinging to Him gives us the clarity we need to see what is really good for ourselves and others. No longer are relationships about what we can get from someone, but about how well we can love and serve them. No longer are we who belong to Christ ruled by our youthful passions; they have been crucified. We now have access to the wisdom and guidance of God the Father and to the clarity that Saint Augustine called the quickening of his thoughts and the giving of vigor to his mind. God has made these gifts available to us always through His Spirit, giving us the power we need to resist the way the world dates, lusts, “loves,” and marries (and divorces).
Being in Christ redefines love, and therefore, redefines relationships. His ultimate love conquers our most desperate obsessions and we break out of the destructive, controlling pattern of incessant infatuation by leaning on His strength alone. In my next post, I will document some of my own experiences and explain helpful tips and tricks that have helped keep me sane and guard my heart well.