In the section entitled, “The Metaphysical Analysis of Love,” Karol Wojtyla discusses a number of aspects that make up the “invisible” side of love, namely attraction, desire, goodwill, reciprocity, and friendship. These are experiences that men and woman have when they meet one another. Today we focus on attraction.
An attraction—a “liking”— happens quite naturally between men and women. An instant or initial attraction occurs, Wojtyla writes, as a result of natural sexual desire, but in order to really like someone on the personal level, we have to know them. Attraction to another person—a man to a woman, a woman to a man—“does not mean just thinking about some person as a good, it means a commitment to think of that person as a certain good, and such a commitment can in the last resort be effected only by the will.”[i] This is a really important point: we have to consent to an attraction before it will really take hold. Feelings may arrive spontaneously, but not a full attraction of one person to another.
Our culture says the opposite: that attraction is a blind force, a passion, that moves people without their consent.[ii] We think that we have to be attracted to so-and-so; we have no choice in the matter. Wojtyla says that is not true: “At the base of attraction is a sense impression, but this is not decisive in itself. For we discover in an attraction a certain cognitive commitment of the subject, a man, let us say, towards the object, in this case a woman.”[iii]
Let’s say that a man sees a woman at a bar and is struck by her; He thinks she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He starts walking over to ask for her number… when he realizes that she’s wearing a wedding ring. If he’s a good man (we’re going to presume that he is), the moment is over. “That woman at the bar” may always be the most beautiful woman the man has ever seen, but he’s not going to nurture an attraction toward her. He knows that being attracted to someone else’s wife is not going to make him happy. (Obviously, if he decided that he had “no choice” but to pursue an attraction to her regardless of her marriage, he’s not a good man!)
Wojtyla also analyzes the unpredictability of attraction, pointing out that every human person is complex and reacts to different qualities in others based on temperament, past experience, family background, etc. You can never tell who is going to like each other! We are all a mixed bag, if you will. (Wojtyla’s phrase is “uneven good.”[iv]) This is why setting friends up on blind dates can be risky (though it’s a risk we encourage you to take!).
Wojtyla writes that an attraction must discover that it is rooted in the truth about the person before it can be called love. Perhaps Sally thinks that Harry is kind, but then she sees him repeatedly acting in an unkind way. Perhaps Harry thinks Sally is sweet and then finds her kicking puppies. This is when disillusionment sets in: “This person isn’t who I thought they were!” Wojtyla writes, “This emptiness and the feeling of disappointment which goes with [this experience] often produce an emotional reaction in the opposite direction: a purely emotional love often becomes an equally emotional hatred for the same person.”[v] That’s why it’s so important to always seek to know the real person, not the image in your head!
To sum things up: attraction is the beginning of love, but requires knowledge and truth to become the kind of love that marriage can be built on.
[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 75.
[ii] Notably, in Dante’s Inferno, the adulterous couple Francesca and Paolo who are in hell because of their sin of lust are battered about by the winds, unable to control their movements forever as they were unable to use self-control in life.
[iii] Ibid, p. 75.
[iv] Ibid, p. 76.
[v] Ibid, p. 79.
[i]Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 75.
[ii] Ibid, p. 75.
[iii] Ibid, p. 76.
[iv] Ibid, p. 79.