To begin his formal ethical analysis of love in Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla sets out two fundamental ways through which to consider ethics: experience or virtue.
Wojtyla starts with the use of experience as a guideline for ethics. Situationalism (or relativism) sees every situation as unique in such a way that there can be no objective rules about behavior. What is right or wrong in a given situation just depends on the situation and the people in it. The people themselves are the only ones who can know (or say) what is good for them. So when it comes to the relationship between a man and a woman, anything goes as long as it “works” for the couple. Hopefully, it is obvious that this kind of ethical system leads to all sorts of problems, not only for the couple themselves but potentially their children, extended families, and friends as well.
In contrast, according to the ethics of virtue, it is a person’s duty to choose what is good. What is good is not decided by the person himself but rather determined by some objective rule or norm. “For the freedom of the human will is most fully displayed in morality through duty,” Wojtyla writes. A duty is discovered, not created, through applying a norm. For Wojtyla, the personalistic norm (i.e. the command to love) furnishes the “should’s” and “should not’s” of the relationship between man and woman. Whatever is done should be done out of love, not lust or emotional manipulation. Wojtyla argues that without ethical completeness (respect, love for the other over oneself, etc.), there is no psychological completeness to love either. In other words, if love as a virtue is not present in the relationship between a man and a woman, it will not even be psychologically satisfying in the end because it is not authentic love.
Consider these two approaches to ethics as if they were applied to eating. Situationalism would say that whatever you eat is fine, if you think it is. Doughnuts every day? Go for it! Only you can know if that is a good breakfast for you. Virtue, on the other hand, requires you to consider the objective nutritional value of the food and act accordingly. That doesn’t mean that you always make the right decision, but that you know there is a right to strive for.
So how do a man and woman grow in the Christian virtue of love/charity? Stay tuned!
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 120.
In this section of Love and Responsibility, the future pope (St. John Paul II) identifies a challenge that is before a man and a woman who seek love: The Problem of Integrating Love.
So far, Wojtyla’s psychological analysis of love has been of sensual or sentimental reactions of a man for a woman and vice versa. In this section, he notes that all these reactions are “strictly individual”—every person and every relationship is different. Love is always “unique and unreproducible,” because it is personal. It has an inner dimension and an outer dimension; it is a drama of “great and absorbing importance” in the lives of the two persons involved. Love between a man and a woman can make other experiences pale in comparison and may reveal parts of the self that the person didn’t even know were there. Love has great psychological power.
Psychology itself, though, confirms that feelings are not enough to sustain love. Two characteristics of a person’s inner life that must enter into the relationship are truth and freedom. These help to “integrate” the couple’s love—to make it the kind of love that thrives in marriage.
Wojtyla comes back, then, to the choice of the will based on knowledge of the other. “The value of the person is closely bound up with freedom, and freedom is a property of the will.” As previously discussed, the commitment of the will to the other person’s good is decisive in true love. Love must be a free choice; one that is unconditional, and this kind of love cannot be promised without knowledge: “A really free commitment of the will is possible only on the basis of truth,” Wojtyla writes. The truth cannot be only the psychological truth (i.e. “We really feel in love with one another”) but also the objective truth that these two are good for one another. This objective, ethical side of love is Wojtyla’s next subject.
 Ibid, p. 115.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 114.
 Ibid, p. 114.
 Ibid, p. 116.
 Ibid, p. 117.
After sensuality, Wojtyla turns in Love and Responsibility to sentimentality. While sensuality focuses on the body, sentimentality focuses on the person as masculine or feminine. Sentiment is an affection for the person in which “a different sort of desire [from that of sensuality] is discernible… the desire for nearness… exclusivity or intimacy, a longing to be always alone together.”[i] A person who is sentimentally attracted is always thinking about the other person and their “love.” In English, infatuation is probably the best term for what Wojtyla means—the stage in a relationship when the couple’s friends say, “Those two just can’t get enough of each other!” Often, these are the people texting each other at every moment, engaging in “PDA’s” and always trying to be together.
Wojtyla notes that there seems to be a marked difference between men and woman in this regard: men are more likely to be tempted into sensuality, women into sentimentality/ infatuation. This is a generalization, of course, but a helpful one. Because of his physiological and psychological makeup, a man is more likely than a woman to experience a desire to use someone’s body for pleasure; this means the man has a responsibility to be aware of this tendency and to guard against it. Sally may see a certain tenderness or other physical contact with Harry as a sign of affection, part of a growing love between them, while Harry may recognize that, for his part, his mind and body have crossed the line into a desire for pleasure or enjoyment. In that case, Harry should communicate this to Sally and they should set boundaries to help ensure that real love has a chance to grow.
Sentimentality may sound better than sensuality, in terms of weaknesses, but Wojtyla explains why this is not necessarily the case. In infatuation, “a variety of values are bestowed upon the object of love which he or she does not necessarily possess in reality. These are ideal values, not real ones.”[ii] This kind of idealization happens in young love: the other person is just an opportunity for one’s own “perfect” man or woman to be loved. It is a way of using the person emotionally. The other person (usually the man), “is less the object than the occasion for affection.”[iii] In other words, Harry is just the guy who is allowing Sally to “love” someone and be someone’s girlfriend. It could as easily have been Greg. Sally then endows Harry with every good quality she imagines in a man: Harry is smart, strong, confident, funny, kind, etc. Sally doesn’t know that Harry is all these things, but she thinks or decides that he is. This infatuation “feeds” on Sally’s feelings and desires rather than who Harry actually is, so even though Sally wants to be around him all the time, she doesn’t necessarily want to know the real Harry. She doesn’t want to know his insecurities, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, failures, or sins. “This is why sentimental love is very often a cause of disillusionment… The discrepancy between the ideal and the reality often results in sentimental love fading or indeed changing into a feeling of hatred.”[iv] Infatuation may be fun, but it has to mature, or even die, in order to become love.
Neither sensuality nor sentimentality, then, results in a robust love that is capable of weathering storms. The next section will be about integrating love in order that two people can pledge themselves to one another for life.
[i] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 110.
[ii] Ibid, p. 112.
[iii] Ibid, p. 113.
[iv] Ibid, p. 113.
Sensuality as Impression:
In his section on sensuality, Wojtyla looks at what happens when a man and a woman “make an impression” on each other. With this phrase, we are saying more than that Harry and Sally met; We are saying that this meeting left an impression. Harry walked away with a mental picture of what Sally looked like; Sally left with a memory of what Harry sounded like (for example). The impression was spontaneous—it happened to them, they didn’t do it to themselves—but it linked up with an intellectual acknowledgement, such as, “He/she is attractive; maybe we could get together.”
The immediate reaction is what Wojtyla calls sensuality. “Sensuality is not just a matter of male x becoming aware of female y through his senses, or vice versa. Sensuality always implies experiencing a particular value bound up with this sensory awareness. Specifically we are concerned with a sexual value, connected above all with the body of a person of the other sex.” Sensuality by itself, Wojtyla says, has a “consumer orientation,”[i] being aimed at a body and not a person; in this way it can interfere with noticing and knowing the person as they truly are.
Sensual Reaction is Natural:
Wojtyla is quick to point out that a sensual reaction is natural, not evil; it is a “reflex.”[ii] A healthy body reacts with sensuality because of the biological facts of human existence (man + woman = baby) and it is in and through the body that these facts are experienced. Sexual attraction to another person reaches consciousness “where the impression is accompanied by an emotion experienced not only mentally but bodily. Sensuality is connected with the stirrings of the body, especially in its so-called erogenous zones.”[iii] This kind of spontaneous bodily reaction is particularly strong in men. Wojtyla notes that a man’s bodily reactions “would give man all the guidance he needs in his sexual life”[iv] if he were only an animal, driven by instinct to another animal. But man is called to exercise his freedom and self-control.
The sensual reactions of the body can pose a threat to true love when they “devalue the person”[v] by seeing the other as an object. This is why the conscience is often stirred by sensual reactions—a man (or a woman) knows that this reaction does not do full justice to the person in front of them. They may be embarrassed by it. But sensuality can be understood as the “raw material” for love, when it is integrated into a full human relationship.
Wojtyla notes that sensuality, since it is focused only on a body, is notoriously fickle. It turns easily from one person to the next. A man who goes to a bar and “checks out” every woman who walks in the door is a prime example of someone seemingly ruled by sensuality. Wojtyla also notes that a person may react sensually to a body that is not present (consider pornography) and that sensuality may “insinuate itself into [a] situation ‘uninvited,’”[vi] such as when an artist is painting a nude model (and has no intention of using her sexually). These reactions make life complicated!
Lest a person who is naturally more sensual (reacting swiftly or strongly to the other sex) be led to despair, Wojtyla notes at the end of this section that, “An exuberant and ready roused sensuality is the stuff from which a rich—if difficult—personal life may be made.”[vii] An ardent temperament can lead to an ardent love.
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 105.
[i] Ibid, p. 105.
[ii] Ibid, p. 106.
[iii] Ibid, p. 107.
[iv] Ibid, p. 107.
[v] Ibid, p. 107.
[vi] Ibid, p. 109.
[vii] Ibid, p. 109.
In this section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla looks specifically at the type of love that a husband and wife share, and he calls this “betrothed love.” The phrase in English that better conveys what Wojtyla means is “marital love,” since he means the love in which a man and woman give themselves fully to one another.
Wojtyla reminds us that we must possess ourselves before we can give ourselves. Self-gift is not about passively becoming what someone else wants us to be. Have you seen the movie Runaway Bride (1999)? The main character (Maggie) always adjusted her likes and dislikes according to what her boyfriend or fiancé liked. She wanted to be loved, so she changed herself to match whatever the man she was with liked in a woman. With the hippie, she became a hippie; with the athletic guy, she became a sports fan. After this habit was pointed out to her, Maggie realized that she didn’t know herself.
Most of us can probably relate to this impulse at some level: We fudge our favorite book so that we sound smart, or nod our head when our crush talks about a band we’ve never heard of… if that kind of thing becomes a habit, we might reach a point where we don’t “possess” ourselves and cannot find real love. This is perhaps more common for women than men.
Marriage is to Give
Wojtyla points out that, psychologically speaking, it is usually the woman who feels that her role in marriage is to give. However, objectively (or ontologically) speaking, both spouses must give themselves to one another, and not just sexually. “Giving oneself only sexually, without the full gift of the person,” is just a form of use, as previously discussed. Husband and wife give themselves to one another even through the mundane activities of daily life.
At the risk of being too movie-heavy in this post, the movie Fireproof (2008), while one of the cheesiest movies ever, does a great job communicating this truth about marriage. Once the husband (Caleb) begins really giving himself to his wife by making her coffee, buying her flowers, and considering her needs before his own (possibly for the first time in their entire marriage), the relationship is transformed. Caleb comes to understand that love is a choice; He recognizes that he has been selfish and that he has not acted with goodwill and friendship.
The Person and Love:
Wojtyla concludes with the note that marital love is not some isolated kind of love, different from every other kind. “Betrothed love, though of its nature it differs from all the forms of love previously analyzed, can nevertheless not develop in isolation from them. In particular, it is essential that Husband and wife give themselves to one another even through the mundane activities of daily life..”
Thus concludes the section on “The Person and Love.” We have looked at attraction, desire, goodwill, reciprocity, friendship, and betrothed love as experiences of the person. In the next section, Wojtyla goes into a psychological analysis of love. Stay tuned!
 Ibid, p. 99.
 Ibid, p. 100.
NOTE: While we normally use “sympathy” to describe sharing in someone else’s suffering, Karol Wojtyla uses the word according to its root meaning – feeling the same as another person – to describe the emotional feeling of love that couples experience as they date and approach marriage. I will also use the term “infatuation” for the same phenomenon.
Love as Desire Needs to Becomes Love as Goodwill
In the next section of Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla examines how sympathy matures into friendship. This process is like the earlier one (where love as desire has to mature to love as goodwill). In both cases, emotions come first, and the will follows.
Wojtyla writes that sympathy— infatuation, the “high” that a man and a woman experience when they discover that they like each other romantically—“takes possession of one’s feelings and will, irrespective of the objective worth of the person for whom it is felt.” Studies have shown that the first stage of romance, being “in love,” releases lots of happy chemicals in the brain—it’s even like being on drugs! Infatuation makes a man and a woman feel close to each other and aware of their mutual attraction. It lays a foundation and “creates conditions for friendship.”
Love between a man and a woman must mature into friendship. In friendship, a person chooses the other and wants what is best for him or her. The choice to be friends with someone must be based on who he or she really is, so knowledge and time are crucial. The emotion of sympathy—liking each other—must be supplemented “with an objective knowledge and belief in the value of that person.” “Love at first sight” can spring up in a moment, but becoming friends, “normally demands time and reflection.”
When a priest meeting with an engaged couple asks, “How long have you been dating?” it isn’t just out of curiosity – he’s trying to discern something about the depth of their friendship. It is important information for him to know to accompany them in their discernment of marriage. As Wojtyla puts it, only if a man and woman have a mature friendship that has “objective existence,” over and above feelings, “is it a friendship on the basis of which two people can build a marriage, and share their lives.”
Marriage’s Strong Foundation: Friendship
Infatuation is not enough to keep a couple together over time. It will break down, and, “As soon as sympathy breaks down [the two people] usually feel that love has also come to an end.” A marriage that takes place before a strong foundation is present is a danger; the high divorce rate attests to it. Unless a man and a woman know each other’s characters and have formed a real friendship, if they marry, their marriage will not be on a strong foundation. Their marriage will not survive unless the spouses mature and “grow into” friendship after the wedding day.
Comradeship in Marriage:
At the end of this section, Wojtyla mentions “comradeship,” by which he means that the man and woman are co-workers, partners in a project that is bigger than them. Being co-workers, “rests on such objective foundations as joint work, common goals, shared concerns, etc.” If sympathy/ affection and comradeship/ partnership are present, “the combination is a very promising one.” When two people work together on a project, a certain unity develops around that shared task. For example, “We made a picnic table this weekend” or “We cooked a meal for a soup kitchen last night.” There are simple, practical ways that people need one another and benefit from doing things with other people. Wojtyla says that people who are good at working with others are also well-suited for marriage and family life.
In conclusion, if you’re in a dating relationship, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “Do I love this person because we feel the same way and enjoy each other’s company, or are we really becoming friends along with everything else?”
 Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 90.
 Ibid, p. 91.
 Ibid, p. 92.
 Ibid, p. 92. The philosopher Aristotle wrote in Nicomachean Ethics that while the desire to be friends may happen immediately, friendship itself does not.
 Ibid, p. 94.
 Ibid, p. 90.
 Ibid, p. 94.
 Ibid, p. 94.
 Wendell Berry writes about how men and women used to objectively need one another more in the past (to raise the barn, to harvest the fields, to teach the children all that they needed to know, etc.), and this led to stronger bonds between spouses in marriage and among the community at large.