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Sentimentality: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #10)

What is Sentimentality?
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 is Not Based on Reality:
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.

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