What is love? This is the most important question in the world right now. Literally. If we are going to try to answer this question, we should start with the greatest philosopher of our time: Will Ferrell. Dr. Ferrell and his associates have an enlightening discussion of the topic in the movie Anchorman.
Champ Kind: What’s it like, Ron?
Ron Burgundy: The intimate times? Outta sight, my man.
Brian Fantana: No, the other thing – love.
Brick Tamland: Yeah, what is that?
Brian Fantana: I think I was in love once.
Ron Burgundy: Really? What was her name?
Brian Fantana: I don’t remember.
Ron Burgundy: That’s not a good start, but keep going…
Brian Fantana: She was Brazilian, or Chinese, or something weird. I met her in the bathroom of a K-Mart and we made out for hours. Then we parted ways, never to see each other again.
Ron Burgundy: I’m pretty sure that’s not love.
Brian Fantana: Damn it.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, are you just looking at things in the office and saying that you love them?
Brick Tamland: I love lamp.
Ron Burgundy: Do you really love the lamp, or are you just saying it because you saw it?
Brick Tamland: I love lamp. I love lamp.
Ron Burgundy: Do you really want to know what love is? It’s really quite simple. It’s kind of like…(the four men then sing Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight barbershop-quartet style…)
We can learn a whole, whole lot from this interaction.
Every culture and people in recorded history have struggled to define what love is. Ours is the first to pretend that it doesn’t have a meaning at all.
I’m a big fan of comedies. Unfortunately, most modern comedies are bad for my soul. Against my better judgement, I continue to watch them. I still remember what a roommate once told me to try to convince me to ignore these films when they came out. He compared these movies to brownies. He asked me, “If someone was offering you a brownie and told you that there was just a little bit of poop in it, would you still eat it? Then why do you watch these movies that have shit sprinkled in?” So I don’t recommend any of the movies I’m going to talk about here, and if you see me wanting to go watch the next Seth Rogen movie, please stop me. But that’s not really the point of this post.
I couldn’t help but notice a common theme running through all of these modern comedies. Whether it’s Anchorman, Wedding Crashers, Old School, SuperBad, Hall Pass, Knocked Up, or any number of other movies made by the same eight or nine guys in various combinations, they’re all about one thing: guys trying to get laid. That’s about it. For some, it’s an ancillary theme to an otherwise funny story (see Anchorman). For others, it’s the actual plot and basis of the movie (see Hall Pass, SuperBad, Wedding Crashers). But its always there.
Now, as a Catholic, sex and love have always been connected. That doesn’t really seem to be the case in these flicks. Certainly there are a lot of different types of love, but for the Catholic, they all have one common theme: a desire for the good of the other. For the Christian, love is always selfless, whether it’s the love a mother has for her daughter, the sexual love shared by spouses, the love a man has for his country or his dog or his God. In all of those loves, the root is selflessness. The type of sex depicted in these movies is antithetical to that. It’s about pleasing the self, doing what feels good, breaking free of the restrictions of antiquated ethics or monogamy or personal hang-ups to just have some freaking fun. That idea of selflessness has nothing to do with their sex. Right?
See, that’s the thing I couldn’t help but notice about every single one of these movies. They all end with monogamy in some form or another. Wedding Crashers spends an hour and a half showing us two guys trying to hook up with chicks at weddings, only to have them driving off into the sunset with their wives at the end. It’s like the movie is saying, “Yeah, all that getting laid stuff is funny, but you know we’re messing with you.” What?
Even worse is Hall Pass. Literally, the premise of the movie is that these guys and their wives take a weekend off from their marital vows, a chance to go have sex with anyone they want without getting any grief from their spouses. And you watch the guys chase and chase and chase, watch them get into funny situations and be really awkward with women, but when the main character finally gets the chance to cheat, he doesn’t. He can’t. He walks away. And on top of that, the one woman who does actually cheat on her spouse shows genuine remorse and regret for her actions. Why is no one confused by this?
It seems that our culture, the culture that is so ready to deny that Natural Law exists or that morality is the same for everyone, can’t shake the idea that, as much as we don’t like it, commitment and monogamy and sex and love are inseparable ideas. Or to put it a better way, man actually prefers dying to his own sexual desires for the good of another, rather than just trying to get some. I mean, if anywhere we were to find a complete renunciation of “traditional values” and ethics and morals, it would be in a movie titled SuperBad, right? But at the end of this movie, we see that the characters who spent the whole thing being dumb high-schoolers trying to get drunk and have sex are going on a rather healthy, normal date with the girls they wanted at a mall. No one seems able to just come out and say, “Go have sex with anyone you want, because commitment doesn’t matter.” There’s always a take-back at the end. Hugh Hefner has girlfriends, for crying out loud, in his sad salute to real relationship.
So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that all people, regardless of whether you spend your Sundays at Mass or at a hedonistic rave as part of a 72-hour bender, you probably still can’t shake the idea that love is real and that it means something deep and important. But to have this kind of love, you must die to yourself.
I am incredibly blessed to have the wife I have. Living with me is not easy. It’s not always pleasurable (no jokes here please), it’s not always fun, and it doesn’t always even make logical sense for her to stay with me. But she does. She does because she knows that somewhere in the deep of her, she needs connection with someone, and that that connection needs to have commitment and sacrifice in good times and in bad. And she sees the poor schlub God put in her life, and she does her best to love him. She does her best to desire my good. And she knows I try my sad little best for her as well.
Love is hard. Ask any parent. Ask any teacher or coach. Ask any soldier. Ask any human being who has tried to seek the good of another without thinking of themselves. Ask any person who has given a gift of themselves without asking anything in return. It’s not easy. But there is joy in it. Those that hide from this love, who tell me I’m crazy for getting married before 30 or stupid for only sleeping with one woman or foolish for working at a Catholic school instead of a public, they will not know the joy I have. They won’t know what it’s like to see a part of their heart breathing slowly next to them in bed each night, won’t understand the warmth my lips feel when I kiss my daughter’s cheeks, won’t experience the peace and burning hope in my broken little soul when I kneel before my Christ present on the altar. And that’s sad. I wish they would get the chance to have that, because I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’d rather die.
Love is hard because it’s not about you. But it’s worth it because it’s not about you. We are incapable of finding happiness on our own. We are in need of the other, and the way to the other is the Way Himself, the Way of sacrificial, joyful, unending love. And that’s the Truth.
And when you find that Love, it won’t hurt you, won’t hurt you, no more.