The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Dating Essentials: Real Love vs. Infatuation

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There are certain critical concepts that every single should understand. Understanding the difference between infatuation and real love is one of those concepts, so let’s get into it.

UNDERSTANDING VALUE

Put a real diamond ring on a table next to a plastic kiddie ring that is trying to imitate the look of a real diamond. Which ring is worth more? The real diamond, of course. The kiddie ring is just a cheap toy that will bring some amusement for a very brief period of time before ending up in the trash can. The real diamond can be kept for decades and its value will likely increase. If a crisis arises, the diamond can be sold for major money that can help you or someone else out of a jam. Real love is like that real diamond: it lasts. It retains its value. You can use it to meet needs and really help people. Infatuation is like that kiddie ring: it’s amusing at first, but then you’re so over it and it’s useless. If you’re wise, you go for real love. If you’re stupid, you waste your whole life chasing after infatuation. God tells you to be wise. The world encourages you to be stupid.

UNDERSTANDING STAMINA

There is an immense difference between the stamina of love and infatuation. While love takes work to preserve, it has the potential to last a lifetime, whereas infatuation simply does not. To understand how this works out, let’s use another metaphor.

Let’s take you and your pal Henry outside to build a structure. This is a contest: we want to see whose structure will end up being the strongest. First we give you your materials: six reams of copy paper and a large pile of scotch tape. Now you go ahead and build whatever you want, but remember, it needs to be strong.

Now we go over to Henry and give him his materials. He gets a bunch of cement mix, bricks, and some brick laying tools. You each have three days to do your best. Let the contest begin.

Now that three days have passed, let’s test the stamina of your structures. You’ve really done your utmost with the tape and the paper, but when we get a hose and blast your structure, it collapses like a wet taco. So much for that.

But when we go to hose down Henry’s structure, it doesn’t even budge. Henry has constructed a strong fort, and so he wins the contest.

Now in this metaphor, your structure represents infatuation whereas Henry’s represents real love. What was the problem with your structure? Why did it collapse so fast? Your design was excellent, but your materials sabotaged you. Paper and tape just aren’t able to stand up under the elements. You didn’t do anything wrong—you did your best with what you had, but you just had the wrong materials. This is how it is with infatuation. You see, infatuation is built out of some very weak and fickle stuff: primarily hormones and deception. We don’t set out to use these materials, but they are simply the nature of the beast. Infatuation is always weak. Once it collapses, it’s like that soggy mess you had on your hands: it can’t be rebuilt. The materials are ruined.

Now let’s consider Henry’s structure. His structure teaches us about how real love works. Real love is built on much more solid materials: commitment, truth, and acceptance. But simply having the right materials isn’t good enough—you have to use them well. If Henry hadn’t put any wisdom into his design, then even strong materials like bricks and cement wouldn’t have prevented us from easily kicking the whole thing over. It takes conscious effort and wisdom and work to build strong love, but once you do, it really lasts.

In life, God tells you to pursue real love. Guess what the world tells you to pursue? Infatuation. Do you know what happens to people who try to pursue infatuation? They keep spiking up on hormonal highs only to come slamming down hard a short while later. You can’t make infatuation last because it’s built of the wrong stuff. If you want a life of perpetual heartache, then go for infatuation. Here’s how it works: you find someone who really excites you. You enjoy the buzz for a while. Then it all falls apart. You pitch into heartache. You find someone new who excites you. You enjoy the buzz for a while. It all falls apart. You pitch into heartache. Sound like fun? It’s rather like getting a great massage, and then running into a brick wall. The massage feels great. Slamming into the wall is very painful, and each time you do it you acquire new injuries which don’t have a chance to heal before you repeat the cycle. After enough time passes, you’re just one big bruise and you don’t want the massage anymore because it no longer feels good. This is what happens to people who try to live on infatuation: they end up feeling so wounded, burned out, and broken, that they can no longer enjoy the buzz of a new relationship. Yet even though they’re not enjoying new relationships, they’re desperate to have them, because they’re so afraid of being overwhelmed by feelings of despair and emptiness if they’re alone.

Real love is like eating a hearty meal when you’re very hungry. Infatuation is like trying to satisfy hunger with a bunch of caffeine. The buzz of the drug will energize you for a while, but since you’re not really feeding yourself, you’re going to end up feeling even worse when the caffeine wears off. Real love brings peace and satisfaction to the heart. Infatuation brings frenzied hype and anxiety. Because God wants you to experience His best for you, He tells you to go for real love. Because the world wants to use and abuse you, it tells you to go for infatuation.

THE TARGET OF INFATUATION

Real love and infatuation fixate on very different targets. This is a critical point to understand. Let’s use Molly the actress as an example. When Molly is playing her role as sexy Sabrina, the charming, witty, popular girl who every guy on the planet wants to be with, Molly is not acting like Molly. Molly is playing the part of someone who is not real. Sexy Sabrina never has a single hair out of place, because before Sabrina shows up in a scene, she’s been worked on for hours by appearance experts. Sexy Sabrina never gets sick, she never smells bad, she never loses her temper, she never breaks out in acne. Molly has an unattractive mole on the side of her face, but sexy Sabrina doesn’t, because make-up artists cover up the mole with foundation. Molly snorts when she laughs, but sexy Sabrina doesn’t because all of her perfect giggles are being faked. Molly’s gut sticks out more than her flat chest, but sexy Sabrina has an ample bosom with a flat stomach because before Sabrina appears, Molly gets strapped in a suffocating girdle and a large set of silicone breasts. Sexy Sabrina has a perfect body in bed because another model does all of her naked scenes while the real Molly who has plenty of lumps and blotches on her body waits on the sidelines. Sexy Sabrina wears all the latest fashions and her clothes are always perfectly tailored and freshly pressed, while Molly goes around in sweatpants and old shirts when she’s at home. Sexy Sabrina has an attractive accent when she talks and she uses a lot of intelligent words, whereas Molly speaks with no accent at all and she uses a lot of street slang. Molly doesn’t understand a lot of the words Sabrina says, because Molly’s just working off of someone else’s script. Molly doesn’t identify with Sabrina, she’s just playing a part. Sabrina loves to read while Molly doesn’t. Sabrina likes fine dining while Molly prefers cheap takeout. Sabrina isn’t real—she’s an airbrushed, done up, edited illusion that was created by a team of soap opera writers. Molly is the real one—and she’s got plenty of flaws, fears, and failings. But since Molly plays the part of Sabrina, a lot of people confuse these two women. They think Sabrina is who Molly really is, and when they recognize Molly on the street, they run over to her expecting to be greeted by the Sabrina personality. Molly found this fun at first when she was excited about her new role. But now that she’s in her second season of the show, she’s tired of being called Sabrina and never feeling like it’s okay to just be herself in public.

So what does this have to do with you? Well, every human has a Sabrina side. The differences aren’t always so extreme, but consider who you become when you are interviewing for a job you really want, or when you’re trying to make a good impression on someone who you really admire, or when you’re trying to get accepted by a certain group of people. You laugh extra hard at jokes that you don’t even find funny just because everyone else is laughing. You pretend to be interested in topics that you couldn’t care less about. You lie about how you feel and what you’re thinking. You act more energetic and cheerful than you actually are. You act more polite and considerate than you usually are. You bury your fears and insecurities under a pretense of confidence. You push yourself to put on your best side. You spend an extra long time analyzing your appearance before you leave the house, and you dress in clothes that you wouldn’t normally choose in order to impress the person you’re going to meet. This is your Sabrina mode, and this is the person someone fixates on when they become infatuated with you.

Infatuation always fixates on fantasies, which is why we said earlier that infatuation is built on deception. Just as you intentionally deceive people who you are trying to impress, other people intentionally deceive you. Not all lies are motivated by evil intentions—plenty of times humans lie to each other out of an anxious desire to feel wanted and accepted. But while we’re busy hiding our true feelings, covering up our physical imperfections, exaggerating our economic status, faking our character, and being absurdly agreeable, are we giving someone else the chance to accurately assess who we are? No. And without an accurate assessment, how can they truly accept us? They can’t, because they don’t know us.

Infatuation is an obsessive delight with a person who seems too good to be true because they are. No human is as perfect as they seem to be when we are infatuated with them. Yet when you don’t know how to recognize infatuation when it hits you, you mistake it for real love, and from there you make all kinds of really unwise decisions that end up pitching you down the path of utter misery. Infatuation feels great, but it’s also dangerous because it makes you want to leave your brain in the closet and embrace deceptions which some part of you knows simply aren’t right.

The infatuated mindset is one which is extremely selfish and utterly unreasonable. Infatuation wants perfection, or something darn close to it, and it won’t settle for less. For the most part, infatuation is something that just happens to you. You don’t go looking for it, it just zaps you like getting struck by lightning. One minute you’re going along, minding your own business, and then suddenly she appears and your whole world is flipped upside down. Infatuation is a hormone driven experience, and hormones are powerful things. When you’re infatuated with someone, you feel extremely attracted to their external features. His strong grip. Her gorgeous hair. His deep eyes. Her musical laugh. You find yourself wanting to stare. You feel acutely self-conscious and nervous whenever he comes into view. You long for conversation—any conversation. You find it hard to think about anything with the sight of that handsome face or that gorgeous body filling your brain. In one second you go from not even knowing someone to completely obsessing over them to the point of exhaustion. This is infatuation. It’s a very intense, sexually arousing feeling that completely messes up your life. If you’re smart, you’ll let it runs its course and not make any big decisions until the haze lifts. If you’re stupid, you’ll mistake it for real love and then try to use it as a foundation to build something that lasts. Remember how quickly your paper house collapsed into a miserable mess? That’s what happens to a marriage that you try to build on a foundation of infatuation.

Truth is a type of knowledge. You can’t gain knowledge about someone if you never interact with them. Since the truth about humans is always a mix of positives and negatives, and since infatuation only pursues perfection, the way to make infatuation last is to never talk to someone. Just keep obsessing over them from afar, as Sabrina’s fans do with her. Sabrina’s fans watch her act out scenes in her show every week, and then they construct whole fantasies about her in their minds. No fictional work has the time to convey the full range of complexities that a single human actually has. Most of them just throw a few ideal characteristics together and then leave you to flesh out the rest of the picture any way that you want. This is how infatuation works. Infatuated people stare at a canvas with just a few touches of paint on it, and then they sit there describing a grand masterpiece to you which only exists in their minds. Rita is a fine example of this. All Rita really knows about Salvador is that he has a handsome face, gorgeous eyes, and great soccer skills. From these few meaningless facts, Rita goes on to construct a whole persona that she talks about with her friends. “I just know he’s brilliant and kind and generous. I’m sure he’s dedicated, and humble, and I’ll bet he’s a wonderful son to his parents.” How can you possibly arrive at these conclusions by watching some guy with a nice face kicking a ball around on a field? You can’t. Rita doesn’t know the real Salvador at all. She’s just using the real Salvador’s face to make her ideal dream lover seem more real. And as long as Rita severely limits her exposure to Salvador, she’ll never gain much knowledge about him, thus the fantasy will continue unspoiled by truth. This is why people can remain infatuated with characters on television shows much longer than they can with people in their personal lives. Maintaining distance and a lack of knowledge is critical to keeping infatuation alive because infatuation depends on deceptions, and truth exposes deceptions. Were Rita to see Salvador being his usual crude and rude self in the locker room with the rest of the guys on his team, her fantasy would be ruined. Once infatuation crumbles, it’s usually impossible to revive it for the same target. You have to wait until a new target comes along.

THE INFATUATION CYCLE

While infatuation depends on deception to last, it also makes us feel an intense desire to connect with our target. This is how infatuation kills itself: it drives you towards the target, you interact with the target, you gain knowledge through the interactions, the knowledge exposes your deceptions, and the fantasy is destroyed. Understanding these mechanics is important because it gives you some control over how long you remain stuck in the grip of infatuation. The longer you remain in a state of infatuation, the more likely it is that you’ll make a very foolish decision about how you want to associate with your target. Infatuation is an enormous factor in extramarital sex and unwanted pregnancies. Infatuation is what inspires people to rush into foolish marital unions which then result in all kinds of misery and heartache. As fun as the rush of infatuation is, its dangers need to be respected. Infatuation affects you like a powerful drug: it strongly interferes with your ability to make wise choices and think clearly. While the world promotes infatuation as a fabulous thing, it’s really not all that fabulous. If you don’t recognize what’s going on and respond wisely, infatuation can quickly ruin your life.

CONTROLLING INFATUATION

Becoming infatuated with someone is like having someone jump you from behind and inject you with a powerful hallucinogen. You didn’t have a say in whether or not you’d be assaulted. It just happened to you and there was nothing you could do to stop it. Now you’re stumbling around, unable to think clearly, and your view of reality is all skewed. But suppose you know that the effects of drug you’ve been injected with will wear off more quickly if you eat a bunch of broccoli. If you want to regain control of your faculties, you need to find some broccoli and start eating it. Maybe you don’t like the taste of broccoli. Well, how much do you want your brain back? How long do you want to remain in this whacked out state where you are quite likely to walk into a pole or step out into traffic? Since being under the influence of this drug is greatly increasing your risk of personal injury, you should do the smart thing and take steps to make its effects wear off as soon as possible. This is the wise way to handle infatuation: you want to move through and out of it as fast as you can. But the world tells you to do just the opposite, of course, because the world listens to demons, and demons want you to be miserable.

The world works very hard to tell you that infatuation is love. The famous term “falling in love” really means “becoming infatuated.” It’s no accident that we’re taught to refer to infatuation as love, because then we’re more likely to do really stupid things, like propose to the target of our infatuation or give the person our trust or let them have their way with our bodies. All of those movies you’ve seen in which two strangers end up mooning over each other, sleeping with each other, and then finally deciding to marry each other are pictures of people making really dumb decisions before they ever get out of infatuation. Infatuation is rarely depicted as running its course in fictional works. The typical “love” story is one in which two strangers meet and then they become intensely infatuated with each other. In the midst of the sexual frenzy, someone learns something which threatens to destroy the illusion of the perfect romance. This is the crisis in the plot. Everyone gets in a huff with each other, there’s a period of gut wrenching withdrawals, then the two partners find a way to overcome the threat that was introduced and they reenter their fantasy world together. The movie then ends with the conclusion that the characters have evolved from young love to mature love. And yet in reality, no one has reached the love stage because no one has left infatuation. The two characters barely know each other, but they’re having great sex, and that’s what the world wants you to believe is a satisfying relationship. Well, if you listen to the world instead of God, you’re going to end up in a heartbroken mess.

So what’s the antidote to infatuation? How do you make that hormonal haze wear off as fast as possible? You need to acquire knowledge about your target—direct knowledge, not hearsay. This means you need to clock time with them—time in which the two of you are discussing subjects that are more important than mere earthsuit preferences. Asking your date what her favorite colors and foods are is all fine and well, but you need to get a whole lot deeper than this if you’re going to acquire the kind of knowledge that can lead to somewhere useful.

So is infatuation a bad thing? No, it’s just a dangerous thing. Infatuation is not inherently evil, just as having a sex drive isn’t evil. But both things can quickly lead you down the road of spiritual rebellion if you’re not respecting their power and seeking God’s wisdom. You can’t stop yourself from becoming infatuated in life, but you can choose to respond to the onset of infatuation in wise ways. Understanding that infatuation has nothing to do with reality will discourage you from trusting it, and that’s an important safeguard. Relying on your hormones to guide you in relationships is one of the dumbest things you can do because your earthsuit is depraved, and its priorities are very foolish.

Despite its obsession with immediate self-gratification, your earthsuit will chase after thrills that are guaranteed to injure it. If you jump in bed with someone who is loaded with sexually transmitted diseases, you’re taking a really stupid risk. Yet your earthsuit will want to do this: it will be so focused on having those good feelings now, that it won’t care about the kinds of diseases it is picking up in the process of having intercourse. Shooting up with drugs that will permanently damage your brain is another really stupid activity that your earthsuit finds attractive because your earthsuit just isn’t very wise when it comes to caring about long term consequences. In some situations, our earthsuits display a strong concern for future consequences. But when it comes to hormonal highs and adrenaline rushes, we see the concern for consequences fade into the background and soon we’re leaping out of airplanes and bungee jumping off of bridges simply for the rush of flirting with death.

Now in real life, infatuation can often precede real love. It is getting hit with infatuation that makes us suddenly take interest in pursuing a perfect stranger, and there is always the potential for that relationship to develop into one of true love. But infatuation is a totally different beast than real love, and you’ll never successfully transition from one to the other unless you understand some basic mechanics. So now let’s talk about real love.

THE TARGET OF LOVE

While infatuation chases after pleasing fantasies, real love focuses on reality. Real love pursues and embraces truth. Real love wants to build on something that’s firm and solid, not on shifting sand. While everything humans do has some self-serving motivation behind it, infatuation is entirely self-focused, while real love has a far more outward focus. When you’re infatuated with someone, you assess the value of that person solely by what they are doing for you. You love the way he makes you laugh. You love how entertaining she is to talk to. You love the way he builds you up with those compliments. You love what great eye candy she is. You enjoy the social status he brings you.

Listen to the reasons that infatuated people give for breaking up with their partners, and you’ll hear a major emphasis put on trivial details. Because infatuation demands perfection, we’re utterly unreasonable in the demands we make on our targets. “I’m so sick of hearing him complain about his job situation. Why can’t he just get a spine and stand up to his boss?” There’s nothing simple or quick about people gaining the healing and maturity they need to overcome core insecurities. Yet infatuation has no tolerance for people being flawed and wounded. “He drools when he sleeps. He has no sense of fashion. He doesn’t ever want to watch the kinds of shows I want to watch. I’m so done.” These are all trivial details, yet to the infatuated person, these really feel like intolerable flaws because infatuation wants perfection. In the midst of infatuation, it’s all about, “What are you doing for me? How do you make my life more exciting, fun, and enjoyable?” Infatuation wants targets that will give, give, give, while expecting nothing in return. Infatuated partners delude themselves into thinking they’re carrying their weight in the relationship when they do something nice for their partners, but in reality, they only do things with the expectation of receiving major rewards in return. Since you were the knight in shining armor who rescued her from her highway breakdown, the least she can do is make you dinner and give you sex. Now that you chipped a nail helping him hang that picture, he ought to fuss over you for a good twenty minutes. It’s your birthday, and that means he should spend his entire day doing everything you want to do. You had a hard day at work, and that means she should spend the whole evening stroking your ego. Infatuation is a very demanding, impatient, miserly thing. It’s exciting the first time she cries all over you, because you get to feel like the hero. But when she keeps crying over the same issue, you quickly tire of her and want to shove her away. Infatuation doesn’t care about the needs of its target, it only wants to take. Infatuation says, “I am the center of the universe, and you are here to meet my needs. If you start inconveniencing me, irritating me, or interfering with my dreams, I’ll cut you out of my life.”

Infatuation is utterly self-absorbed and refuses to invest in the well-being of its target. But real love is different. Real love sees intrinsic value in its target and it cares immensely about its target’s well-being. Real love aligns with God’s priorities, in that it puts the needs of the soul above the desires of the earthsuit. This is why real love will draw boundaries, refuse to enable abusive patterns, and make great sacrifices in order to safeguard the well-being of its target. You can see that it’s killing your husband to endure so much abuse at his executive level job, so you agree to sacrifice the home and neighborhood you love and move to a totally different place where you can drastically downsize and your man can start at the bottom again with a better company. You view his mental peace as being more important than stuff.

You can see that your wife is trying to hide how upset she is by intercourse, so rather than just take what you want, you turn down her offers and encourage her to see a counselor who can help her work through her issues. You care more about her finding healing from the past than you do about getting gratification right now. This is how real love works: it doesn’t just greedily grab, it considers the cost on both sides and it cares about its target being overly drained.

Sure, you could nag and harangue your man into climbing the ranks in his company just so you can have more money to play with, but you can see that he’s content with where he’s at, so you leave him alone. Or you could pressure your wife into getting breast implants so you’d have more to enjoy, and you know she’d probably do it to please you, but at what cost? You want her to feel accepted just as she is, so you don’t pressure her to change herself just to suit preferences that you know are not important. Real love cares about both partners in the relationship. It is willing to fight and sacrifice to keep the relationship strong. When your wife is going through some brutal mood swings, you do what you can to support her in it, and you put up with her screaming because you know her brain is all out of whack right now and you’re not going to just ditch her in her hour of need. Or maybe your husband is blaming himself for his coworker’s death and he’s trying to retreat into some suicidal hole. You stay in his face, you throw out the alcohol, and you don’t just let him wallow in undistracted self-loathing. Real love cares when its target is in distress and it moves to help, support, and build up. Real love invests. It celebrates strengths and graciously accepts weaknesses. It expects mistakes and makes reasonable demands. It forgives sins and lets the past stay in the past. Above all, it puts the spiritual over the earthly and encourages its target to pursue a closer walk with God.

In our example of Molly and Sabrina, no one can love Sabrina, because Sabrina isn’t real—she’s just a fictional persona who is always presented in a perfect light. The actress Molly has plenty of fans who are infatuated with her because they think she’s more like Sabrina than she really is. But Molly has a fiancé who really loves her. At first, he was infatuated with Molly after seeing her on television so much. But instead of just admiring her from afar, he pursued a real relationship with her. He took the time to get to know who she really was. He spent time with her in many situations and experienced her many moods. He dated her long enough to get her to drop her guard and stop trying so hard to act perfect around him because he wanted to know who she really was. As he learned about her many flaws and shortcomings, the fantasy he had about her crumbled, yet real love began to develop.

Like all humans, Molly is a combination of positive and negative traits. Another man wouldn’t be so attracted to her unique combination, but her fiancé is. He feels that Molly’s blend is a great complement to his own. He appreciates that she has different strengths than he does, and he feels that he has the resources to deal with her negatives. After talking to her for countless hours about the things that really matter to him, Molly’s fiancé has concluded that she and he want similar things in life. They share the same core values, even though they have very different interests and hobbies. They’ve had some practice in working out conflicts, and Molly’s fiancé likes what he’s seen. He decides that he’s found a woman who is willing to seriously commit to a relationship and fight for it to work. He’s given Molly time to learn about who he really is and he also let her experience his range of moods. As trust was built in the relationship, he shared some personal things with her that he wouldn’t share with just anyone and he liked how she responded. He feels accepted by Molly—that she really loves him as he is instead of just loving the best version of him. This is why he has proposed marriage to her: because he’s confident she’s the one.

There are some critical things you need to understand about how real love works. It can’t develop overnight. When people talk about “love at first sight” they are always talking about infatuation. Where there is no understanding, there can be no real love, because real love is when we accept and desire people as they truly are. You can’t ever develop love for someone who refuses to share knowledge of themselves with you. You can’t ever experience being truly loved if you refuse to let someone in. It is only with God that we are deeply loved right from the beginning because God knows everything about us. And because God will always know you infinitely better than any human does, His love for you will always be exponentially richer, deeper, and more satisfying than any love that you find on this earth. And before we leave the subject of love quality, let’s take a moment to discuss pets.

ANIMAL TARGETS OF INFATUATION

Because real love takes work and a willingness to embrace both the positives and negatives about someone, a lot of people decide to skip it. They want to remain in the world of infatuation instead—embracing only those who measure up to their ideal standards. Because it’s hard to perpetuate this kind of fantasy for very long with real people who you are actually interacting with, many have decided to chuck humans aside and instead direct their obsession onto animals. Here is where we get into the perverse world of pets being treated as stand-ins for human beings. Here is where we start calling our dogs our “kids” and constantly scripting for them.

Pet infatuation results in humans sitting around dialoging with a speechless mammal. And because the animal can’t speak, nor can it understand what’s being said, the human has to do both sides of the conversation. “I came home from work, and Bessie was like, ‘Mommy, don’t be sad. I’ll always be here for you.’” Bessie is a dog, and Bessie really didn’t say or think any of this, but the human owner will insist that Bessie did, because the human needs to believe that Bessie has deep feelings for her.

God designed humans to need real love, but He also set things up so that acquiring and keeping that love requires sacrifice, pain, and maturity on both sides. When we are immature, we want things all our own way. When we are choosing stagnation over growth, we refuse to do the work of maturing and instead we surround ourselves with fictional personas who will encourage us to remain exactly where we are: stunted, self-absorbed, wounded, and in perpetual need of ego stroking. Since animals cannot share their true feelings about us, and since we get so good at ignoring the indications of hostility that they give, we can freely project onto our beasts an obsession with us that the creatures do not come anywhere close to actually feeling. It’s all just a deception, but it’s one which our egos delight in, hence we wallow in it pet after pet.

Once you’ve forced your defenseless dog to become your all-in-all, the poor thing is stuck having to endure anything you do to it. And since infatuation is a selfish, hoarding, greedy affair which has no sincere concern for its target, we see animals who have been converted into “children” often showing signs of distress. Some become little lard balls because their owners are always stuffing them full of treats in order to see evidence of the animal’s enthusiasm for them. Many pets are not equipped with enough wisdom not to overeat, so they respond eagerly to whatever goodie is thrust at them only to end up in a miserable physical condition. And while animal targets of infatuation are rarely short on goodies, they are often persecuted with physical apparatuses which make them feel uncomfortable, trapped, and frustrated. Dogs get tight sunglasses strapped around their heads. Dogs and cats get stuffed into all manner of childlike outfits. Claws get painted and capped. There are excessive trips to groomers and excessive handling. While pack oriented creatures like dogs feel calmer and more content with a human owner who behaves as an alpha over them, dogs who are being forced to operate as stand-ins for humans often end up with humans who act subservient to them, only to then demand obedience at random times. Since many pet obsessed owners fail to discipline or erect proper boundaries, animals end up feeling very stressed. Over pampered animals often display very bratty behavior, being quick to hiss, bite and growl at the humans who won’t leave them alone. But their infatuated owners just laugh off all signs of discontent that the animal gives as they purchase cards and gifts for themselves which they pretend are “from the dog.” This is the sad state we end up in when we try to use animals to satisfy our need for other humans. And as we post pics on Facebook that say “Animals are more loyal than people,” the animals we have don’t begin to care about us the way that we pretend.

Certainly animals can form strong psychological bonds with their owners, but those bonds are far more instinct driven than personal in nature. In one study of animal psychology, ducklings who had no mother to imprint on ended up following a pair of boots which a human walked around in. The boots were not alive, but they were the only leader available, so the ducklings followed without discernment. When you trap a dog in your house and make him utterly dependent on you for food, water, and safety, yes, he’s going to bond to you. The thing is your prisoner—what choice does he have? To put such basic dependency on the same level as deep human affection—well, this is utterly absurd. But infatuation is fueled by deception and a denial of reality, so this is what we do.

Now because animals are unable to verbalize complex feelings and communicate their negative feelings towards us in a way that we can’t just blow off, with them it becomes possible to perpetuate our perverse delusions for years at a time. People want to interact with the targets of their infatuation, but interacting with human targets only hastens the day when too much knowledge will crush the fantasy. Animals are so easy to victimize and trap in the roles of our best friends, children, and lovers, that we take advantage of them in this way. And after we obsess over our pet for the full span of its life, it finally dies, and for many this is a devastating event. But why is it devastating? Why are we seeing so many humans utterly crushed by the loss of some beast? Why are companies making a mint selling angel pet paraphernalia and why are we all so obsessed with the idea of our animals waiting for us in Heaven? On internet social forums, you can find pet obsessed Christians speaking of their pets praying for each other. What is going on here? Well, when it comes to animal infatuations, death is often the first time that a multi-year fantasy is crushed. When the animal dies, the human owner finds herself suddenly wrenched out of a fantasy world that she has grown utterly dependent on. This makes the grief and loss feel overwhelmingly intense and soon another animal must be found in an effort to revive the fantasy. But of course that new animal will also die, and by now the owner has totally given up on forming healthy relationships with other humans. The animals are all she has, and the longer she tries to make it on the hollow illusion of their love for her, the more miserable she will become. Trying to live off of infatuation never works. We were designed to thrive in the giving and receiving of real love, and when we refuse to align with God’s agenda for us, He retaliates with discipline.

PURSUING LOVE

So then, as a single, what is the wisest course of action for you to take? You need to pursue real love. You need to see infatuation for the shallow, selfish, useless thing that it is and decide that you are going to spend the time and energy required to push through it and give real love a chance. The kind of love that you need to build a strong, satisfying marriage requires a gathering and sharing of knowledge. You can’t rush through the dating period. When you think you’ve found someone with potential, you have to invest a bunch of time and energy in being with them, talking with them, and waiting for them to drop their guard.

At the start of new romantic relationships everyone is doing a lot of acting. They’re trying to hide their flaws and amplify their positive traits. Often they’re trying to create more commonality than actually exists just to keep you around. Sally doesn’t really like dogs, but when Mike says he loves dogs, she enthusiastically agrees. Why? Because she is attracted to Mike and is afraid that he’ll leave if she disagrees with him too much at first. In the early stages of dating, there’s a whole lot of fibbing and posturing going on. But it takes energy to maintain these acts, and if you let enough time pass, your partner will grow weary and start to drop their mask. That’s when stuff starts coming out that really surprises you—insecurities and fears that you never would have guessed your partner struggled with because they were doing such a good job of snowing you at first. Trust has to be earned, and that takes time. Everything about making wise decisions in romantic relationships takes time. This is why it is so unwise to rush into marriage. You’re not ready after just a few months. You’re still breaking down the act.

Now the more mature your partner is, the less time it will take for them to be real with you. But remember that for a marriage to be strong, love has to be flowing both ways, and that means you can’t let all the sharing happen on one side. If you keep fronting with them after they’ve started being much more honest with you, you are not giving them the information they need to make an informed choice about committing to you. This feels like a smart way to protect yourself at first, but you’re really just setting yourself up for pain by letting the relationship continue to build on deception. If you start really falling in love with them, but you’re not being truthful with them, then when you finally do start opening up after marriage, you may discover that they are not at all willing to love who you really are. This a mess that you brought down on your own head by refusing to be truthful during the dating period.

The purpose of dating is to find a spouse. We don’t date just for fun, because people’s hearts are involved, and hearts are delicate things. If you know that you’re not ready to commit to marriage, you shouldn’t be dating. If someone you’re not interested in is pursuing you, then you are doing wrong to lead them on just to get your ego stroked. Dating is not a game. Other humans should not be treated like our playthings. They should be treated with the utmost respect because of the high value that God has placed on them. We need to remember that all humans are the property of the Ones who made them: Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. When we toy with people, abuse them for our own selfish gain, and treat their feelings as irrelevant, we are going to end up bringing Divine discipline down on our own heads.

Humans can never be a substitute for God in your life. God is the only One who can meet the needs of your soul. But just because humans can’t be your all-in-all doesn’t mean they can’t be tremendous blessings. Humans are amazing creatures. They have an incredible capacity to love, support, help, and inspire each other. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching God working through humans to bring the best out of each of them. So we never want to close our hearts to humans. Yes, they can be very painful and difficult to deal with. Yes, they will disappoint us and wound us and sometimes fail to be there when we need them the most. But they are still wonderful creatures, and we must remember that the things most worth having in life cost the most to acquire.

You never want to give up on humans. For every one that crushes you, there is another who would love you. We need to keep giving each other chances, and remember that with the help of God, we are able to improve and mature and become better than who we were. Of all the things you could invest in in this world, people are by far the most worthy. They are the only element of this entire Creation which God will be preserving forever. We tell ourselves that our pets go to Heaven, but they really don’t. Animals are not eternal. Animals live once and that’s it. But people remain, and God has placed a value on people which cannot ever be taken away. So we should cherish the people that God brings into our lives, and always be open to Him bringing us more. Maybe you’ve never been married before. Maybe you’re widowed or divorced. Whatever the reason for your current state of singleness, ask God to lead you to His best choice for your next spouse and never fall for the lie that you’re too old to experience the joys of new love.

FURTHER READING:
Dating Guidelines for Christian Singles
Understanding the Love of God: The Five Versions of You

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