Eros is probably the most well known and also the most misunderstood of the Four Loves. For one thing, sexuality and lust aren’t always a part of Eros (think about someone you know that had meaningless sex with somebody). However, C.S. Lewis doesn’t say that Eros (which he defines as romantic love) and sexuality are incompatible. He just wants to make a distinction between Eros and what we call “erotic.”
Lewis says that romantic love begins with a pre-occupation with the Beloved. In other words, the “crush” phase. Going back to my post about Spike and Buffy, this happens when Spike dreamt of Buffy kissing him instead of staking him at the end of the episode “Out of My Mind.” Ideally, sex is not the first thing that comes to mind during this phase. Instead, the person with the crush is more pre-occupied with the person he or she is crushing on. It’s kind of a “Getting To Know You” phase. Lewis describes having what I call a crush as entering “like an invader, taking over.” How many times have we often said that we can’t get that person we’re crushing on out of our head?
Lewis continues to make a distinction between Eros and the erotic by citing George Orwell’s 1984. Two things: 1) Lewis calls the protagonist of 1984 less human than the “four footed heroes” of Animal Farm and 2) Without Eros, the beloved is an object, lusted after as a means to an end; with Eros, the Beloved is cherished as a person. Ideally, the Lover puts the Beloved first.
So why is romantic love so messed up? According to Lewis, it’s because both Eros and the erotic are taken too seriously. How many times in our lives have we seen stories where getting the guy/girl at the end is seen as the end-all, be-all? How many teenagers feel insecure because of their apparent sexual inexperience and see being a virgin as a crime? While both Eros and the erotic need to be taken seriously, neither one can’t be the end-all, be-all. People shouldn’t constantly worry about not having a relationship or “dying a virgin.” There’s more to life than that. And yet, because of the culture we live in, this distorted version of romantic love has become an idol, a standard that many people try to measure up to.
Part of this problem comes from three views on what the human body is. One view, called asceticism, sees the body as a prison for the soul. The second view, hedonism, worships the body too much. The third view takes inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi who called his body “Brother Ass.” This view is self-depreciating, humble without being humiliating. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves when it comes to acknowledging ourselves as human beings before we approach a romantic relationship. Think about Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Both of them learned to laugh at themselves and the mistakes they made throughout the time that they knew each other.
When we fall in love, we lose ourselves, but we never feel like we have lost unless the love we have is unrequited. We have to realize what we’re feeling and accept it. Otherwise, we fight a losing battle. And yet there’s also an element of masquerade to romance. We put our best foot forward in hopes of winning the heart of the Beloved. Is this bad? According to Lewis, no. The masquerade highlights the lovers as individuals.
Lewis moves on to quote one of the most controversial Bible verses. You know the one: Ephesians 5:25. Here’s the thing. That verse? It’s not misogynistic. It’s a verse that talks about mutual surrender. Yes, men have to make the first move, but the move he makes is the will to lay down his life for his wife. An ideal marriage, according to Theology of the Body, is a reflection of Christ’s spiritual marriage to the Church, which is seen as His bridegroom.
In the end, Eros’s endgame isn’t happiness. There is a reason “for better and for worse” is written in the marriage vows. Real love is choosing to suffer with your loved one rather than let them suffer alone. Real love is realizing that you make each other’s lives better and willing to make sure that you spend the rest of your days making each other happy. “Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break, provided they break together.”
Sounds scary, doesn’t it? I’m not saying that this advocates staying in an abusive relationship because the heartbreak is one-sided in that scenario. I’m just saying that as long as people learn to stop being self-centered when it comes to romantic love and stop seeing relationships and sex as a be-all, end-all, we might learn to see the people we love for who they are and not just what they mean to us.