Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Stalker Phobia, and Receiving Love

The other night, Isaac pointed out that so many of us in this day and age have a "stalker phobia", if you will - an overexaggerated fear that other people are paying too much attention to them. His example was that if he were to mention to a casual friend that he was browsing through their facebook pictures, their first reaction would probably be to pull away, almost as if they felt violated!
But as even this story illustrates, we are also fickle exhibitionists. A simple search by my name can easily direct you to my blog, facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and umpteen other pages that put my information and my personality directly on the web - not counting the various xangas, livejournals, and other accounts I've deleted since high school - and I'm not even trying to promote myself on the web!

My Christian Marriage professor taught us that love is based in knowledge. This was revolutionary to me at the time, but seems more fundamental the more I consider it: the more you know someone, the more you can love them, and the better you can love them. We all desire to love and to be loved; when we invite others in to the mystery that is each one of us, we are inviting them to deeper knowledge of ourselves, for better or worse.

If you draw people in and invite them to know and love you, you may be perceived as desperate or pathetic. But if you genuinely pay attention to others and love them by knowing them, you run the risk of being perceived as a stalker, someone who's unpleasant and even dangerous.

Why is it such a risk to reach out and love someone? Why is it scary for me to admit that I remember your birthday? I know that I feel special when people remember my birthday without the help of facebook. So what's the difference?

Perhaps it has to do with our view of love. I think one could make an argument that the dominant American culture's view of love is rather similar to its view of life: that is, if an unborn child is wanted, its mother is praised and protected and cared for with great affection; if the child is unwanted, however, it's an unfortunate circumstance that is best simply taken care of. Similarly, if love is felt by both parties, they should be able to marry and do whatever they want, but if the love is unrequited, it's a terrible shame and the lover is pathetic and needs to get over himself.

In past ages, much emphasis was put upon unrequited or unattainable love - arguably too much (though I suspect Joe may disagree). Perhaps one can blame Bacon and the empiricists for putting rationality into science's hands and, in the long run, orienting our whole society toward valuing the factual and the practical over the abstract and the emotional.

Having recently gotten over a situation in which I was head over heels in unrequited love for two years, I can appreciate thoroughly the pros and cons of such a thing. I used to think, as does the prevailing culture, that the best thing to do in such a case is to just get over yourself and move on with life. But I found myself unable to do this, so I embraced the feelings, and learned some very valuable lessons. Most pertinent now: love is a risk, and truly loving someone is always worth that risk. It is often painful, but true, selfless love is one of the most real experiences a person can have, and one of the best ways to understand God's love for us.

Yet love is based in knowledge. Every kind of love, that is (not just eros). Those of us who are detail-oriented with a good memory can easily flatter or scare casual friends with our recollection of minute details about their lives, and it is a relief to us when we realize that we've found another who will accept our quirks, including our minutiae, without feeling threatened and running away.

Yet here I find a point I missed earlier - why do we feel a need to run away? Is loving pursuit so terrible? Is receiving love so hard? (Admittedly, sometimes it is.) Or have we all been so hardened by sin (original or personal) that we expect people to use us before we expect them to love us? Love is a tender emotion, and vulnerability an important factor toward increasing love. True, we oughtn't be so vulnerable to everyone all the time, but we should let the Lord push us out of our familiar little box every now and again.

I challenge you to go out of your comfort zone sometime in the coming week and show someone (probably someone other than your beloved) that you love them in a way that's a little bit scary. Too, pay attention to how well you receive unexpectedly personal moments of affection, and try to be as open to them as you can. I pray the Lord to bless these endeavors, that they may be a vehicle of great grace to you as they have been to me.

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