“Young men’s love then lies
not truly in their hearts but in their eyes.”
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The other day wondering aloud over breakfast whether a young man is capable of truly loving a woman, I asked, “What’s wrong with young men?”
My wife immediately answered: “They’re young.”
Shakespeare’s friar challenges Romeo about falling in love with Juliet when moments before he was in love with Rosaline. Romeo defends himself:
“Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.”
The friar retorts: “For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.”
Can Romeo’s feelings for Juliet, or the feelings he had for Rosaline, be called love? …an unusual question, perhaps, about one of the most famous ‘love stories’ of all time. But the friar has his doubts about Romeo’s feelings, and this is surely a question Shakespeare wants us to ask.
What after all is the love of a man for a woman? How are we to recognize that which is notorious for counterfeits? I think my wife is right. The key is in the friar’s words. Young men’s love lies not in their hearts but in their eyes.
The problem with young men is that they are young. So they aren’t able truly to love, with their hearts.
If this seems harsh, it is even harsher if we recall Aristotle’s insight that there are some who are young in character, even though not young in years. It can be bracing for the middle-aged to reflect on how we have fallen short of loving as we should have. The passing of the first blush of attraction should be accompanied by a deepening of love; but too often that passing occasions a general cooling of the relationship.
Truly to love requires maturity of character, self-restraint, much practice in self-denial. And all this for the sake of self-giving.
We might wonder: how many women have been loved as they ought to have been? Perhaps even especially the women who are easiest to ‘love’ with the eyes?
But true love of a man for a woman is not a chimera or fairy tale—though many might be tempted to think it is. It is being lived right now, very quietly, in the homes of faithful husbands—as well as by unmarried men—who have come to see women through the eyes of true love. Having learned to say no to their myriad selfish desires, they have discovered their own ability to say yes to another, in all of her beauty.
And of course there is the flip-side of Aristotle’s point about youth: there are some men who are young in age who have a maturity that is beyond their years. Well positioned for this are boys who have grown up in an environment that fosters manly restraint, discipline, and hard work. Perhaps especially well positioned are those who have learned from their fathers to respect and to treasure their mothers, from the heart.