Wednesday Quotes
Can a Young Man Love a Woman?
February 17, 2016

Lovers writing

“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.

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  1. Well stated dear brother!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Dr. Cuddeback– Your posts are like invitations, but they always lead to so many paths! Hmm.
    Just following St. Valentine’s feast day, hearts and roses abounding I find myself wanted to defend young love a bit. A young person, man or woman, loves as youth loves. Does the toddler love less for being young? I have been impressed for example, from toddler to teen, at the ability of some youth to forgive. Youth sometimes put themselves completely and without reservation into the experience with utter disregard for potential vulnerability or loss. Yes, this could be a lack of awareness, an impulsivity, and so less clearly the selflessness of love. Ah, my reserved nature can learn from that sort of joyful welcoming connecting in the present. I suspect youth at times help us love better.

    I agree a young person, forming well, has much to learn about the deeper bonds and perspective forged only over time, as one lives in relationship with and for another. And it is clear that the poor word is over used, describing other things entirely (attraction or infatuation for example).

    That said, our Lord might easily reflect this same question to each of us; I’m guessing his answer would not be that the problem is our youth or the focus of our love. Can Man love? Love is not a destination, not a thing to be had, or even worse “fall” into. It is a conscious ongoing choice. Choice, to be truly free, requires awareness of the sacrifice and then choosing it actively, over an over putting the other ahead of oneself with humility and joy. There are days my husband could rightly accuse me of hardly loving well at all. Certainly I have moments where I do not love others nearly as well as many youth. As I reflect more and more on love, I glimpse how much I do not know and continue to learn. Hair just turning gray on the sides, and yet I am so very young in this. Thankfully, I have a merciful and patient Teacher.

    1. Malia, And your pithy comments open many good questions… thanks again.

  3. This is so true! I truly worry about my grandsons, ages 16 & 12, who learned the wrong things from their father – who badmouthed their mom, his wife, didn’t ever treat her nicely or bring little gifts (material or words) and finally killed himself 5 months ago! What did they learn? Hopefully they learned from what he DIDN”T do, and how it “ended” it. and from what they are now “learning”!

    1. Ginger, I am so sorry to hear of that situation. I think there is an important point in your words. Sometimes boys can gain insight into what should be done, by noticing its absence. The mentoring of other men can also provide much help.

  4. The example, from Romeo & Juliet, falls apart under closer examination. A comparison of how Romeo describes one girl, and then speaks to another, shows that he thinks very differently at those two points. Before Juliet, Romeo speaks of love as if it were war, and has as his goal not marriage, but rather sex. He even mentions an attempt to buy his way into sex: to “ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.”

    When he meet Juliet, on the other hand, he speaks as if she were clearly higher than him, and uses terms of pilgrimage. He doesn’t try convincing her to have sex so her beauty would be passed on (his excuse for pressuring Rosaline), but rather pursues true romantic companionship. And this us all in Act One.

    Shakespeare doesn’t do stuff like that by accident. We are shown love at first sight, and to do that he shows us lust before that, so the transition is that much more obvious.

    1. Matthew, A couple of quick thoughts: I think it is still clear that Shakespeare wants us to take a closer look at both of Romeo’s “loves.” Romeo might still have very much to learn about love. You suggest that Shakespeare shows us “love at first sight,” as though there is clearly such a thing. I think the notion of “love at first sight”–and whether Shakespeare thinks there is such a thing–demands a careful examination.

  5. Love being an emotion, it is impossible to analyze in any one individual its depth or veracity. How many of us with full faith and belief can say we love God with all our heart mind and soul? How many can say we love Jesus more than our father or mother? How many of us would give up everything we have to follow him? Rather than making generalities about who can or can not or does or does not love we would be better served letting God be the judge.
    That is not to say with humans, at most any age, lust is not often confused with love.

    1. Cken, You raise some very reasonable points. We all need to reflect on how we fall short of loving how we should. God indeed will ultimately be the judge. At the same time, I think it is fitting that we work together in self-reflection, trying to discern the common barriers we all face. Being ‘young in character,’ as Aristotle calls it, is something for which we can all examine ourselves.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful post. I appreciate every word of it. So much of our “culture” depicts “being in love” as the farthest thing from self-restraint and self-giving as is possible. Of course, there will be a cooling of relationships that develop from this attitude. We need to hear your message and pay heed to the wisdom of true sages if we are to live justly in this world.

    1. Thank you for your words, Mary.

  7. Interesting post. The opposite of what I’ve always found though.

    Men are naturally romantic, and can love so easily without thought of themselves, even die for others. Especially young men, and wars demonstrate. Women, not so much. It’s women that I think are incapable of romantic love. They love their own children, yes, but romantic love, less so.

  8. Dr. Cuddeback,

    First I would like to begin by saying that I find it amusing, given the content of this post, that it was only a few moments ago (when I wrote the above address), that I realized that your name was not actually, “Dr. Cuddleback.” Secondly, I would like to say that I believe this may very well be my first comment on any blog ever, and I have only just discovered this one in the last ten minutes.

    I was also unsure whether to write this as a new comment, or as a reply to “Malia’s” own comments below, but seeing as the reason that I have never posted a reply on a blog is that I have always wanted to avoid even the hint of contention, particularly since I consider myself less educated on any particular subject than the posters and commenters that I am reading, I thought it better not to directly reply to her comments to you. (It seems judging by the tone of every one of your replies, that you have mastered the art of avoiding contention, seemingly with earnest and humble appreciation for the perspectives of others).

    Nevertheless, I feel a certain sort of compulsion to reply that I do not recall having had before. All of this to say, if I am being prideful yet turning a blind eye to my pride (which I am so prone to do), by responding, or even in this preamble, I ask for your forgiveness.

    I found both your perspective put forth in your post, as well as the perspectives of those who commented to be fascinating, particularly those of Malia’s.

    While I do not mean to indicate that she contradicted anything that you said in your post, and it was certainly an enjoyment to read, I wanted to say that your post’s profundity lies largely in who was saying it and to whom it was being said, or perhaps it could be said, in its specificity. I felt that her post was wonderful in articulating how humankind ought to love, especially through sharing her own experiences in that struggle, yet I appreciated your thoughts and questions_ perceiving it more as post by a man about manhood, than by a human about love. This was later solidified in my mind in your response to another reader when you suggested that a man can learn much about love from the absence of it (or something similar), and from other respected older men.

    And I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, notably because I have questioned these very things for over a decade. Granted, every few years, a new facet of the issue seems to be the focal point of the thoughts, and often seen through a new lens as granted by many new experiences. Yet consistently, the conclusion is the same. I do not love as a *man* should.

    I have been tremendously blessed (hoping here not to mean that as a mere cliche) by the influence (which feels like a vast understatement) of several very great men since my mid-teenage years (I am now 27), despite that I was also tremendously influenced by the severely “broken home” and lack of a father as I developed to that age. But still, the battle to gain maturity of character, to practice self-restraint, and deny my desires both great and small has always been one that I have felt “behind the curve” on. When you look beyond that common human struggle, and look at the dynamic relationship between a man and a woman, with all their various differences, strengths, and weaknesses, some of which are, if not inherent in their identity as man and woman, than at least largely influenced by that identity, I find that I have such a difficult time fulfilling that “role” suited me as a man. (I hope that no one misunderstands me as saying that self-denial, maturity etc. are not for women also, or some other silly notion). And this applies both in and out of a relationship. I avoided relationship for the longest time because I recognize my lacking, and this last year that I was in one, as well as in its end recently, I feel that my perpetual youth has been confirmed to me all the more.

    Knowing the answers in mind, in as much as knowing the answers lie chiefly in “finding God,” yet so infrequently knowing the answers in practice, or with the Nous, often makes me feel that that perpetual youth may never depart.

    It often seems to me that many men feel similarly to me, which is sad for so many young ladies, because this battle with despair is one of the chief hindrances, I believe, with becoming a real man. It is further perpetuated by this culture that we have fostered that has sex as its cornerstone. Though, that is a distortion, as it isn’t really sex that is the cornerstone, as much as it is obsession with pleasure and instant gratification, of which sex happens to be capable of being a vehicle for.

    I try not to regard myself as a victim of my childhood, nor a victim of my culture, and try harder still to not victimize others, but the vicious cycle and downward spiral of the “broken home” in society, and in my own life makes it a difficult road. And yet, I know that the perilous road, or, if I may, the narrow road, is the one that the true man walks (in this case, being less gender specific, but rather referring to manhood or personhood in the Orthodox sense, that is something that is meant to be restored).

    Also, MK made an interesting point as well. At least as far as romantic love as generally thought of by most in our culture seem to think of it, I do tend to think of men, perhaps especially the younger men, as the :”lovers” and the women as the “lovees,” but I think this is primarily a misunderstanding of what true love is, and how it is expressed. I think that it might be more accurate, and even then, only perhaps, to say that men are the more cerebrally passionate of the two genders.

    I am not sure if I have any real points, as this has essentially been written “stream-of-conscious,” I think as a means of externally processing my recent experience.

    Anyway, today, you have earned another interested reader. I am off to go investigate some of your other writings!

    1. Aaron, I am grateful for your sharing these reflections. The nature of true love, and how to dovetail it with the ‘romantic,’ is one of the most difficult of issues. Perhaps most difficult is learning how to live it. There are indeed many hindrances to our coming to the right understanding and practice of love, and romance. As social creatures we are always profoundly influenced by the customs and practices of our society, and the smaller communities in which we have lived. This can be very discouraging. At the same time, there are so many who are striving to find and live the truth. And I am convinced that to be seeking honestly to understand true love is already to be half way to achieving it. I look forward to having you as a fellow seeker. Thanks again for your words.

  9. Dr. Cuddeback,

    I’ve thought about this article a great deal over the past months and initially agreed with it wholeheartedly. Yet a question arose in my mind: wouldn’t Aristotle state that knowledge begins in the senses? Scripture often uses equates knowing with loving; they two actions are bound up in one another. The most profound way man can love anyone – can know anyone at all – is through his most noble sense power: his eyes. I recently came across a quote from Richard of St. Victor: “Ubi amor, ibi ocolus”, or “where there is love, there are eyes”. It is through the senses – especially the eyes – that man encounters the good, the true, and the beautiful. Indeed, do Christians not live in the hope of the ultimate good: the Beatific ‘Vision’? Loving with the eyes is one of the most profound ways human beings can love at all, for it is by this love that we receive into our souls the Transcendent. The distortion of this love – this reception of the Transcendent – lies not in the involvement of the senses. How could it? The senses are inherently good. The distortion of this love inheres in man’s choice to willfully ignore the Transcendent altogether, never allowing it to illuminate his human affections. Man distorts love in spite of what he sees, not because he is seeing. Yet if man allows himself to know the Transcendent through his power of sight, the knowledge of such a Vision will enable him to desire and move toward the substance of what he sees: the Good.

    Seeing does not render love counterfeit, quite the contrary. It makes love to be what it is: a reception of and a movement toward the Transcendent.

    Thank you for your article!

    Maddie Post

    PS – Here is a link to the podcast where I discovered the quote from Richard of St. Victor (fast forward to 34:54).

    1. Dear Maddie,
      Thank you very much for your note, which is clearly the fruit of much reflection on your part. I think you have some excellent points. Here are a few things I would say:
      Your emphasis of the importance and nobility of the sense of sight is very fitting. Knowledge does indeed begin in the senses, and sight is the most noble of the senses. This is why we use the terms ‘see’ and ‘vision’ analogically, when we speak of our intellect seeing or having vision. But you need to be careful not to confuse the ‘seeing’ of the intellect and the seeing of the eyes. You note that the most profound way a person can love another is through the most noble power of perception; but here you must be careful: the eyes are far below the intellect as a power of perception. True human love indeed always include the bodily senses, but it is most essentially rooted in intellectual comprehension.
      Now I have two more brief points, one about the Richard of St. Victor line (which St. Thomas Aquinas uses too) and the other about the Shakespeare line.
      Ubi amor, ibi oculus: where there is love, there is vision. I believe that a main point of this beautiful line is that love gives vision. When a person loves, then he has a unique power of insight into the beloved. I think it is important to remember that here ‘oculus’ is being used analogously. Yes, the word literally means ‘eye,’ but the clear import here is ‘vision.’ And this vision is most of all intellectual: the most truly human vision. An example: a wife that loves her husband can best of all ‘see’ him for who he is–and this surely most of all means intellectually, though there certainly can be a bodily aspect too.
      Regarding the line from Shakespeare: I think the key is that what falls under the friar’s condemnation is a love that is primarily in the eyes. There is nothing bad at all about the eyes; they have an important role in life and in love. But I think we all understand, especially regarding how young men can ‘fall in love’ with young women, how love can be too much in the eyes, and not enough in the deeper powers.
      I hope this might help clarify what I am thinking. Thank you again for your throught-ful note.