Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Deepest Hurt

By Jenny Senour
Theology of the Body on catholicexchange.com

A few weeks ago I had an amazing discussion with a dear friend, and we got to talking about the differences between men and women and their needs and desires. I mean the real differences, deep down and underneath all the posturing and the pseudo-equality psychobabble that we’ve all been carefully indoctrinated with over years of schooling… the real meat and potatoes of what makes men and women so very different, and why there are times when we’re simply drawn to our knees in frustration and confusion by the gulf that separates the masculine from the feminine.

But what we found as we dug deeper and wondered aloud over our beers, what we realized after an hour or so of conversation and anecdotal analogizing and a little laughter and even a few tears, what we found was a beautiful complementarity to the fundamental desires of the sexes, differing though those desires may be. The desires are different, but the means of fulfillment identical: union. We are made for deep communion, with God foremost, but for many of us this relationship will be typologically shadowed on earth in the spousal union. And the longing for that union, that communion of persons…therein lies the fundamental similarity of the sexes.

Think about it. Pornography, strip clubs, M-for mature video games… it all points to the deep masculine desire to behold and posses feminine beauty… the motivation is God-given, though the means have become distorted by sin and lies. A man desires to look upon a woman’s naked body and to see her, to really behold her and to be possessed by her beauty and in turn to posses it. The desire a man feels for a woman is designed to, quite literally, empty him of himself, demanding a complete self-offering, a sincere and sacrificial gift.

By the same token, a woman’s desire to be beheld as beautiful and her desire to captivate a man’s attention… could anything be more clearly advertised on magazine covers and TV shows? Every line on the cover of Cosmo cries out for masculine attention: Rock His World: 8 Ways to Satisfy Your Man; Hot Moves That Leave Him Wanting More, etc. Women are engaged in a frenetic race to capture the attention of men, exposing their beauty in a bold vulnerability that plainly asks: “do you want me?” The feminine desire for attention and affirmation is God-given; He too exposes Himself in utter vulnerability, hanging naked and bleeding upon the Cross and asking with His very body, “do you want Me?”

Our culture has confused the desire for the end, and vice versa. The real drive for communion and intimate union is ultimately intended to turn our attention to Him, but in our starved search for satiation, we’ve sacrificed the feast for the famine, choosing temporary satisfaction over ultimate bliss.

In a world broken by sin, where men and women see each other not as other persons worthy of reverence and dignity, but as objects of desire to pursue and possess, when men and women see themselves as objects… there is little room for ideas like self-sacrifice and fidelity. If love is a commodity (and love confused with lust is just that), then there’s a discrepancy between the supply and the demand, and one must stop at nothing to get one’s fair share. Even if it means a never ending search for the perfect lover, the perfect body, the perfect relationship.

In losing sight of eternity we’ve lost sight of ourselves and of each other; no longer is it a matter of two people sharing a deep longing and intimacy which affords them a foretaste of Heaven, however bittersweet. Instead, most relationships today are temporary answers the the ultimately selfish search for satisfaction and happiness. Our desires as men and women will never be ultimately fulfilled by the opposite sex: they cannot be, and they were never designed to be. Our capacity for life-giving love makes us like God, and God is nothing if not a selfless giver. To separate the desire for love and union from a sincere and total self-offering is not only wrong, it’s impossible.

Think about it. Whatever temporary satisfaction our current culture promises, it is nonetheless contrary to the nature of love, and therefore can be nothing but a cheap imitation. Love cannot be separated from sacrifice, because at the moment of division it ceases to be love. The offering of the gift and the reception of the gift are inseparably intertwined, and try though we may, we cannot separate the two. We do try though, because just maybe this time, with this person, we’ll find the happiness and the fulfillment we long for.

Unlikely, but we continue to try, and the magazines continue to sell. How does the saying go? Men give love to get sex, women give sex to get love, and both end up more empty than before.