Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13 4-7
A recent Huffington Post article proves just how confused many are about lust and love. The author, a divorced mother, candidly writes in The Price of My Affair about the emotional pain and carnage adultery inflicts. I found her honesty refreshing yet wondered if her effort was more a therapist‘s prescription to exercise lingering guilt.
From the start she admits, “people don’t have affairs because they want sex, they have affairs because they are seeking a relationship or emotional connection.” She’s absolutely right. Even when we consider the majesty which sex is now bestowed, we’re still sane enough not to wreck a marriage because of it alone. When it comes to infidelity, there is always, and every time, things less carnal that lead spouses to cheat.
What she writes next vindicates my belief this is more a literary soul cleansing than an honest and sincere revelation. She continues,
“Affairs are dreadful and beautiful and painful and exquisite. At least mine was. It evolved from a long friendship at a time in my life when I felt alone and unseen. This person validated my persona when it was getting lost in the thick forest of motherhood, and housewifery, and mid-life, and unfulfilled opportunities and ambitions.”
Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy assumed, but never spoken, in any discussion on infidelity is this – wives are ‘forced’ to cheat while husbands do so willingly. Time and again the story of a wife’s unfaithfulness invariably points to some aspect of her being lost in ‘motherhood and housewifery’. Such rationale attempts to deflect responsibility in a search for empathy. What woman, or man, doesn’t understand how domesticity can drive us into a ‘rut’ and where our minds often go when we’re there? It’s a desperate prayer for absolution on the hope that we’ve been there and must understand. Were it not so would there still be the need to stoop to so convenient a rationalization as familial drudgery?
Such justifications also imply the husband bears some responsibility for a wife who “loses herself”. This rationale paints the picture where one sees, intentionally or not, a wife who’s selfish, controlling, and inattentive husband has kept her locked in a prison of “motherhood and housewifery” where her ambitions and opportunities go unfilled.
How can I make such a bold claim, by the fact this worn out argument is held only for women? Imagine the reaction to a husband explaining away his adultery with, “getting lost in the haze of fatherhood, and husbandry, and mid-life, and unfulfilled opportunities and ambitions”. He would be assailed with immediate scorn and universal contempt.
When it comes to infidelity, the belief is, women couldn’t help it while men should’ve known better.
But the real motivation for my essay is this, while the author seems to write as one who has sincerely reflected on her behaviors and their consequences, she proves to have learned very little from the ordeal. And it should be a warning for all of us.
“That is not to diminish the feelings and experiences of my love affair. It was for love. I couldn’t have done it for any other reason.”
Her belief is ‘for love’ she betrayed her husband, family, and integrity. That ‘for love’ she ran into the arms of another man. There is no better example of how love and lust can become distorted.
Perhaps it’s best to begin by recognizing the most profound difference between love and lust – its affect on us. Simply put, love is thoughtful, lust is thoughtless. Here’s what I mean. I once believed love was this ‘feeling’ you got, a butterflies and rainbows sensation somewhere in the bowels. That feeling has lead me to talk on the phone for hours, drive fifty miles each way to see someone for fifteen minutes, and say anything and go anywhere fueled only on sweaty palms and racing heartbeats. I would behave in ways never imaginable otherwise, except for being ‘in love’. It was my addiction and life’s purpose suddenly became maintaining the high. I was a mindless love junkie giving up everything I believed important for another hit, and so doing experiencing a complete loss of control; skipping work, ignoring my kids, disappointing lifelong friends, and ignoring my values all because I thought I was ‘in love’.
It seems the author had a similar experience,
“Dinner didn’t get made, spelling didn’t get quizzed, dentist appointments were forgotten. Once on top of everything, I was suddenly in control of nothing.”
Convincing herself these behaviors were because of love ignores an important and timeless truth – it can never be love if we must sacrifice our values and character to be in it. If we are willing to abandon what we hold most dear – family, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, truth – this isn’t a thoughtful and selfless love that upholds and nourishes our soul, but something far more ephemeral and self serving that rips it apart, which is the true price of lust.
The Apostle Paul’s definition of love, in his letter to the Corinthians, brings one point sharply into focus. Each exhortation – patience, kindness, envy, dishonor, anger, and recording wrongs – demands we point our gaze outward. Each requires us to sacrifice our wants, our needs, our hopes, and our feelings for the benefit of another. They ask us to think of another before we think of ourselves, placing their wants, hopes needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own – living life in a perpetual state of, you before me. That is what it means to truly love. That is what’s implied when it’s said “marriage is difficult”, because we are not wired to give up what we want for what someone else wants. But that is the most important and distinguishing characteristic between love and lust.
Put plainly, lust is about ourselves; love is about another.
Contrary to the author’s belief that ‘love’ was the motivation for her betrayal, I would ask her to consider that ‘lust’ might have drove her to distance herself “from the personal values that I held most dear.”. Blinded by passion, spontaneity, adoration – and lust – she was unable to see the pain and consequence her actions would ultimately demand. Nothing bad ever comes from love, nothing good can ever come from lust, the price of which must always be paid, “not a day goes by during which some action or comment causes me to think how much less complicated or cumbersome the situation would be if only…”
And that is a lesson we’d do well to remember.