A few years ago, a good friend of mine and I were sitting in a coffee shop hashing out our grievances of the opposite sex, (you know typical girl stuff). During the course of our conversation we landed on the topic of attraction.
Both of us admitted we had been confounded as to why we were or had been attracted to certain people over others throughout our lives. While there may have been certain similarities between the different men I had been attracted to, or at least emotionally invested in, there were also stark differences, and it didn’t seem to make much sense. My friend was in the same boat. She then stated something I’ve reflected on a lot since that day, “I firmly believe that attraction can occur between any male and female if they spend enough time together as our hearts were made for each other.” This is completely and undeniably true–our hearts were made for each other.
Like all good things though, that desire for love from another can be twisted for evil. In the past, I had developed feelings of attachment for my sexual abuser. This man was not only decades older me but the attachments I had developed on an emotional level for him were clearly unhealthy, and while being attached to him, I was simultaneously disgusted by that attachment. I couldn’t go five minutes without checking my phone to see if he had messaged me, because I was dependent on his attention. It was like an addiction. And I hated myself for it. These habits of dependency could also be seen in many of my early dating relationships, which inevitably ended in heartbreak.
However, in this distorted emotional desire, there rested an inkling of a very good desire. We were made for relationship.Whether we are called to marriage, religious life, or single life, at the core of who we are there is a burning desire in all of us to give and receive love. The nature of who we are as relational beings is illustrated most clearly in the creation of man and woman, specifically in Genesis 2:18-25.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.Genesis 2: 18-25 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
Okay. So that might seem like a cliched passage you’ve heard at Church or in your catechism classes that seems pretty straight forward, right? In my opinion (or at least in my experience) if we take a deeper look, there lies an explanation for our desires, to give and receive love in this passage. The love between man and woman is a insightful reflection of the love we are each called to receive from God and give back to Him.
Lets start with man, Adam. When I read this passage recently, I was struck by the words of Adam when he says, “this at last….” Place yourself in the moment he first saw Eve. See how Adam is completely overwhelmed by her and at last, not alone. Feel his longing for another finally coming to fruition. I think of my own loneliness as I navigated single life (which I know was relatively short compared to most these days – yes! I married young). My loneliness was one marked by heartbreak and at times, despair. For every relationship that didn’t work out there was a doubt that I would ever find the person God was preparing for me (or that He had even remembered to give me a vocation at all). With this came a feeling of unworthiness and sadness for a love that would never come to fruition.
As Adam was brought creature after creature by God, imagine the heartbreak he experienced in his dissatisfaction. Imagine how easy it might have been for him to lose faith in God’s will for him to find a worthy partner. Yet, he trusted and continued to make space for God to keep bringing him creatures until finally, God brought him Eve. However, to receive Eve, Adam had to give of his very self. God removed a part of Adam’s body, his rib. Furthermore, the purpose of that rib was to guard his heart. If you’ve ever had surgery, you’ll know recovery is a pain! But it was out of this pain of having his heart exposed, and his vulnerability to God, he could receive the love that he was longing for in Eve. I can tell you from personal experience, I wasn’t ready for my spouse until I could authentically expose my broken heart in all it’s ugliness to Jesus. And it hurt. But Jesus hurt with me.
While we don’t hear from Eve at all, imagine this scene from her perspective. From the first sight of Adam she is delighted in by him. I often think about how treasured and worthy she must have felt in that moment. Being delighted in was something I struggled to feel as the abuse occurred. While I was being seen by a man, I was not being treasured by him. And deep down I knew this. But my desire to be treasured had been twisted so that I doubted my worthiness and thus kept responding to his advances. In my heart, I don’t think I believed any man would every truly treasure me, so I settled for what I was getting.
There is a unique desire built into the feminine heart to be noticed and beheld just as Eve was first noticed by Adam. My desire for the continued attention of my abuser was a reflection of this. We can also see there is a complimentary desire in the male heart to behold a “worthy helper.” But there is a stark difference between beholding and belittling (which is what using someone for your own gratification is).
Destruction occurs when the longing between man and woman is acted upon through use or domination. This is evil. When we lose sight of the equal dignity and responsibility that both sexes possess, we actually deny the other in his or her totality. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed before the fall because they had not yet lost sight of this equality between them or the responsibility they had to each other. They did not yet fear the other using them for their own gratification because they were completely rooted in their identity as a creature of God. The implications of their identity as made in the image and likeness of God were understood at the level of the heart.
I can remember the first time I experienced the belief that I was treasured and beloved by God at the level of my heart. I was kneeling before the blessed Sacrament and burst into tears. I finally believed in the reality of my identity has His daughter. My life changed in that moment, and less than a year later I would meet my future spouse for the first time. The two years before we started dating were the most painful of my life. However, had I not experienced them I would not have been ready to give of myself in marriage in the same way that I can now. I had to be able to receive Jesus first.
If you are ever ashamed of your desires, explore the truth of what they are saying to you and how they point to your deepest identity as a beloved son or daughter of God. Although they may be misplaced, you are not alone as you strive to better align your will with the will of God. He will help you along the way (In fact, you can’t do it on your own). If your still waiting for your future spouse trust and pray. And if God is calling you to single life– remember, you are beloved by the One who is love Himself, and alone suffices. After all, marriage is simply a path to prepare us for the only relationship that matters in eternity! Your wait or situation in life does not dictate your worth. You are treasured.