True Love or Infatuation?
About the Guest
Your heart is pounding. Your palms are sweating. You can’t think of anything but your beloved. Is this true love or infatuation? Author and pastor Gary Thomas reminds us that while infatuation and romance are fun, they also work as a mild sedative on wisdom, and aren’t the best foundation for a happy, life-long marriage.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Is it true love or infatuation?
True Love or Infatuation?
Bob: As a single person, have you ever had that seemingly instant, hyper-powerful attraction to somebody else—comes on in a moment and within days—you’re convinced this is your soul mate—the person you should marry? Author Gary Thomas says experts have a name for that.
Gary: They call it “stupid love”. They just won’t listen to you. But if they would, I would say: “Just give it time to pass. Don’t bet your life on marrying someone who you don’t really know. Listen to your parents. Ask your friends. Ask your pastors. Listen to them. Recognize that you’re vulnerable and stupid. It’s not like infatuation is wrong—God created it, and it is fun; but we just have to be responsible in the midst of it.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re not here to pour cold water on your infatuation. We just want to inject a little wisdom into the process; okay? So, stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I want you to think all the way back to the days when you were single. Do you remember those days?
Dennis: I can’t. [Laughter]
Bob: You can’t remember? [Laughter] Richard Nixon was in the White House—
Dennis: I can remember; I can remember.
Bob: If you could go back—
Dennis: The hunt! It was the time of the hunt!
Bob: If you could go back and redo the hunt, knowing what you know now—not that you would come up with a different—I was going to say a different “prey,” but that’s not really the metaphor we want in this situation—not that you would come up with a different—
Dennis: Catch; catch!
Bob: Yes—not that you would come up with a different catch—but that you would do the hunting a little differently. Do you think you might make some modifications in how you hunted?
Dennis: Come on, Bob. [Laughter] Of course, I would! Of course, I would.
Bob: We pride ourselves on authenticity, here on FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Of course, I would. I have learned a few things in the 40 years we’ve been married. Here, on FamilyLife Today, just the privilege we’ve had—like we have today—of interviewing somebody who’s really done a tremendous amount of study and brings to the table a lot of wisdom.
Well, let me introduce our guest today. Let’s get him in on this discussion. Gary Thomas joins us again. Gary, welcome back.
Gary: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Gary is a prolific writer. He’s on the teaching team at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. I don’t know how many books he’s written, but I know they’re sacred. [Laughter] They’re all sacred—every one of them.
Bob: You’ve got Sacred Marriage—you’ve got Sacred Parenting—you’ve got—
Dennis: And I think John Eldridge actually wrote one.
Bob: He stole one!
Dennis: He stole one out of Gary’s files, I think. This one’s called The Sacred Search. When I saw this, I said, “You know, I’m really glad you wrote this book!” I want to begin with the subtitle underneath the title of the book: What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? I would have to say here, Bob, that when Barbara and I dated, this was a big deal to us. We did think about: “Why are we marrying? What’s this about?”
This is more than just two people getting their needs met—or trying to get their needs met. This is about some higher purpose—some more noble mission than just a self-centered man and woman marching to the altar.
Bob: Gary, you think that question is at the crux of what singles ought to be wrestling with; right?
Gary: Absolutely! Dennis, I think you’re very unusual in asking that question. I’ve found that most Christians get married for largely the same reason as non-Christians.
Dennis: Sure they do!
Gary: Sexual chemistry, romantic infatuation, perceived relational compatibility—“What will make me happiest?” They really think the “Why?” of marriage is to share an infatuation—that we know can’t last. Here’s why I think the “Why?” is so important—the job defines the person who’s qualified.
If I want somebody to replace my toilet, there are some friends I would call and some friends I wouldn’t let near my plumbing. [Laughter] If I wanted a lawyer, I have a couple of friends—they would be the first ones I would call because they’re great lawyers. If I wanted somebody to review a sermon or a book, I’d call my friend Kevin, out in California. So, the “Why?” of the job—what you’re hoping to accomplish—really determines who the best person is. If we don’t ask the “Why?” question first, focusing on the “who” doesn’t make much sense.
Bob: Dennis can help you with the sermon or the book—but the toilet? Forget it! [Laughter]
Dennis: I don’t think you would call either Bob or me to work on your toilet.
Gary: How many times do you have to wrap the toilet with duct tape to get it to stop leaking? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, it’s all the gray tape that you have to put in place after you’ve completely fouled the whole thing up.
Let’s step back and talk about singles today. You’re a pastor of a giant church—it has how many hundred thousand members, down there in Houston?
Gary: We just passed 60,000.
Gary: Now, I’m “writer in residence” as a pastor. Dr. Ed Young, of course, is the Senior Pastor.
Dennis: Of course. But you’re relating to a lot of singles, there in the church and around the country. What are you observing, today, about singles today, who are in and around the church?
Gary: I think there may be more confusion today about getting married than in just about any generation I’ve seen in this church. The universal frustration I hear with young women is that boys are being so passive. They’re saying, “What do I have to do to get noticed?”
I think that some of us older men, with daughters that age, are looking at these incredibly godly, beautiful, accomplished, character-driven young women; and we’re saying, “Guys, what is it going to take for you to decide that you want to step up and get married?” I think that’s a big issue we have to face. I don’t know if they’ve seen so many difficult marriages that they’re thinking, “I’m not sure I want to go down that road.” I don’t know if they’re just trying to prolong—“I don’t want to miss out on the single experience.”
Bob: You said it is confusion. Then, you described it as, “Here are godly women, waiting to get married; and guys who won’t get off the dime.” Is that the picture?
Gary: I think that has been the case for many women in that case.
Gary: What I’m trying to do here is give a new vision for just how good a good marriage can be. We just married a couple this past fall. My wife and I got together with them this past week. Here, you see a man who is becoming the man God created him to be. He got married later in life—he’s in his forties. You just see what the love of a woman, and being chosen by a woman, and having to step up—
Gary: She’s been through several crises. Her mom died afterwards. Afterwards, we were just talking about: “Man, look at what has happened to Carl! Marriage has done so much for him in such a little time.” That’s the promise—a good marriage can do wonderful things! The threat, though, that we’ve also seen, a bad marriage can pull people down like nothing else.
Dennis: It creates a lot of hopelessness. If I could, I’d like to add one thing I’m seeing among the singles today. I see a lot of fear. It was there a couple of decades—three decades ago—as the culture of divorce began to set in; but we’ve now seen the culture of divorce set up shop. I think some are genuinely terrified. They wonder, “Can this thing be done?” It’s why they’ve given up on marriage and many are cohabiting today.
Bob: You start the book by recounting a conversation you had with a pastor. If he’s a pastor, and this is where he is, it’s no wonder people are thinking, “I don’t know if I want to get married.” What did he tell you?
Gary: That pastor said his marriage constituted the biggest cross of his life. He was committed to it. He knew it was the right thing to do, but it was like a burden that was on his back. The spontaneous tears that came out were just testimony to the fact that marriage really can drag you down if you enter into it unwisely. If you go into it with your eyes wide-open—I think, if you go into it with the wisdom of Scripture and the wisdom of people who have been through that—you can recognize: “What is the ‘Why?’ of marriage?” and, “How will that help me choose a wiser ‘who’?”
Dennis: Yes. And, Gary, you may not know this, about FamilyLife; but it actually was started as a marriage preparation ministry because of this following story. Dr. Howard Hendricks was speaking at the U.S. Congress on the Family in St. Louis in 1975. Three staff members from Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) were seated in the audience and heard him make this statement—he said, “In Dallas, Texas, if you want to become a garbage collector, it takes three weeks of intensive training; but if you want to get married, about all you’ve got to do is stand before the pastor or the Justice of the Peace and grunt, and you’re in!”
He called the Christian community, at that point, in 1975, to say, “We, as the Church, as the guardian of the marriage covenant, must take responsibility for taking two single people—who have stars in their eyes and all kinds of warm fuzzies—and we must take them and engage them in a marriage preparation course that equips them—not merely to be married—but to do marriage and to do it God’s way.” FamilyLife was started, a year later, in 1976, as a response to that statement.
Bob: Here’s the interesting thing—and we’ve seen this all the way through, at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. When we’re working with single people, thinking about marriage—infatuation—the romantic love that’s taking place in a period before marriage—is kind of like a mild sedative toward wisdom. You know what I mean? It’s like you can’t get wisdom past the infatuation. As much as you try to help people go in, with their eyes wide-open, they’ve been in some kind of a mildly sedated state until they get married. [Laughter]
Gary: I’ve told the singles at Second Baptist, “When you become infatuated, it’s not your fault; but you need to know that you’re vulnerable and stupid.” It does those two things. It makes you vulnerable; it makes you stupid. [Laughter] You can have a PhD, and you can act in a stupid way. I tell them: “Just tell your friends: ‘Look, I’m vulnerable. I might say some stupid things. I might do some stupid things. I just want you to know, on record, just as sort of a preventative of acting that way,’” because it is so intoxicating—it’s more powerful than cocaine. In fact, there’s been a neurological study—and this will shock younger people—neurologically, it’s more difficult to control a romantic, emotional infatuation than it is to control the physical, sexual drive.
Dennis: Amazing! In fact, Bob, you’ll remember, that a number of years ago, we interviewed a famous author—was he in his seventies? —who had come in here, and he had just gotten remarried. His wife had died after, I don’t know, 40 or 45 years; and he had gotten remarried. He was talking about how—even as a man, in his sixties and seventies—how he was smitten by this neurological, hostile takeover of the hormones and what happens at that point. So, it’s very important. You’ve got to have a game plan to step back and have some wise coaching. Otherwise, you’re susceptible, as well.
Gary: Here’s what you’re susceptible to—again, neurologists would use a term they call the “idealization” of the partner. When you are infatuated, you’re relating to somebody who doesn’t exist.
Gary: That’s why singles are vulnerable. You see strengths that aren’t really there because you assume that what they’re doing is out of good character. Everybody around can see that that might be self-serving—you just make it a virtue. You miss weaknesses that everybody else can see—that you are excusing: “He doesn’t have a temper. He’s passionate!” “I don’t think he is chewing someone out. He may be speaking in tongues—he’s a very spiritual man.”
You create a man who doesn’t exist by blinding yourself to his faults by creating strengths that aren’t there. How many times have we heard—I know you both have heard this so many times! You’re talking to somebody, who’s been married one or two years, frustrated with their marriage. What do they say? “He’s not who I thought he was.”
Dennis: No doubt.
Bob: And I love—you’ve got a list, here in your book—of ways to diagnose infatuation to tell whether you have come under the spell—whether you are mildly-sedated or heavily-sedated. You say that: “If you are infatuated, you focus on your beloved’s better traits. You overlook or minimize the flaws, as you just said. You exhibit extreme energy—hyperactivity, sleeplessness, impulsivity, euphoria, mood swings. [Laughter] Yes, there’s just that romance. One or both of you will develop a goal-oriented fixation on winning the other person. Relational passion is heightened, not weakened, by adversity. So, the more you go through hard times, the more the passion grows.”
Bob: “You become emotionally-dependent on the relationship. You reorder your daily priorities to remain in as much contact as is humanly possible. You experience separation anxiety when you’re apart. The empathy is so powerful that you would die for your beloved. You think about that person to an obsessive degree. Then, sexual desire becomes so intense that the relationship becomes marked by extreme possessiveness.”
That’s a person who is going to be anesthetized by their infatuation. They’re going to miss some key things, they ought to be alert to, if they’re going to think about marrying this person.
Gary: You notice that possessiveness and obsessiveness are really the key traits of this. Here’s the thing—neurologically, when you’re infatuated—as you mentioned about one of these traits—you’re so focused on getting and keeping that person that you don’t have any neurological energy left to think: “Are they worth getting? Are they worth keeping?”
Gary: It’s just this pursuit—“I’m going to get this done!”—to an obsessive degree. You’re not evaluating—you’re just focusing on winning and keeping.
Bob: If you had somebody here, with us, in the studio—a young, 27-year-old male or female—it doesn’t matter which—but you see the look in their eye—you can tell they have this stupor that has taken over them. You’re trying to say: “Okay, look. I know how you feel, but we’ve got to get through—we have to get past your defenses to get some wisdom in here.” What would you do? What would you say to them?
Gary: I’d want to take away a pen—like you take away car keys from a drunk. [Laughter] I don’t want them to sign that marriage license until it passes—
Dennis: Not just yet!
Gary: —and just try to tell them. Now, I have talked to seasoned, well-experienced counselors, who call it “stupid love”. They say that, basically, you are unable to counsel people, credibly, in that situation. They just won’t listen to you. But if they would, I would say: “Just give it time to pass. Don’t bet your life on marrying someone who you don’t really know. Give it time. These things seem to be true for you. Listen to your parents—even if they’re not believers—they usually want what’s best for you. You have an opportunity to just ask them. Ask your friends. Ask your pastors. Listen to them. Recognize that you are vulnerable and stupid.
“If you recognize that you’re vulnerable and stupid—it is like someone recognizing they’re inebriated—you don’t make business decisions. You don’t drive a car. You learn to protect yourself. It’s not like infatuation is wrong—God created it, and it is fun. It’s ecstatic; but we just have to be responsible, in the midst of it.”
Dennis: I just want to underline one statement you made in that list you just gave. If your parents—the people who know you best—if they are not for this thing, time out! It is time to take a deep breath, take a step back—
Dennis: —and ask God to begin to break through the fuzziness and the fog because if you get married and you don’t have their blessing—if your dad is walking you down the aisle and, as he walks you down the aisle, he whispers to you, “Sweetheart, I just want you to know I think this is going to be a big mistake,”—you just need to know they may be able to see—I’m not saying that they see 20/20. I’m not saying that they’re God; but I counsel couples, from an engagement standpoint, to be very careful not to go against their parents. Back up—find out what the cautions are and what the concerns are, see if they can be addressed, see if they can be alleviated—then, move forward.
Bob: You’re talking about a principle. This is not a hard and fast, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Dennis: It’s not in the Scriptures, but the Scriptures do tell us—
Bob: “Honor your father and your mother.”
Dennis: —in the Ten Commandments, it says, “Honor your father and your mother.” That means to give them weight.
Dennis: Give them a word into your life. Listen carefully to what they’re saying. But the problem, though—it is back to what you are saying, Gary—the “stupid love” comes up, like a filter; and they go: “They can’t be right. This can’t be true.”
Gary: Well, here’s the thing—and a statistic that would protect a lot of married men, who might be happening to listen to this, because married men can become infatuated, too. Eighty-seven percent of men, who cheat on their wives, want to go back, after the affair is over. They don’t realize the power of infatuation or that it fades. If you know there’s a nine out of ten chance that you’re going to wake up one day and say, “I have just made the biggest mistake of my life.” You’ll learn: “Look! This infatuation is stupid, and I’m vulnerable. The worst thing I could do is act on it.”
Dennis: I looked at a married man, in the eye—who was having an affair—who was gripped by these emotions you are talking about—no matter how much I smiled, and loved on him, and let him know I was for him, while I kicked his tail, he couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me. The carrot—hanging out in front—was so powerful—it overruled all logic—all rationale.
One of the things I didn’t mention—back when we started FamilyLife in 1976—was all of these engaged couples— or those thinking about engagement—would come to our conferences. A lot of them got married; and then, they wanted to come back, a year later or two years later. We let a few of them in the door because it was primarily a marriage preparation conference, at that point. When they came to the conference, do you know what they said, Gary? They said: “Man! You really changed this thing in the past year or so!” [Laughter] Well, you know what happened!
Gary: Yes; right.
Dennis: The fog was lifted; reality had set in. Now, they were beginning to hear, for the first time, the biblical blueprints for why you should get married—back to the point of your book—and how you go about doing marriage. That really is what you’re trying to do and what you’ve written here—calling people to build their house on the rock of Jesus Christ and not just make an emotional decision. We’re not talking about denying your emotions. We’re just encouraging you not to be drug around, by the nape of your neck, by your emotions.
Gary: You’re absolutely right, Dennis. I think it’s important to point out again—it’s not that romantic infatuation is a bad thing. It’s possible to become infatuated with someone who’s very good marriage-material. You’re just not marrying them for that reason. It’s not like sexual chemistry doesn’t matter. If the thought of having sexual relations with someone makes you want to throw up, you really shouldn’t marry them. It’s just that those things have to be put under a greater pursuit. That’s what we need to talk about.
It’s not that those things are negative or that they don’t count. It’s just that we make those things the driver of why we get married, and that’s where couples run into trouble.
Bob: And you tell people that when you meet, and you start to date, and you start to fall in love, it’s like somebody turns over an hourglass.
Gary: Yes; yes!
Bob: Explain that metaphor.
Gary: Well, it’s about 12-18 months that normal infatuation will last. It’s different for every person—it depends on your self-esteem, your sense of security, your family of origin—but they’ve even shown, under neurological scopes, that infatuation, for instance, at fourteen months is demonstrably different than infatuation at six months.
You’re going through a rather predictable neurological state. I’m not trying to take the romance out of it, but it’s just real. It’s wonderful, but it changes. Eventually, it fades; and it can’t hold the marriage together. So, the foolish thing to do is to marry for something that only will last a matter of months.
Gary: You need to marry for something that will take you through decades.
Bob: This is where you wish you could talk to every engaged couple and say: “Do yourself a favor. Before you get married, go to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. After you get married, go back again,” because before you get married, it’s going to give you an opportunity to think about the challenges that are ahead in marriage. Then, after you’ve been married, it gives you an opportunity to make some of the adjustments that you didn’t anticipate you were going to have to make, prior to getting married.
We still have a number of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways happening, in cities around the country, this spring. If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a link there that will take you to a page where you can get all the information about where and when these events are being hosted this spring and, then, into the fall. If you’ve never been to a Weekend to Remember, let me encourage you to do that. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, and join us at one of these upcoming weekends.
If you’re single, get a copy of Gary Thomas’s book called The Sacred Search. We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s a great book for singles or for engaged couples to read. In fact, I gave a copy to an engaged couple I know, who happen to be members of my family. I said to my son, “You ought to read through this with your fiancée, as you guys get ready to get married.” So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. You can order it from us online or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, you have heard me mention, undoubtedly, over the last couple of weeks, the matching-gift fund that was established for us, during the month of May. As it turns out, there were a couple of families—who we had not heard from until late in this process—who got in touch with us and said, “We want to add to that matching gift-fund.” I’ve been telling you that our matching-gift fund was capped at $576,000. Actually, the total amount available is now $603,000. Again, that’s very generous; but it means we need as many of our FamilyLife Today listeners, as possible, to make an online donation at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone. These donations are going to help us get through the summer if we see a shortfall in donations, as we sometimes do during the summer. This will help us fill in some of those gaps.
We’re hoping that you will help us out like that. Make your donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Please continue to pray for us that we would be able to take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. If you can join us, we’d love to have you be part of the FamilyLife Today team here.
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to continue talking about singles and marriage. We’re going to talk about how aggressive a single person ought to be in terms of pursuing a mate. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Phil Krause, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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