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Distinguishing Loving from Fancying

Friday, June 14, 2013
People learning North American English must be so confused by our poverty of words concerning matters of the heart. When I was a school child, we expressed other-focused longings with the word "like", as in "So do you like him?" or "You like Aaron! You like Aaron!" or, cynically, "So who do YOU like?" as if every ten year old girl must by definition have a crush on someone.

This could be confusing, for of course we like many things, which means to say, we associate many things with goodness or pleasure. I like Georgian architecture, for example. I like the Scottish Poetry Library. I like the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert. I like cats. I like our nearest neighbours.

Fortunately, the British, who invented English, have a more specific word for other-focused longings and it is "fancy," as in "So do you fancy him?" 

This is a terribly useful word for it always has the connotation of want. You can also say "I fancy a cup of tea" and it means the same thing. You want something. You fancy the cup of tea because it will relax or warm you, and you fancy the new cashier in the supermarket because he is just so tasty-looking. 

Back my good theology school, which I discovered after the fact is considered rather "liberal", my ethics prof used to talk very solemnly and positively about "eros" and tell us concupiscence doesn't mean what we think it means. He was a very good man, and I can imagine him discoursing for half an hour on the holiness of our erotic feelings for the new cashier in the supermarket. However, I think the holiness of our erotic feelings for the new cashier in the supermarket has the shelf-life of a cheesecake. To be honest, if we spend too long concentrating on the thrill we get from the new cashier, we are lusting after the new cashier. 

Lust is the least of the Seven Deadly Sins, but it is still a deadly sin because, even at its mildest, it can utterly cloud your reason. It can lead you to do all kinds of stupid things, including stick with a man who is really rotten to you, or who bores you senseless, because you love kissing him so much. Physical expression of affection, even if sincere affection is largely absent, can chemically/ psychologically glue a woman to someone. Sexual desire is like a freight train, and the only person who can stop it is the driver, through a massive and heroic act of will, plus Grace.

For the sake of happiness, fancying should not be confused with loving, and love of some sort should come before fancying. Definitely there should at least be liking, as in "I like him. He is kind to people and makes me laugh." I know many people who are kind to people and make me laugh, so I like many people. I want to be around them because being around them simply makes me feel comfortable and happy, and I hope God will reward them for their kindness in this world and the next.

Hoping God will reward someone in this world and the next can be defined as "desiring the good of the other" which is the Thomist definition of love. And I think it a measure of love when your desire for the greater good of the other is greater than your desire for any of your goods less than your eternal salvation. For example, many a spouse would lay down his life for his spouse, and many a parent her life for her children. (N.B.: The good of the other is never something forbidden by God.)

Family and friends make all kinds of sacrifices on behalf of those they love. A loving parent says "No" to her  12 year old daughter going to an unsupervised boy-girl party even if the daughter will shout "I hate you! I hate you!" and mean it. A loving 24 year old teacher says "No" to his 18 year old pupil who has a crush on him, not because he could get in trouble if he didn't, but because he does not want his 18 year old pupil to suffer psychological harm.* 

This is true even if the 24 year old teacher secretly fancies his 18 year old pupil and feels pretty wretched. Because, obviously, you can fancy someone and love them at the same time. When I met B.A., I already liked him because he was funny, and then I liked him because he was so kind to everyone, and then I fancied him, but didn't do anything about it, first, because he was A REGULAR READER, and second, because life has taught me it is infinitely better to be the recipient of the First Real Move myself than to make the First Real Move and third, I had just met him and relied upon prudence to safeguard my own good and his. 

The fancying part was not as important as the liking part and the loving part, and I love my regular readers just for being regular readers. Fancying B.A. only became important when I knew B.A. fancied me, and super-important when I knew B.A. loved me in a marry-me way because, really, you shouldn't marry anyone you don't fancy. 

However, our poor hypothetical 24 year old teacher is not in a position to marry his 18 year old pupil because, first of all, she is his pupil, second, she's only 18, and third, he's married already. 

Maybe I should have said that first. At any rate, our hypothetical 24 year old teacher is a good man, and loves both his pupil and his wife, and therefore desires their good. (And if he is a Christian, he desires the good of his salvation above all else.) The good of the pupil is not to get mixed up with him, and the good of his wife is to have a loyal husband. For the teacher to act on his feelings of fancy would be contrary to love. But as he loves, he doesn't. 

To recap some distinctions to help us all sort out how we feel and what is real:

LIKING: Admiration and wanting to be around something/someone just because it/he/she makes you smile and feel happy.

FANCYING: Wanting someone, or their image, for the erotic thrill even just thinking about them gives you.

LOVING: Desiring the other's good so sincerely that you would forgo many goods, including their company, in order to protect it.  

Obviously, when fancying is divorced from love, what we have--very quickly--is lust. And many people fancy those they don't even like, which is dangerous to reason. We do that all the time when we have a crush on someone we don't even know, like a film star, and just create a fantasy around him. 

It is actually quite terrible to be fancied by someone who doesn't know you or doesn't really want to know you as you really are, and wouldn't like you as you really are, but just creates a fantasy based on your image. Knowing that, I suppose we should all strive not to do that to others ourselves. 

The worst case scenario is marrying someone who thinks you are the fantasy image of you he has in his head because, believe me, a few months of marriage will defeat his every attempt to keep that fantasy alive. And then he will blame you, you fantasy-girl murderess!  

It's lovely to be married to someone who likes you. And it is horrible to be married to someone who doesn't like you. So let there be liking before fancying! And let us put love--love as Thomas defined it--before everything else.