The Embrace of Affection

Resonance Theological Journal Community Life Theology

I am re-reading for at least the 4th time The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis.  Once again I met the chapter on Affection, bathing in the warm embrace of this love’s character, happily recalling times in my past where Affection held me close, but sometimes aching from memories when Affection seemed sorely absent.  This love wears a humble shape while yet causing relationships to glow from within.  But without missing a beat, Lewis draws the painful figures of misused Affection, and of the hurt brought on when this love turns dark.  As he does with each of the loves, Lewis shows in detail that Affection “…having become a god, becomes a demon.”[1]

In current culture the relationship bond between a man and woman sits at center of our vision of the good, full, and happy life.  For as long as I can remember every influence held out hope for me to find the one special person, the “soul mate,” the one who would somehow make everything make sense.  Every genre of music, literature, and visual arts, drips with this message.  Only now, in this 4th time through, do I realize this message emanates not from Eros, but from Affection.  “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”[2]

Lewis describes Affection’s qualities as manifest through the familiar and comfortable.  And it’s this very dynamic at work with unmarried couples who move in together.  Although unwilling to commit to the permanence of marriage, they nevertheless want the assurance of familiarity that simply arises out of regularly encountering each other.  Affection, Lewis assures us, can do that, even between persons who have little cause to like each other!

Many a woman of just such a living arrangement will complain about her boyfriend, much the same way as a married woman complains about the habits of her husband.  But the woman who is a wife has a very different footing.  She complains about a man whom she knows she will accept.  Conversely the live-in on some level remains in a prolonged risk assessment, “Do I really want to put up with this?  Is this a sign that he’s not the one for me?  That I’m not the one for him?”  In short, the live-in isn’t building on a foundation, but questioning whether or not one exists!  Each of these proverbial women has real affection for her man, but two very different varieties.  Affection of marriage comes as cultivated fruit; that of the live-in works more like a web, where the longer it weaves the harder it is to escape.

So here are opposite sides of the milestone that is a wedding.  On the side leading up to it, eyes make it either end or a beginning.  Those who see it as an end align their decisions and motivations to arrive.  Those who see it as a beginning see farther.  Pre-marital cohabitation aims to arrive at the wedding.  Pre-marital abstinence prepares for a journey.  The one wants a mature Affection before marriage, perhaps on the theory that such Affection is what will make the marriage last.  The other sees the building of Affection as the shared work of a lifetime.  The one depends on an existing bond of Affection; the other commits to establishing and increasing that bond.  The two perspectives couldn’t be more different.

In order to make good on that marital commitment “till death do us part” the marriage ought not to be based in fear.  The perspective that sees marriage as an end fears the deterioration of its achievement, poisoning the well before the drink.  The perspective that sees a beginning sees instead a learning curve.  When setbacks come, they really can be embraced as learning situations.  The struggles within such learning situations, themselves forge the bonds of Affection.  To find the Affection so many of us desperately crave, we must embrace the struggle, and meet it with a will committed to making the best of it, and of ourselves.  And this, you see, is why the marital commitment comes before the marriage, and why this improves the odds of reaching long years with a mature Affection which itself embraces the husband and wife.

[1] The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis, p. 56 (last line of chapter entitled Affection)

[2] Ibid, p. 53

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