Once we are born in the material world and become members of society, we are thrown into a sea of social norms. These norms can be laws, rules, regulations, customs, traditions, and other forms of behavioral regimes. Social norms when effectively enforced can be coercive to people. Each norm carries with its sanction and punishment. This sanction can be psychological such as ostracism, rumors, and gossip, public shaming, etc. or penal in nature such as imprisonment, suspension, banishment, or paying off fines. Norms limit our freedom and action in society. They also structure our mental life and thinking. If caught by authorities violating them, we can be trapped in society for life.
One story that struck me in a documentary shown in a local television is the story of a homeless Filipino migrant in the United States. He said before he became homeless, he lived a happy family life with his wife and children. But this happiness was overturned when his wife filed a divorce. The law on alimony in San Francisco requires a husband who divorced his wife to pay 70% of his monthly income as a support to his wife and children. According to him, this has radically changed his life. He was unable to keep up with the payments and incurred debts from the government. Thus, he lost his job and left his normal life and became homeless. He can’t return back to his old life since this implies paying his huge debts and finding a high-paying job. His story is an example of a societal trap in the material world that people may sometimes find themselves imprisoned, unable to free themselves from material bondage for violating societal norms. For people who live without a spirituality and life of prayer, to live a societal trap is probably the end of the road. It can be a life of boredom, without meaning, progress, and hope.
Material bondage is not an end, however, for people with a deep sense of spirituality, particularly for those with strong beliefs in the supernatural or God. Religiosity can provide people with a sense of meaning and purpose which can “empower” and provide them with a sense of control in the face of potentially stressful events (Hood 1974; Matton & Rappaport 1983). Spirituality can give us resilience and courage to face difficult situations in life. Thus, one secret to transcending the limitations of our material limitations is searching of an appropriate spirituality that fits one’s ultimate goals in life. Searching for ultimate values and meaning of life is the key to purpose-driven life that transcends the material world. This is not escapism but an acknowledgment that there is more what the material world can offer.
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It has been said that happiness is a state of mind and a relative term. Our views on happiness are determined by our mental frames which are reflections of our own cultural orientation as members of a particular community. For Christians, happiness is not only limited to material happiness. The Christian concept of happiness goes beyond the material world and satisfaction of our sensual needs. In fact, the Church's teaching on the 7 deadly or cardinal sins includes gluttony. The word "gluttony" comes from the Latin word gula which is derived from gluttire which means "to gulp down or swallow". Gluttony is the inordinate, over-indulgence, and over-consumption of food, drink, or material things that provide much pleasure to the body.
The Church does not discourage people to enjoy consumer goods that provide pleasure and material happiness to people. But consumption must be done in moderation. As embodied beings, we are entitled to the enjoyment of God's creation and human goods and services. But we must avoid inordinate attachment, i.e., our life is not tied up with material goods, we don't crave for things that are unnecessary in life and detrimental to our spiritual life with God.
In Church teaching, happiness is, above, spiritual in nature. True happiness is spiritual joy of being in the state of grace and of knowing that one is following God's will. The happiness of parents of seeing their children praying or doing their duties in school is spiritual joy that last in their memories even after death. The consolation we experience when we pray to God is spiritual joy that can propel us to be with the divine in the afterlife. In other words, spiritual happiness is lasting, while material happiness is fleeting.
THE LIMITS OF MATERIAL JOY
Material happiness has limits. We may have achieved our personal goals. We may have acquired much wealth and fame, but the end of the day we still remain mortal and moving towards our own death. The great Steve Jobs may have reached the pinnacle of success in business and innovation for co-founding the tech giant Apple. But when he was stricken with cancer and was dying, he acknowledged what that lingers in people’s memory are not achievements, pleasures, and material success in life, but the loving memories of the things we care about that make our loved ones and other people happy. In other words, he is referring to our spiritual joys which are indeed lasting!
Material happiness is like eating our favorite cuisine. After we have savored it and satisfied our craving, the sense of pleasure immediately vanishes. And it is only a matter of minutes that we crave again for another type to continue the pleasure of eating. Some Roman gluttons were said to intentional vomit the food they just ate in order to feel hungry again and to continue to feel the pleasure of tasting their sumptuous meal.
The fleeting moment of material satisfaction can also be illustrated in buying a new luxury car. After using it a couple of days or would probably after a week, the excitement and pleasure of driving our dream car would immediately subside. And the desire of acquiring a new car which is better than the previous model would probably surface in our dreams. We enter into an endless cycle of craving and pleasure to satisfy our insatiable material desires. This also the case of people who find happiness in sex, drugs, and other forms of material pleasure. The material happiness is indeed very temporary.
Contrast this material pleasure with spiritual joy and happiness of helping and loving our loved one and people who are in need. Our loving memories of the good we do to others do not just fade away in our consciousness but can linger even up to our last breath. That’s why people capture memorable moments in selfies, groupies, posts, videos, digital photos and pictures to remind them of their treasured happy memories. This is not say that we should disregard our material desires and suppressed them altogether, but we have to be conscious of their limits and not be imprisoned by our inordinate attachment to material pleasures, thereby losing sight of our spiritual journey in life.
Seeing life from the point of view of death has been recommended by great saints and thinkers. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for instance, recommended a meditation on death to make us more humble and see the limitations of our being or what the great philosopher Martin Heidegger calls a human person as a “being-towards-death”, and to feel our vulnerability on the face of death and remove the last vintages of pride within us.
Again, Steve Jobs is one of the most innovative and charismatic leader in the American business world and has been idolized by millions of his fans worldwide for his technological innovation and vision and for co-founding Apple and its innovative products. And yet, he has acknowledged the limits of success and accumulation of wealth. In the face of death, everything fades except our loving memories of people. In our dying bed we recall these memories and thank our God for giving us the spiritual grace of genuinely loving other people, especially our family and friends or whoever that touched our life deeply.
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Let us start with a short story of a man who had mental reservation or lying when he didn’t tell his girlfriend that he is already in love with another woman while still in relationship with her. This story can be considered a form of deceptive love:
I had a boyfriend for five years and seven months. His name was Anton and we were deeply in love. At least I’d like to believe that he was in love with me, too. We had dreams of getting married in the year 2000 and we agreed to name our first baby girl with both our mothers’ names.
For five years, my life focused on Anton. He was my world and my life, and he always came first. My friends, family, career and even myself came after. My heart and mind were already set on having him as my husband–my lifetime partner. Nothing and no one could change that. His family and friends knew about us and accepted me. They were all kind to me and treated me well. I remember his brothers and sisters introducing me to their friends as “our future sister-in-law”. Everyone thought it would be Anton and me in the end.
Third quarter of this year, we began having frequent fights over small things like where to eat, what movie to watch and whether he would see me or not. He’d tell me he was under a lot of pressure from both his work and his relationship with me so I proposed we “cool off” for awhile. I told him that in the meantime, I wouldn’t call him or see him as often as I wanted to, but I’d always be around if ever he needed me.
Without a second thought, he accepted my proposal and told me to just end the relationship. Joe, it was as if he had just waited for me to initiate the breakup.
I was shocked and surprised. The man I love and gave my life to was letting me go. Though it hurt, I accepted the idea because I thought he was just tired from work and confused. I thought that after a few days, we’d both realize that we really need and love each other.
When we parted ways, I couldn’t help but cry. The following day I called him and asked if we could still talk about it. I asked him the real reason and he told me that he was tired of my demands. He was tired of being committed and just wanted to be alone for awhile. I told him I’d change but Anton remained firm in his decision.
Twenty days after our breakup, we agreed to meet in our old meeting place for dinner. However, he didn’t show up despite my numerous pages reminding him that I was waiting. When the mall closed, I decided to go home and on my way, I saw him with another woman. What made it even painful was that he just ignored me, as if he didn’t see me. For two days, I was absent from work, I didn’t know what to do. I was so confused. I didn’t know what was happening, why he was with that girl when he was supposed to meet me–that same girl my friends saw him with minutes before our breakup…. (Source: http://sobrangcheezy.blogspot.hk/2010/03/joe-dmangos-love-notes-time-to-move-on.html).
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Not all forms of romantic love are sincere and honest. Some are deceptive. Romantic partners can appear as angels but deep inside they are motivated to take advantage of the other. Having your heart broken is the easy part; knowing when to move on is the challenge. One must be careful not to enter into a deceptive love relationship. This type of love is based on lies and deceit. And the innocent victim of this type of love will end up frustrated and broken hearted.
Deceptive love is a fake type of romantic love where one or both partners either consciously or unconsciously mislead the other in an effort to dishonestly establish trust and intimacy. The person who engages in this type of romantic love follows a sort of “catch and release” pattern. He or she is more interested in catching more fish (lovers) than in staying in love and maintaining a long-term relationship. His or her intention is ‘to collect” more girlfriends or boyfriends and enjoy whatever social, emotional, and sexual benefits he or she can reap while in intimacy with their partners. But he or she would eventually break up with some of his or her partner/s if he or she becomes dissatisfied with the relationship. This is the case of a person who is tagged as a “playboy” or “playgirl”, a person who likes to establish multiple romantic relationships with other people without serious intention of establishing a lasting relationship or true love.
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This is an unhealthy and functional type of “love”. The person falls in love with another for selfish motives. This is common in the social media where anonymous individuals, using fictitious identity, establish romantic relationships with other users through chatting and other digital means of communication. One woman in the Philippines became a victim of this type of love on Facebook. She fell in love with a man she only knew through the social media. After establishing romantic relationship, the man requested her nude photo. Then he extorted her money, demanding that she should give him a certain amount or else he would post her nude picture online.
In the study “Understanding the Routine Expression of Deceptive Affection in Romantic Relationships,” deceptive affection means that an individual in a romantic relationship chooses to express affection he or she does not actually feel. According to this study, non-married individuals expressed deceptive affection about three times a week to romantic partners.
Couples who are not in good terms with their partners usually use deceptive affection to save face, avoid embarrassing their partner or sidestep a situation that may land them in hot water. This can include lying about one’s own feelings or feelings about a partner and expressing affection instead of negative feelings. Some studies showed that couples use verbal and non-verbal affection in hopes that a sweet caress or profession of love will mask their true feelings. The use of affection to lie appears to be a regular activity in romantic relationships. Thus, people can be extra sweet with their partners to gain material favors such as owning a new car, house and lot, or signing a prenuptial agreement to gain an inheritance of the wealthy partner. Deceptive affection can actually help maintain a relationship in some cases. But affection and care in deceptive love are only a facade of the selfish motives of some romantics to take advantage of their partners.
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Love stalking is one of the most unhealthy types of romantic love. It is often associated with mental or psychological disorder. In one of the most comprehensive studies of stalking, Rosemary Purcell, Michele Pathé and Paul Mullen from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health and Monash University, in Australia, surveyed 3700 adult men and women and found almost one in four had been stalked.
In addition, a study published in the ‘Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry’ also found out that women were twice as likely as men to report having been stalked at some time in their lives. As younger people were significantly more likely than older to report having been stalked, the authors wondered if this was evidence that stalking was significantly increasing in modern times ”.
Love obsession stalking is done by people who develop a love obsession or fixation on another person with whom they have no personal relationship. The target may be only a casual acquaintance or even a complete stranger. The stalker begins to make contact with the victim in a variety of ways that may initially seem harmless, but their continued presence generates fear and terror for the victim.
“Peeping Toms” should not be taken lightly, and can pose a very real threat to their victims. This category represents about 20-25 percent (20-25%) of all stalking cases. Stalkers in this category include those who develop fixations on regular, ordinary people- including classmates, their instructors, casual acquaintances or people they pass on campus.
The vast majority of love obsession stalkers suffer from a mental disorder. Regardless of the specific disorder, nearly all display some delusional thought patterns and behaviors. Since most are unable to develop normal personal relationships through conventional means, they have a life of fantasy relationships with persons they hardly know, if at all. They then attempt to act out their fictional plots in the real world.
Love obsession stalkers can be treated if the person afflicted by it, realizes what he or she is doing is wrong and needs help. “Help can be found in a good friend or a good counselor, who can bring them back to their senses and put them back on track. However, they can only show you the way. It is you who must realize the futility of the obsession and let go from within .
Before you can overcome a love obsession you first have to recognize that you are indeed obsessed with the person who you believe you love. Love is engaging and gratifying, while obsession is overwhelming and draining. Love allows you to be seen for who you are and still be accepted, obsession causes you to see character traits that are not there and makes you think you have found perfection.
Love allows a relationship to grow and strengthen, obsession creates an intense feeling to form a premature commitment. When you love you become a lover, when you obsess you can become a stalker” .
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Age does matter in a relationship whether one likes it or not. Although there other personal and social factors that can affect the social interaction of couples in a particular society, age definitely has an effect on the way partners relate with each other. Age is an informal social norm that somehow affects social interaction. The higher is the age, the higher is the influence of the older partner over the younger companion. Because he or she has more experience, the older partner will tend to guide the younger mate. This is particularly true if the age gap is wider.
Age implies length of experience in life. Older people have more encounters with tragedies and problems in life compared to younger ones. Thus, they tend dominate younger partners because they tend to believe that they know better than the other. Of course, this is only a general rule, since personality and other social factors can overcome this tendency. Thus, a younger partner with a domineering personality can control an older partner with a weaker personality. For instance, a gut person can easily dominate a heart or head person despite the age gap. Inspite of this, older people still tend to play the parent role in the relationship in general.
Thomas Anthony Harris published a classic self-help book entitled I’m OK – You’re OK as a practical guide to transactional analysis as a method for solving problems in life.Transactional analysis (TA) is a psychoanalytic theory and method of therapy wherein social transactions are analyzed to determine the ego state of the patient. A person’s ego can either act as a parent, adult, and child depending on the situation.
The problem with older partners in a loving relationship is that they tend to often act on their parent egos and dominate the younger partners who are forced to act on their adult or child roles to avoid conflict in their daily interactions. Thus, depending on the cultural standards, it is advisable that the age gap of lovers must be not very wide as this can pose problems both in their personal interaction and relationship adjustment. Maybe, 5 years or less is age gap is preferable, but more than 10 age gap can be challenging for couples to maintain their relationship. Of course, what matters most are the maturity and commitment of the partners to stay together despite the odds in the relationship.
Photo1: Hollywood couple with 20-year age gap: JASON STATHAM AND ROSIE HUNTINGTON WHITELEY (Photo credit: ALBERTO RODRIGUEZ/NBC/GETTY)
Photo2: Harrison Ford and his wife Calista Flockhart with 22 years age gap (Photo credit:STEVE GRANITZ/WIREIMAGE)