There is a phenomenon that is largely prevalent in my generation and the generations younger than me. It is the overuse and incorrect use of the word love. I think that mass advertising has had a huge impact on this trend. Have you ever stopped to really listen to the garbage coming out of your speakers? Have you ever been appalled by an ad on the radio or TV? You’re not alone. Last Christmas, the ads were so bad that I finally started shutting off the radio. We are constantly told that we will “love” products and services. Think about it. McDonald’s has a slogan that says “I’m Lovin’ It”.
The problem is that this has slipped into my consciousness and vocabulary. I will tell people that I “love” pumpkin spice lattes, or a particular show, or song. But do I really “love” these things? Am I professing my deep devotion to inanimate objects. Do I will their good? Do I want what is best for that pumpkin cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts? No. I want to enjoy that donut. It’s light fluffy pumpkin infused with spices sweetness makes my taste buds do a happy dance, but I am not going to give my life for that donut.
The issue is that words matter. How we express ourselves comes from what we believe about the world around us. It also shows us how much the world has been absorbed by our psyches. In telling someone that I “love” some food or product, I am saying that I have in fact taken in our materialist culture. I do equate love to food. I have crossed into the land of gluttony and idolatry.
The overuse of the word “love” also points to a culture that has truly lost the definition of that word. In saying that I love some inanimate object, I am saying that “love” is purely how something makes me feel. Pumpkin spice lattes make me feel warm, happy, and snuggly. That’s similar to how I feel about my husband, right? Wrong! It also shows why people are discarded as easily as things. They are objects for my mere enjoyment and amusement; that is the new definition of love.
The first time I realized the error I was making in my speech as a couple winters ago. Our parish priest had come over for dinner for the first time. He was there to bless our rental home. I had made cous cous and proceeded to tell him that I “loved” it. He said that he “liked” it to. That really struck me. Not just as a generational difference, he is 12 years older than me. It stuck out to me because it revealed an error that I had stated. I enjoy cous cous. It is mighty tasty, but I am not in love with cous cous.
I have had to catch myself numerous times since then. There is a reason that languages all have different verbs for “to love”, “to enjoy”, and “to like”. They are different in profound ways. I can enjoy a walk in the woods, but I don’t love it. I can like a chocolate cake, but once again I do not love it. I am not going to give up my life for that cake if need be.
Our society has lost a true grasp on what love truly means. The Cross is what love means. A total self-emptying for the good of another. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “as willing the good of the other, as other”. It means wanting another’s good even if that means we ourselves must give something up. It means wanting what is best for a person, even if it is unpopular.
As the Christmas season rolls out here in the next few weeks, pay attention to the ads you hear on the radio or see on TV. You will begin to see a trend where jewelry, electronics, clothes, food, etc. are all portrayed as things to love, things to fulfill you. Thankfully, I am fully in the season of Advent and do not begin celebrating Christmas until Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. My family and I then celebrate Christmas throughout January, as it is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church. That means that I am largely ignoring ads and superficial Christmas songs about “Santa Baby”.
Do you struggle with the improper use of “love” like I do. I would hazard a guess that if you are under 35, you have used the verb in the wrong manner at least once or twice. Think about it the next time it comes out of your mouth. Do you really love what is front of you, or is just a gift to enjoy for a moment?