Marlon Brando’s type of ‘love’

I saw one of those celebrity magazines at the drugstore the other day. The headline read: "The 22 women Brando loved and destroyed."

I looked at it and thought, "This nation needs a serious national conversation about what the word 'love' means."

A few days later, curious what this "love" looked like, I googled the article to see what it was exactly that the late, "great" Marlon Brando did to these women. Sure enough, this "love" seemed to consist in pursuing a woman he found attractive (not a difficult pursuit for the beautiful Marlon Brando in his prime), commencing a torrid sexual affair and then losing interest and cheating on her with the other attractive women he was pursuing. Brando, of course, went through far more than 22 women in his lifetime. The number in the headline referred to the 22 of them who ultimately attempted suicide after being used and discarded by Brando. Many of those attempts were successful.

Yeah, some "love." I'd say the only person Brando loved in those relationships was Brando. And even that would be stretching the definition.

Marlon Brando didn't love those women. He used them for pleasure, for a thrill, for relief from whatever pain he was feeling. They were an outlet for his addiction. And they paid a heavy price for being foolish enough to believe that the great Brando might actually care about them.

Unfortunately, in the years since Brando shuffled off this mortal coil, we have not figured out the difference between "loving" and "using." In fact, we seem to be drifting farther and farther from any semblance of understanding the meaning of real love.

Take, for instance, an interview I read recently with a woman involved in a "polyamorous" relationship. Her explanation for their choice of this arrangement was very simple. She and her husband initially had been very much "in love," but over time the thrill had worn off. They settled down, had a child and now the excitement was gone from their relationship. They tried everything - everything - to get it back. But nothing worked. And so, naturally, they were on the verge of divorce. Not because anybody was abusing anybody else or even disrespecting anybody else or doing anything wrong. But because no marriage can go on indefinitely without that "thrill."

Until she got the brilliant idea to bring a third person into their marriage. Into their home. Into their bed. Apparently that has done the trick, so to speak. Everybody is once again "thrilled." At least for the moment.

I spent much of my adult life traveling around the world, speaking to teenagers and young adults about the different between "pizza love" and "real love." It was based on St. John Paul II's concept of the "personalistic norm," which states that since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God for his or her own sake and loved unconditionally by God, the only appropriate response to a human person is love - recognizing the inherent dignity of that person and desiring what is absolutely best for him or her, even to the point of personal sacrifice.

The opposite of love is using - seeing a person as merely an instrument to facilitate my own pleasure or satisfaction without regard for what is best for that person. My relationship with pizza isn't centered on what is best for the pizza, but only on my pleasure in eating it - which is a perfectly fine relationship to have with a food product. But not with a person, loved uniquely and individually by God.

I don't consider myself particularly qualified to know the entirety of any one relationship and to know to what extent the individuals involved care, or fail to care, about what is best for the other person. But I can "call it like I see it" when aspects of that relationship are made public.

Here's what I know: A woman prepared to leave a basically healthy marriage relationship because she is no longer experiencing a "thrill" is not loving her spouse. She is seeing him as means to her own emotional experience, to be discarded when he no longer fulfills that function. She is using him. Likewise, a couple who attempt to revive that thrill by bringing a third person into the sacredness of their marriage bed is not loving that third person. They are seeing him as merely a means to an emotional experience. They are using him. Just as an actor who obsesses over, sexually uses and then discards a woman is not loving her.

The word "love" has been bandied about a great deal in our discussion of social issues in the past several years. While at the same time, we have utterly lost any sense of what the word actually means. This, as one might imagine, is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the universal moral imperative to love our neighbor.

Talk to your kids. Teach them the difference between "real love" and "pizza love." Apply it to specific situations they see on television, in movies and on the news. It will help them to better understand what is going on in the world.

And it may save them from the fate like that of Brando's 22 women.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We're On a Mission from God and Real Love.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016