Q: I get that if you’re in a relationship with someone and you’re being physically chaste, you could still be struggling with use emotionally, but how do we avoid emotionally using people – even when we’re not in a relationship?
Blank Space, Baby
In high school, I was that girl who was constantly on the look out for a guy to fill her blank space. And as soon as I met someone who showed some mutual interest, I’d jump right in. Within a few weeks it was usually official, or at least, it looked that way.
He was perfect. He was wonderful. He was everything I was looking for, everything I needed… and then a few weeks, or occasionally months, later we’d break up and my blank space mission would begin again.
Perhaps you know someone like this. Perhaps you’re that someone. That person who is in a seemingly endless cycle of starting something, thinking, “This is perfection!” and then with great disillusionment, watching it all crash down.
St. John Paul II once said: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” In my often short-lived high school relationships, I was not treating the guys in my life as objects of love. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, I just didn’t understand the difference between love and use. (Check out this post if you want more on that topic.)
See, I thought dating was all about emotional highs and having fun together. While I did care about these guys to the extent that I knew how, looking back on things, I mainly thought about what was in it for me. Consequently, I often used people emotionally for my own personal gratification, and from what I understand, through the hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with singles throughout the years, I’m not the only one who’s done this.
We use others for the exciting rush of emotion that comes with starting a new relationship. We use others to make us feel special, important and loved. We use others to fill the emotional void that sulks at us from the depths of our heart. We use others to distract ourselves from facing any real issues that are going on in our lives that we’d prefer to avoid. And we delay breaking up with people out of fear that nothing better will come along, which is just another sneaky way of using them.
When we aren’t in a relationship, we mentally use people to daydream about what might transpire if and when we do happen to begin one. We toy with people’s hearts as we feel out whether or not this person could be a potential candidate to fill our blank space. And we seek out the unhealthy attention of the opposite sex in order to take the edge off of our loneliness. All of these things are ways that we emotionally use others for our own personal gratification. Yet, as St. JP II reminds us, people are not things that we can use, they are people that we should treat with love.
Okay, great, but how do we stop treating people like things? And how do we stop emotionally using them? Here are four steps you take to get started.
1. Take Your Time
Beginning a new relationship is fun, it’s exciting, and it feels good, which are all things that we like. The emotions that come with new relationships are not bad, but problems can arise if the emotional high of the relationship is the foundation of the relationship. Because it’s impossible to really know who someone is after a few days, or even weeks, you’re not dating that person for who they are. You’re dating them for the emotional excitement they stir up in you. That’s not love friends, that’s use.
For this reason, it’s important to take the time to get to know someone before you start dating them. Once you have established a reasonable knowledge of each other, then you can make a conscious decision as to whether or not you want to choose to pursue a relationship with them as a person.
2. Gather Your Friends
The desires that you have for relationships with others are not bad. Quite the opposite, they are very good! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that the only way to have companionship in this world is via romantic relationships. Having true friends whom you are mutually striving for the good life with are a great safeguard against wanting to use others emotionally. When you have a strong circle of friends, you’re less likely to search for unhealthy attention and relationships due to loneliness. Start seeking out holy friendships, and when the time is right, you’ll be more prepared to enter into a holy dating relationship.
3. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
Use doesn’t always come in the form of physical actions; sometimes we can use people in our minds. It’s easy to see how mental physical fantasies are a violation of someone’s dignity. The idea of someone objectifying us and getting a rise out of imagining using our body is uncomfortable and repulsive.
Well, the same can be true of mental emotional fantasies. We can violate someone’s dignity in the same way with our emotional daydreaming. Detailed plans of a perfect first date that ends in a romantic midnight walk, which one day leads to a tear-jerking proposal and adorable children, should weird us out — because that’s just plain and simple use. It’s use because the person themself is not the recipient of our affections. They’ve become a means, or a tool, that we are using to gain one-sided, counterfeit emotional pleasure.
Be mindful of your thoughts, and if the temptation arises to create an imaginary life with someone, cut it off and vow to not turn the person into an object that you’re using for a temporary escape into your fake, happy world because your real one isn’t working out.
4. Know Your Worth
Often, if we are turning to emotionally using people, either in real life or in our minds, it is because we are ultimately seeking to be loved. We long to know that we matter, that we are valued, that we have security in this unpredictable world. If this is the case for you, I have good news… you don’t need a boyfriend or girlfriend to have these longings fulfilled. A boyfriend or girlfriend will actually never be able to ultimately fulfill these longings because that’s not their job.
You were made in the image and likeness of an all-powerful King who also happens to be the God of the universe. Your worth has already been determined, and you are priceless. You are loved as you are. You are wanted. You are already someone to somebody. I know all of that sounds like a cliché line, but it’s true. And as soon as you can start to believe it, you will stop looking to use others to fill the spot in your heart that needs a Savior, because you will know that you already have one.
Remember, people are not things, people are souls, so refuse to use!
Be saints, it’s worth it!