“This nation needs a serious…conversation about what the word ‘love’ means.” On this point, I couldn’t agree more with an editorial I recently skimmed through entitled, “Is it real love, or pizza love?” The author, Mary Beth Bonacci, travels the world talking to young people about building healthy relationships using the analogy of our favorite food: pizza.

What is love? Ms. Bonacci defines love from a Christian perspective:

“…since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God for his or her own sake and [is] 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.”

Whether or not you are Christian, this definition transcends dogma and speaks to our higher selves, and our capacity to recognize – and love – that which is inherently divine in others. Of course, this perspective does preclude the divine nature of pizza, sincerest apologies to my Pizza-ist readers.

“The opposite of love,” Ms. Bonacci continues, “is using – seeing a person as merely an instrument to facilitate my own pleasure or satisfaction, without regard for what is in fact the 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.”  (italics added)

pizza loveDo you throw in the towel when the “thrill is gone”? Do you always look for fireworks, getting swept off your feet and riding off into the sunset when you look for love? Do you know the difference between love and romance? Between loving someone for who they are, or loving them for who you wish they were?

This is the fundamental distinction between real love and “pizza love” – you enjoy a pizza, and maybe even love it if it’s your favorite kind made by your favorite pizzaria. I really enjoy a fresh-out-of-the-oven Supreme pizza from Roy’s Last Shot down the dirt road from my cabin. My partner relishes their Hawaiian style with Canadian bacon and pineapple. So, we always get a half-and-half when we splurge for a large pizza – and we love each other just the same.

When you love someone like you love pizza, however, they have to be just the right flavor for you. You consume each other like you’re eating a pizza – for your own sense of satisfaction and personal fulfillment. You never eat a pizza to benefit the pizza, or to make the pizza better, or to help the pizza fulfill it’s dreams in life. It’s a pizza. But sometimes we find ourselves loving someone – or being loved – as if people were pizzas. You’re not exciting anymore, the thrill is gone, you don’t satisfy me.

When we distinguish between real love and pizza love, we might turn the equation around and ask, what can I do for you? and, how has our relationship evolved over the years? do we continue to recognize the inherent dignity, beauty and divinity in one another? or are we looking for take-out?

This question implies to single-folks too: 

Think of something in your life with which you share an intimate, long-term, relationship. How about religion? Is religion or spirituality like pizza – moving from one flavor to the next – indulging in deep-dish this week, disciplining yourself with thin-crust the next? Or, how about your health – there is no more intimate and long-term relationship in the world than the one we each share with our bodies, through sickness and health. One moment you don’t care – I’m going to die anyway, so why quit smoking (or drinking, or using drugs, etc.) now? Do you love your body for what it is? Or will you only love it when you lose that last 20 pounds, or have perfect skin?

Real LOVE it seems, is not subject to rationalization, or relativism, or the whim of the moment. LOVE is something greater, more profound, more universal than a Friday night fling. What happens when the “thrill” is gone? Do you give up and move on? Or are you challenged to look deeper into your own motivation? Are you consuming or being consumed by the relationships in your life? Or are your relationships saturated with the infinite, inexhaustible, selfless, dignified grace of LOVE? 

Write it down. Make a painting. Do a dance. Play a song. Arrange some flowers. Light a candle. Chew on it, wrestle with it, feel your way into a more authentic understanding of love. Eat pizza with your loved ones, don’t eat your loved one’s like pizza. 

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