Sacrifice Isn’t Sexy

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love serves as an antidote to the hookup culture by shedding light on the beautiful inextricability between marital love and sacrifice. It notes how the hookup culture misunderstands authentic freedom and divorces sacrifice from love. In the introduction, Alice von Hildebrand suggests that the pornification of love occurs when a person “confuses the excitement of novelty with authentic happiness….[such confusion] is rooted partly in a misunderstanding of freedom” (x). Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love continues to illustrate how sacrifice lies at the heart of authentic freedom and subliminal love and is thus an essential practice for reversing the hookup culture.

The hookup culture perpetuates the misunderstanding that freedom equates to “doing what you want.” Under this relativistic characterization, personal satisfaction is the inevitable aim of freedom while sacrifice is its bane. This misunderstanding proves doubly insidious because if one wrongly exercises freedom, he does so because he also holds an inaccurate perception of authentic happiness. Under this logic, sexual “freedom” manifests itself by reducing others to their sexual faculties and engaging in frequent licentiousness. Hildebrand admonishes this misunderstanding, saying that it leads to “merely a passing intimacy which establishes no objective relationship” (24).

In order for our hookup culture to be healed, the culture must recognize sacrifice is inextricable with freedom and that the culture’s painless, pleasurable notion of freedom “leads to ‘the slavery of sin”’ (CCC 1733). One authentically exercises his freedom when he chooses the good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church suggests this by characterizing freedom as the following: “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’” (1733). Choosing the good often involves temporary self-sacrifice for long term, penetrating joy. Hildebrand articulates how freedom, love, sacrifice, and joy coincide: “Many people criticize marriage because they fail to realize that a person also exercises his freedom when he freely binds himself to another in marriage” and “[m]arriage is not a bourgeois affair, a kind of insurance for happiness, providing a way of escape from every eventual cross” (x, 61). Marital sacrifice is not for naught nor is it dreary. Hildebrand continues to articulate how marital sacrifice “gives human life grandeur and depth;” it opens a couple up to risk, adventure, and commitment far beyond self-seeking romances. Most importantly, freely choosing sacrificial love unites couples more intimately with Christ, whose betrothal to the Church takes form of the ultimate sacrificial love in His Passion.

Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love suggests that these philosophical notions are fostered and manifested in the family unit, and it is by the family unit that hookup culture will be most powerfully counteracted. The hookup culture attempts to divorce sex from marriage and procreation, and as a result, it begets dysfunctional families. Hildegard is candid when he states that “[o]nly marriage justifies physical union” and that “[p]rocreation and the communion of love must never deliberately be separated” (30, 27). This serves as an antidote to the hookup culture because the family unit is the most fundamental, intimate unit of society where individuals first learn to conceptualize the world. When authentic freedom, sacrifice, and love are exercised, functional families form, thus, serving as powerful contexts for those values to grow, be passed down, and reshape the hookup culture we live in.

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