A spate of reporting in Kenya on crimes of passion causes Anthony Aduaka to reflect on the reasons why the principles of love have become so distorted. He calls for a restoral of values and the importance of healthy relationships in the family. He adds that the church can play a pivotal role in giving young people a healthy understanding of love.
An analysis of Standard Media Kenya reveals that between April 2018 and September 2019 10 women were murdered in various circumstances after something went wrong in their relationships. In one incident a woman stabbed her boyfriend 22 times. In another incident, a Chuka University student committed suicide after killing his girlfriend and Citizen TV reports that Tabitha Chepkoech killed her boyfriend, Kevin Kiptoo after the relationship ended badly.
These are only some of the cases reported in the media. The actual statistics of love with tragic endings could be much higher. It appears that the number of deaths or missing persons associated with love relationships is on the increase.
Relationships have become transactional
Stories like these make people question the motives behind love relationships. Some believe that love is no longer the traditional feeling of mutual self-giving, but has become a matter of how each partner can benefit from the other. This line of thinking feeds on the assumption that men want sexual availability from women while women want material assurance from the men. Love has been reduced to a material investment that either the man or the woman waits on for its maturity over time. When this fails, the relationship sours and sometimes ends violently.
Ian Duncan, a reporter with SDE Kenya,tries to explain why Kenyan ladies accept bad relationships and troubled marriages: “Kenyan ladies want to secure their futures (which is not a bad thing, depending on how you look at it).” This implies that love or a relationship is no longer about caring or mutual self-giving, but about what you bring to the table in return for what you get.
However, Duncan’s affirmation confirms that there is a problem in what we understand relationships to be. The frequency with which people exploit one another in what is supposed to be an environment for two people to become intimate and to share a common friendship is very disturbing.
The real meaning of love
This saddens me because it somehow questions everything I know and believe about what love between two people should be. How did we get here? Isn’t love meant to be beautiful, since in loving we share in the very essence of God as love? (1 John 4:8). Is love not supposed to draw us into a deeper conformity with the object of our attraction to build trust, understanding and companionship?
The criminal statistics cited above point to a lack of family values or ethics missing in our society. It even feels as though genuine love relationships have become an illusion for our generation.
According to Lauren Hippert, a theology graduate, love is not the only thing that makes us “human,” “whole” or “complete”. In the first instance, one would resonate with this affirmation to some extent because it sounds convincing. Nevertheless, I believe that love makes us exceptional even in our humanness. This does not mean that as a man, I need a woman to be happy or as a woman, you need a man to be happy.
However, the fact remains that there is something in us that yearns for acceptance and appreciation. We all need love from someone in order to be fulfilled. The important question in every relationship is this: How do we balance the positives and the negatives of the person who attracts our love and attention? The absence of this understanding is what has turned couples against each other.
Finding our moral compass
As a young man living and studying in Nairobi, these stories reported in the media makes me feel that relationships and love are more likely to end badly than have a happy ending. This may well be the sentiment of many of my contemporaries, giving rise to a certain cynicism about love and relationships. What role can society, which is increasingly secularised and individualistic, play in correcting this scourge that is making its way into the consciousness of young people? How many more will have to die in the name of love while society sits by and watches?
A practical way of addressing this reality is to rediscover the ethical value of family support where individuals experience, in a concrete way, the reality of sharing, mutual self-giving, and trust; the training of the mind and the heart. Many family therapists suggest that the lack of family support in society could be the underlining factor since individuals are failing to learn how to manage relationship issues. This results in trading love for material gain. With this form of introspection, society could help individuals to learn how to handle rejection, which is a realistic aspect of relationships.
As we listen to these stories, we are invited to rethink the value of family life and its contribution to a healthier society. As Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia: in the family we learn how “to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience”. Through this we become ambassadors of genuine love practices in an effort to heal our society of this moral evil and its damming consequences.
It is time for us to begin to demystify the unhealthy assumptions that love and relationships must be materially quantified through sex or other somatic gains. The Church is called upon to become a voice in the education of young people and to become an agent in reshaping the understanding of love and relationship among the youth. We, as individual Christians, need to rediscover ourselves as instruments of the Gospel principles and moral agents of the change we hope to see.