A reader in Florida, apparently bruised by some personal experience, writes in to complain, “If I steal a nickel’s worth of merchandise, I am a thief and punished; but if I steal the love of another’s wife, I am free.”
This is a prevalent misconception in many people’s minds—that love, like merchandise, can be “stolen”. Numerous states, in fact, have enacted laws allowing damages for “alienation of affections”.
But love is not a commodity; the real thing cannot be bought, sold, traded or stolen. It is an act of the will, a turning of the emotions, a change in the climate of the personality.
When a husband or wife is “stolen” by another person, that husband or wife was already ripe for the stealing, was already predisposed toward a new partner. The “love bandit” was only taking what was waiting to be taken, what wanted to be taken.
We tend to treat persons like goods. We even speak of the children “belonging” to their parents. But nobody “belongs” to anyone else. Each person belongs to himself, and to God. Children are entrusted to their parents, and if their parents do not treat them properly, the state has a right to remove them from their parents’ trusteeship.
Most of us, when young, had the experience of a sweetheart being taken from us by somebody more attractive and more appealing. At the time, we may have resented this intruder—but as we grew older, we recognized that the sweetheart had never been ours to begin with. It was not the intruder that “caused” the break, but the lack of a real relationship.
On the surface, many marriages seem to break up because of a “third party”. This is, however, a psychological illusion. The other woman or the other man merely serves as a pretext for dissolving a marriage that had already lost its essential integrity.
Nothing is more futile and more self-defeating than the bitterness of spurned love, the vengeful feeling that someone else has “come between” oneself and a beloved. This is always a distortion of reality, for people are not the captives or victims of others—they are free agents, working out their own destinies for good or for ill.
But the rejected lover or mate cannot afford to believe that his beloved has freely turned away from him— and so he ascribes sinister or magical properties to the interloper. He calls him a hypnotist or a thief or a home-breaker. In the vast majority of cases, however, when a home is broken, the breaking has begun long before any “third party” has appeared on the scene.