My son is in his first real relationship at 16. It’s wonderful to witness how he smiles and laughs around her, how they just seem comfortable around each other. What impresses me the most is how he gives of himself for her. There’s a quiet ease in which he cares for her, so natural it seems innate.
I don’t know what their future holds, but I do know this: For their relationship to last, to thrive, they will both need to understand that love is not a feeling.
Love is a choice. Love is an action.
We so often describe love as the feelings we experience when we’re around another person. Attraction. Euphoria. Connection. Giddiness. Comfort. Happiness. Safety. Lightness. Those emotions are all well and good. They serve a purpose. They’re our motivators to continue exploring a relationship. At some point, though, we have to make the choice to turn those motivating emotions into action.
We have to love — to choose to put the needs of another on the same plane as our own. Even when we’ve found the right connection, the right person for us, this choice isn’t always easy. We have this unconscious selfishness that clouds and challenges our choice to love another. Whenever I hear of some couple who’s still together after 50 years, my inner voice echoes, holy shit, that’s a lot of hard work.
Love is hard work. There’s no way around it. If we want to bask in — and cherish — the sunshine, we have to weather the storms. Not just our own storms. We have to be right there with our partners in their storms. Sometimes this just requires safe harbor, a steady hand, and understanding ear. Other times it means we’re up to our necks in the gory details of real life.
We cannot forget to love ourselves, either. Loving another isn’t a constant sacrificing of self. We have to be open with our partners when we need something selfish. When we need healthy time alone or with others outside of our relationship. When we need their affirmation and sacrifice. When we need everything right this instant to be about us. Giving of ourselves constantly without this space to be selfish is a recipe for resentment in a relationship.
It’s taken me a long time to understand these things about love. My road is strewn with potholes and pileups, where I didn’t make the choices that love required.
My marriage failed in large part because I was unwilling to make the choices to maintain it, to love, instead running away from the issues that challenged it. I too often made it all about me, instead of her or us.
In the relationship that followed, I dove in head first, determined to do this one right. I made the necessary choices to build our life together, putting the concept of us on the highest pedestal. I removed those behaviors and people from my life that might threaten the relationship. I poured my energy into making it work. I did the hard work. I wasn’t without mistake or fault, but love was a choice, an action, that I took day in and day out. She wasn’t able to choose me unequivocally, to put me and us on the same plane as her own. She pleaded that she’d get there someday, but her actions eroded any trust that she’d ever put me on equal footing in the relationship. My growing resentment ate away at my choice and commitment to love, until I knew I had to walk away to preserve my dignity and self-respect.
Perhaps I needed to be on both sides of this concept of love as choice before I could really understand — and more importantly — live it. I find myself today in the healthiest relationship of my life, one where we both understand that its success requires making the choice to love — even when it’s hard. We’re fortunate that the sunshine in our lives currently outweighs the storms. We’ve both come through serious tumult in our lives with an individual determination to live with more healthy, mature, and positive mindset and behaviors. We know how fortunate we are, that what we have is special and deserves our constant care and feeding. We choose to love, ourselves and each other, day in and day out.
I’ve tried to keep my advice to my son at a minimum, giving him gentle, realistic encouragement when the opportunity arises. He needs to learn through his own experience, even if it means he has his own potholes and pileups. It takes practice to get good at this choice called love.