Existential Questions: What is Love?

We see it all the time. A man falls head over heels in love with a woman and decides he’s going to do everything he can to get her. There is lot of drama and nonsense and humor, but in the end he convinces the girl to marry him and they live happily ever after. Love looks so easy we wonder why it doesn’t seem to happen to us. Why don’t the people we like respond to our advances the way they do for others? But wait…oh man, that was just a movie!

This blog goes over a lot of topics that are plagues to our society, causing a decline in our ability to function the way people are supposed to not only in the political sphere, but also in our relationships with others. Popular media in the form of movies and television shows have peppered us with various images of what we have now been convinced love is. The reality is far different than the silver screen depiction of what a real loving relationship looks like.

What we typically see on our screens is actually called infatuation, a powerful and driving urge to attain something we desperately want that we didn’t have before. It comes along whenever we find something that is new and exciting, and our feelings are less about whatever this new thing is and more about how this new thing makes us feel. As long as the thing continues to give us that emotional high, we continue to experience these feelings of infatuation. There is a chemical process associated with this phenomenon.

The problem today is that we tend to confuse infatuation with love, which is a vastly different concept. Infatuation is about satisfying our own desires to feel excited about something. It is a naturally selfish emotion that has no intrinsic value. Love is the exact opposite of this. It is not a feeling, but a choice; a choice to put someone else before yourself because you have decided that they are more important to you than you are.

One of my favorite verses from the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Many of my readers will have never picked up a Bible and have read this verse, and that’s ok. I’m not trying to convince you to become a Christian, but to use this amazing definition of love to point out how off base our view of love has become.

You see, infatuation meets none of these criteria:

  • There is no patience because you can’t wait to feel excited again.
  • There is kindness only when you’re getting what you want; otherwise you’re probably grouchy impatiently waiting to be excited again.
  • We envy others who have it and we’re too proud to admit if our infatuation is bad for us.
  • We dishonor the person we supposedly love by making the relationship about us rather than them, which is self-seeking.
  • We can become easily angered if the person isn’t doing what we want, and how big is the list of faults we keep about the person as the infatuation begins to fade away?
  • How often do we engage in activities that are wrong because of the lack of judgement our emotional high causes, and how many little white lies do we tell to keep things going smoothly?
  • You might protect, but only for your own feelings. You can’t trust someone you barely know, and your hope is in something that is likely fleeting based on statistics. The popular version of love nearly always fails.

Regardless of your viewpoint on Biblical faith, if we take a bit of time to look at what really makes a great relationship work, it isn’t about how the people in it feel. It’s about what the people in it choose to sacrifice for the other. We are each unique individuals and the expectation that our relationships in the real world are going to look anything like these fantasy stories from the movies simply sets us up for a great deal of disappointment. In reality, love is far less glamorous and fun than we see everyone trying to show us.

So what does this mean for us? If we understand that love is not a feeling and is instead a choice we make, then it becomes necessary to start finding ways to make choices that place the people we care about before ourselves. This means setting aside how we feel and putting their needs first. That doesn’t mean we cater to their every whim, but it does mean that when someone really needs us we are there for them. It isn’t flowers or chocolates or date nights or cuddling. Those things are nice, but that isn’t love. Love is sacrificing yourself for someone else.

What do you think about love? Have you experienced what true love is, or are your relationships based on infatuation? Do you have the fortitude to enter into a real, loving relationship with someone? Many of us have unrealistic expectations when it comes to what love is supposed to be, and the reality becomes quite shocking when it finally sets in. Gaining a better understanding of this very powerful concept is key to living our best lives.

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