12 February 2016

I Don't Want to Be in Love

"I love you, I'm just not sure that I'm in love with you."

If you have been in a relationship, had a friend explain their troubles or watched a romance play out on television, you have probably heard this line. The people involved are looking for something which is hard to describe. "In love is a feeling," they might say, and then go on about heart-warming, stomach-flipping, can't-think-about-anything-else sensations. Being "in love" is supposed to be the pinnacle of all states of being.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, "Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling." If you go off of what the sitcoms say, the feeling of being in love is the highest ideal we could attain. Their characters look for soulmates and switch from partner to partner in order to find whoever it is that really makes them feel fulfilled. But if we have only this understanding of love, we truly miss out by avoiding the Source of all Love, God.

"What a Christian thing to say," one might scoff. But I think it is a far cry better than what the words and the world suggests. In the first case, we often speak of "falling in love," as if we could just as easily and accidentally "fall" for someone else. This is a passive relationship with love; it is something that happens to us, beyond our control, even against our wishes. As a result, such a love might rule us, rather than us ruling our own lives. In the second case, the "in love" culture of the world feeds other cultures: the "being in love is more important than just loving a person" culture, the "I'm not in love with you anymore, so we have to split up" culture and the "I won't be complete until I'm in love with someone who is in love with me" culture. These cultures encourage skewed logic, flightiness and unhealthy dependence. Is it any wonder that the divorce rate is so high when we think if we are no long "in love" with someone, we should no longer commit to the person? We should not rely only upon such feelings, for they shift and change even over the course of a day. We should not submit to ideas which perpetuate restlessness, for our hearts are restless until they rest in God (St. Augustine).

Now, being "in love" is not a completely abhorrent thing. C.S. Lewis continues:

"But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second senselove as distinct from 'being in love'is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself."

If falling in love is chance, loving is choice. Each day, we can choose to give love to another, whether that is in a romantic sense or a filial sense. We are in charge of the love we have to give to others. This can be difficult, especially when our loved ones seem difficult. Just ask my husband: he can tell you about the times I have been difficult to love (maybe he would if he wasn't too much of a gentleman). And I can attest to the times that he has been frustrating (granted, I am an impatient person). It is the ones who know us best, who we love best, who know exactly which buttons to press.

Choosing to love is not always a simple task. Loving, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) wrote, is demanding. "Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom," he wrote in his book Love and Responsibility. This limitation could be as minor as redirecting our plans for the sake of what a loved one wants to do, or it can be major. Have you ever heard a man refer to his wife as the old "ball and chain?" If we view people we love as a punishment rather than a joy, we completely miss the point of love. Wojtyla continues, "Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing.... If freedom is not used, is not taken advantage of by love, it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment." Not only is there freedom in love, freedom requires love in order to be directed toward a life worth living.

Loving, then, is not a burden, nor is it deficient when compared to being in love. Love has the power to order our whole life, to give us the opportunity to live well. This is a great joy and something we should strive after, rather than be barely content with. Our greatest Love gave Himself over to great suffering and death, so that we might be made free. By so doing, He has taught us what it is to Love and what true freedom is.

Where does our beginning quotation stand now? "I love you, I'm just not sure that I'm in love with you." It wasn't enough for person A to love person B. But for me, I don't want someone to only be in love with me. In love isn't enough. In love is fleeting and temporary. I want permanence, choice and freedom. I want to be made better by love, not merely feel something for a time. I don't want to be in love. Only love is enough.

*Thank you to Fr. L for his homily which was the inspiration behind this post.

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