What You Need to Hear if You Still Think Real Love is a Feeling
We constantly try to define love. Is it a verb? A noun? A feeling? A choice? Is it just a chemical reaction in the brain? In reality, it's so many different things, and it takes on different forms with different people and different relationships.
The kind of love I feel for my children, for example, is not the same kind of love I feel for my German Shepherd. Sorry, Emma! I suppose the main difference being that there are a lot of things I would sacrifice for my children that I wouldn't sacrifice for Emma, no matter how cute her puppy dog eyes are. In that sense, love becomes about obligation. That obligation is the driving force behind my choices in life. There is nothing I wouldn't do for my children; and that gives me a large amount of patience, bravery, and honesty that I don't dole out to just anyone.
I haven't had the easiest life, and that is quite an understatement. But things started to get easier, and I learned how to really be happy when I learned to love myself with a sense of obligation. I often hear people who are deeply committed say that love is a choice, not a feeling. That it's about making a conscious effort daily despite personal feelings and despite the routines of daily life. I couldn't agree more. But are we loving ourselves in that way? After I worked through some things from my past and shed off my guilt and shame, I began to see myself differently. For lack of a better phrase, I started to fall in love with myself all over again.
I felt an obligation to be more patient, more brave, and more honest about getting what I want and need and more importantly, about getting what I deserve out of life.
But it's still a daily choice. Just like it is in any relationship, loving myself is a daily choice. To do what is best for myself even if it isn't what is easy or comfortable. When loving myself is a choice, it is so much easier to look past the present and into what kind of future I want for myself despite my feelings, and to do whatever I need to do to make those things happen (or at least to know that I tried).
To anyone struggling with loving yourself, I'm reminded of something my old pastor said about keeping the passion alive in his marriage. He was talking about that daily choice of showing love regardless of feelings and how that doesn't have to feel like something we have to do but rather something that can help reignite those feelings. That by doing something for the person we love, we can put that spark back into our relationship. He went on to speak about how he went to the store feeling like, "Hmmm, yeah I guess I love my wife" and proceeded to get her something. Then he thought of something else she would like and got that too. With everything he grabbed, he thought, "Man, I really do love my wife." Then he saw flowers and knew those would make her happy as well. By the end of the shopping trip, he had an arm full of sweets, flowers, etc. and a huge smile on his face as he thought, "I LOVE my wife so much!!!"
This is where is starts with loving yourself - with doing things that you know make you happy. If you feel as if you've spent so much time sacrificing for others that you don't even know what makes you happy, it's time to get to know yourself again! Treat it how you would any other relationship. Ask questions. Try new things. And on those tough day when you don't feel like doing much, make the choice to make an effort. Get off the couch. Make a nice meal for yourself or go for a walk or whatever it is you like to do for fun, and little by little, you will become a priority to yourself again. Then when you find someone you have feelings for, you will know what you want and what you need, and you won't be afraid to ask for it. And whether you meet the right or the wrong person, well, you will feel an obligation to yourself to be brave and honest about your needs.
In that sense, I think love really is as simple as being a choice. This is where I think we get it wrong in calling love a feeling. It begins with feelings of course, but those feelings have to turn into real intentions. And those intentions have to turn into a feeling of obligation to make the right choices even if they're difficult. This in turn has to lead to action. That is real love.
The couple pictured above is my best friend and her new husband. I took their engagement photos in D.C. and attended their wedding last summer. I probably gave them the most unromantic speech at their rehearsal dinner. I spoke about how some weddings are just annoying. The couple is usually still in the obnoxious lovey-dovey stage where it's all puppies and rainbows, and the struggles of real long-term commitment haven't set it. I went on to say that on the day of the engagement shoot, they were bickering about directions and where to eat, etc., but that when it was time to pose, they needed zero direction. They held each other, looked into each other's eyes, and could've stayed there all day...or at least until we all got hungry-cranky! Then when I went to edit the photos, it was so inspiring to see the love in their eyes. I wrapped it up to say that they've already had their ups and downs and made it through the stage where love seems like a feeling then turns into a choice in which they truly love and respect each other with their actions. For them that feeling of love has not only grown into the daily choice to love, but it has also grown into a trust that the other person will continue to make the same choice as well. And honestly, after experiencing a long-suffering break up, their real kind of love is what has made me believe in love again. I will have days in which I still feel hurt or afraid or even just plain indifferent, but I've made the choice for myself - not to avoid feelings but to wait until those feelings turn into real action.
I feel like I should add something, because when this was originally posted, I received a response that love is actually about commitment, forgiveness, and selflessness. Of course I believe that real love includes those things. They're absolutely crucial in committed love, but again, it boils down to a choice vs. a feeling. It's easy to think we would forgive someone of anything when we're in the falling in love stage. But during long-term commitment, it's during the tough times when we need to forgive our partner in which we most likely won't feel like it. So it becomes a choice to forgive. A choice to continue to put our partner's needs above our own even if we're hurt or don't agree with something they've done. Have I always made these good choices in the past? No. But I've chosen to forgive myself and hopefully learn from my own mistakes.
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