I had a conversation recently with a friend about the whole notion of being “in love.” I use quotation marks to distinguish the phrase because the debate was whether or not there is a difference between loving someone and being “in love” with someone. It wasn’t the first time I had engaged in a conversation about the perceived difference. And, after much thought over the years, I say with strong conviction that being “in love” is a cop out.
All those who just gasped in horror are asked to keep reading. There’s good reason for my bold statement. And here it is: I believe you either love someone or you don’t. You can’t – in my opinion – be luke warm about love. You either love someone or your don’t. (Please keep reading.) All that said, I also believe that once our heart decides it loves someone, our rational mind chooses how to categorize that love and what level of commitment that category imposes. For example, there’s the kind of love we have for friends which is characterized by deep connection or understanding. In that kind of relationship, we enjoy the other person’s company and it is likely that we want the best for the other person, but the extent to which we are responsible for that happiness is limited because major life decisions aren’t always shared. There’s the kind of love we hold for our pets. That is a nurturing love, based on pretty simple needs being met for both parties. There’s the deep love parents hold for a child … the connection of having created or cared so deeply for another person that you can’t imagine life without them. And then there’s romantic love…the feeling that we’ve actually found someone who “gets us” and shares common values and goals. We love this person as a life partner and decide it is with this person that we want to build a life. It is the love exaggerated in movies. Sadly, romantic love is often confused with the lust we feel at the beginning of a relationship when everything is new and all of our senses are tingling. But lust wears off over time – or at least comes and goes in waves – and when we no longer feel that excitement of new chemicals rushing through our eager bodies, we look at the other person and say, “Babe, I love you. I’m just not in love with you anymore.” It’s crap. No wonder the divorce rate is so high.
Look, I’m certainly no expert on love or dating or even marriage for that matter. I do the best I can and I hope the people I love know I love them. But as someone who admittedly falls in and out of love with something on a weekly basis, I think I have a pretty good handle on how I think about it all. Just last week, I fell so in love with a bag of cheese curls that I thought I could never go a day without them. Today, the annoying orange powder just irritated me. But next week? Maybe I will like them again. My point? I love cheese curls. Some days they excite me and other days they don’t, but I haven’t stopped loving them. Maybe that’s how we should look at the people we love.
I also think we need to nurture the love we have for others. So many of us take it for granted, assuming that once someone says they love us, we can grow lazy or complacent. Warning! That’s when you’re at risk of hearing that dreaded “in love” thing. When you stop demonstrating all the wonderful qualities that made someone stop and think, “Wow. That person is pretty awesome,” the chances of someone getting bored multiply. Am I suggesting that we need to be at the top of our game all day, every day? Certainly not. I know I don’t have the energy for that. But I am suggesting that relationships take work. And if you’re struggling to find fulfilling and meaningful relationships in your life, maybe it’s because you’re not putting in the effort. And to take that further, romance doesn’t just happen. It is created. Go. Create.
Finally, I will just say this. People are unique and idiosyncratic and complex. The chances of us loving (or even liking) every person we meet are slim. In this great garden of life, we’re lucky to find a few beautiful flowers. Just remember, even they make us sneeze from time to time.