VALENTINE'S DAY POST: A Reflection On The Cost Of Choosing To Love

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

For years, my best friend and I have often talked about the psychology of love and romantic relationships.

We've read books, articles, listened to podcasts, watched movies, and discussed heavily and deeply why people act the way they act, why they do the things they do, and why we, ourselves, have handled our own relationships the way we have from the time we first became friends ten years ago.

So it was nothing new that I sent her a link today to a TED talk called, “A Better Way To Talk About Love.”

She watched almost immediately and responded, saying how much she was loving the love-themed TED talks all over her newsfeed this Valentine’s Day.

In these casual and unofficial “studies” we’ve done for nearly a decade, I’ve come to a personal conclusion that I realized was reiterated, however unintentionally, as I watched these videos on love this morning.

And the conclusion was this: that love is a choice.

I saw this theme in the video I mentioned above—“A Better Way To Talk About Love.” As Mandy Len Catron describes, tongue in cheek, the ways in which we talk about love: by falling, burning, aching, yearning for the beloved—we inevitably set the tone for the way in which we experience it. These terms, all in different ways, suggest a victimhood. These metaphors imply that we are victims of love, rather than actors in a very specific, deliberate action—the act of giving and receiving love.

While Len Catron suggests in her talk that it would be advisable to consider love in a deliberate, active way—rather than the passive way we view it when we describe it using these metaphors—I’d take that one step further. Real, actual love—love that mirrors the love our Lord feels for us and more importantly, the love that our Lord IS—is an active love.

And more importantly, it is a choice.

Another TED talk, titled, “This is what enduring love looks like,” tells the story of two photographers who pursued a project on enduring love. They traveled to Vegas for what was deemed “the largest speed dating event in the world” and one of the photographers took photos while the other (a single woman who’d never been in a longterm relationship) participated in the event. They described, in a sentence or two, each encounter the female photographer had—19 in total. Then, they traveled to another event, where they photographed couples who’d been together for many, many years—some upwards of 50. When the trip was over, they concluded one similarity in both the couples who’d been long married and the singles who participated in the speed dating event: endurance. Each, regardless of the circumstances, endured frustration and sadness and difficulty, for the sake of finding or maintaining love. And again, I take that one step further: first, they chose to do so.

Love is an action. It’s something we do, not something we simply fall into. Just as the Lord gave us free will, He did not give us any real guidelines by which we choose our beloved. He did not say, “this person must subscribe to the same political beliefs,” nor did he say, “this person must also think Beyonce is great.” Rather, the guidelines He gave come into play AFTER that choice has been made—stay faithful to your spouse, for better or for worst. And this is important in that since there’s no real guidelines for choosing a beloved, there’s no guarantees that one person is easier than another.

This tells us, therefore, that it’s not about the person. It is about the choice.

So the real, moral issue here comes into play not so much in the selection of that specific person, but afterward—when we are then required to make that choice again, and again, and again—in moments when it is much less appealing to do so.

And Len Catron touches on this in a second TED talk, titled, “Falling In Love Is The Easy Part.” At the end of her talk, she refers to an article published for the Modern Love column of the New York Times, in which she wrote this statement:

“Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

She elaborates as she recounts this statement in her talk:

“I cringe a little when I read that now, not because it isn’t true, but because, at the time, I really hadn’t considered everything that was contained in that choice. I didn’t consider how many times we would each have to make that choice, and how many times I will continue to have to make that choice, without knowing whether or not he will always choose me.”

But this is the nature and very essence of love—the vulnerability of giving it, without the guarantee that it will be reciprocated.

It is this self-sacrificing aspect of love that makes it real, and makes it true, and makes it an action. This is what makes it a choice.

While I have a very deep appreciation for those great Catholics many of us know like Jason and Crystallina Evert, Bobby Angel and Jackie Francois, I’m also very critical of them. I feel that in their mission to encourage chastity amongst young, unmarried Catholics, they’ve also inadvertently set the standard for romantic relationships impossibly high, and have left very little room for Catholic young people to be accepting of anything short of perfection in their significant other.

This is, quite simply, not the truth about love.

Love is not a conditional action based on the beloved’s worthiness. We cannot, and should not, choose not to love someone because of the mistakes they’ve made or the flaws they manifest. If this were appropriate in love, this “love” would be more self-serving than not, which negates the entire point.

Rather, love must exist without conditions for it to be real. As Mother Teresa has said, “Love, to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”

And how do we know?

How do we know that this is what real, true love looks like? How do we know that love isn’t something innate that we’re thrust into involuntarily, or that it’s a warm, fuzzy feeling we get that eventually goes away, and so we move on to the next “beloved”?

Because the death of the Lord on the cross IS love. It is the epitome of self-sacrifice, and the example we, as Christians, look to in discovering the right way to love.

We’re taught that Christ was given this choice, and what’s more, we’re taught He was tempted, many times over the course of His earthly life, to refuse it. But He accepted this call, this action of self-giving love, with the knowledge that mankind might not choose Him back. It cost, and it hurt, and it emptied Him of self—but it brought the purpose of our existence full circle.

And now, we too, are free to love.

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