Posted by: bitsydungaree | June 19, 2008

Love Me, Love Me, Say That You Love Me

Why do we fall in love?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately, along with ones like: What is love? What does it mean? How do we find and preserve it? Can love look completely different but be equally true in different relationships?

I am radically rethinking the idea of love. 

I am beginning to doubt my motives for loving in the past, and am consequently having to restructure what I am looking for now.

A little over a year ago, I fell in love with a man for opening my eyes to my own potential by seeing me as the person I was trying so hard to become, rather than the person I was; a relationship that I have always very much seen as falling in line with Richard’s description of a soul mate in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love:

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants.  But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.  A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.  But to live with a soul mate forever?  Nah.  Too painful.  Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you and then they leave.  And thank God for it.

And, while I don’t think the aforementioned heartbreaker was my soul mate, this passage still rings true because I did find a lot of comfort when I was able to accept that the reason God put this man in my life at a time when I was so discouraged and broken was not so that this poor guy could spend every day for the rest of my life making me feel smart and funny and interesting, but so that I would remember that I actually was those things and begin to heal. 

He trusted me, respected me, challenged me, believed in me.

And while those are all beautiful things, it never struck me until a few days ago that all of the reasons I was so head over heels in love with this man had to do with me, how he treated me, how he made me feel.  Realizing this made me wonder if I was actually in love, not so much with him, but with the feeling that he gave me about myself…in essence, not in love with him, but in love with me!  Ouch!

I think this is one of many dangers in treating love purely as a feeling and not as a choice, something my friend Katie wrote a really great blog about. If we love someone merely because of the feeling that being with them gives us, what happens when we don’t feel it anymore? What happens when the butterflies evolve into more profound feelings that we might not recognize?  With the beautiful range of emotions that our Creator gave us, how can we expect ourselves to experience one feeling every day of our lives and have that alone sustain us and our relationships? If we don’t choose to value and respect the relationship even on the days when we don’t feel mushy and loving, we risk becoming the kind of people who let their marriages dissolve because “the feeling is gone.”

I was mulling over the question of how the heck we are supposed to know we are in love if it isn’t by some sort of magical feeling, and I was taken back to a conversation I had recently with an uncle of mine who asked me, What are three things you love and respect about your boyfriend?  Without even taking a beat to think about my answer, I rattled off:

How deeply he is searching to find the right balance between his life, his work, and his spirituality.

His relationships with his family and friends.

His work ethic.

My list could have included:

He always opens the car door for me.

He calls when he says he will.

He notices my shoes.

He challenges me to be a better version of myself.

He tells me I’m beautiful.

But it didn’t.  And even though that last handful are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things he does to make me feel treasured and insipired, when asked for three things I loved about my man, my immedate responses all had to do with his character.  Holy heck!  Could it be that I have found a man so wonderful that the way he makes me feel is merely a byproduct of a great relationship, as opposed to the entire foundation for it?  Is it possible that I am in a relationship with this man because he is incredible and not just because he makes me feel incredible about myself? 

A dear girlfriend of mine from college wrote a blog a few days ago that really hit home with all of these ideas I have been trying to sort out in my own head, talking about loving someone for who they are as opposed to what they do for you.  I may be putting words in her mouth now, but in addition to discussing what are often our very selfish motives for loving others, I think she also touches on the idea that we can’t truly love someone else until we accept the responsibility for our own development and our own strength rather than waiting around for someone else to show up and nudge us along on the path of self-actualization and then falling in love with them for it.

But what about the other side, the aspect of love that undeniably does help us grow and develop?  How do we make love about the other person and not about what the other person does for us without discrediting the invaluable work taking place within us because of that love?  How do we appreciate the ways that our partner challenges and encourages us without making our love contingent upon their undying devotion to our own maturation process?  How do we love wholly and unselfishly? 

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Responses

  1. I think you’re on the right track – thinking about exactly what love is. People usually bundle together a lot of different things into that concept, it seems to me – some of which don’t really belong there.

  2. Yay. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose mind runs in circles about these matters. I’ve been getting little shredded inside from getting too close to a person who, by your definition, fills the soul mate function in my life right now. I can agree with the statement that it’s too much to be with that person forever, but, my question is, how is it ever enough to be with anyone else? A poem I’ve been thinking about this week, as response (and perhaps counter-argument) to your blog:
    “Failing and Flying”
    by Jack Gilbert
    Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
    It’s the same when love comes to an end,
    or the marriage fails and people say
    they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
    said it would never work. That she was
    old enough to know better. But anything
    worth doing is worth doing badly.
    Like being there by that summer ocean
    on the other side of the island while
    love was fading out of her, the stars
    burning so extravagantly those nights that
    anyone could tell you they would never last.
    Every morning she was asleep in my bed
    like a visitation, the gentleness in her
    like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
    Each afternoon I watched her coming back
    through the hot stony field after swimming,
    the sea light behind her and the huge sky
    on the other side of that. Listened to her
    while we ate lunch. How can they say
    the marriage failed? Like the people who
    came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
    and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
    I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
    but just coming to the end of his triumph.


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