Is love unnatural?
An old, clichéd question people ask after a relationship goes sour is, “where did the love go?”
They say this as if love is an entity separate from ourselves which we have no authority over, as if the amount of time we love someone for is out of our control. People talk wistfully of “falling out of love” like it is something inevitable that happens over time…but this could not be farther from the truth.
We are direct contributors to the love we experience in life and are just as liable for our loss of it.
Love is not something that happens to us—it is something that we ourselves cultivate.
A man who has stopped loving his wife has chosen to do so. It didn’t just happen. Love does not dissipate; rather it ceases to be active when people stop practicing it. In that way it is like a muscle—use it or lose it.
I’m sick of hearing that there are different kinds of love. Of course there are different ways to express love depending on whether it is your sister, grandmother, coworker or boyfriend we are talking about. But love, at its core, is the same.
It is the exercise of selfless actions for the sole purpose of another person’s benefit or comfort, universally.
Above all, love is not an emotion. It is a verb. It is often tangled with and affected by emotions but the feelings associated with love are not the love itself. They may facilitate the love but they are not the love. It is one thing to have feelings for someone; it is another thing entirely whether or not we choose to act on those feelings. Actively loving a person requires more than emotion. Love is something a person consciously extends to another, regardless of feelings involved.
The ideal situation is for two people who have feelings for each other to mutually love one another, but that’s just one example of love, not the definition of it.
The feelings involved actually have very little to do with the love itself.
What society likes to call “falling in love” is really called developing feelings. You meet someone, you develop feelings for them, and then if and when you choose to act on those feelings—that is when the love begins. Someone who cares about a person very much but never acts on those feelings cannot be said to be actively loving that person.
A simple word that sums up how it should feel to be loved is ‘safe.’ That should be the lover’s goal, to make the other person feel as safe as humanly possible. That person should feel free from danger—physical and emotional—free from all worry, insecurity and doubt. Ideally, that person should feel completely at peace.
Some might call this happiness. What if the whole world strived to make each other feel like that?
There seems to be a myth that true love is effortless, but that is not true. People are inherently selfish creatures; therefore any act that serves others instead of oneself requires effort. True love is not effortless.
In fact, it asks a whole lot of us. It asks for our entire selves and requires active, mindful participation. But it is so, so worth it. True love is not effortless but it is heavenly. It brings forth the best in us—the shining, liberated side of ourselves hidden underneath all the other bullsh*t. A loving person is the pinnacle of human potential, for that person unleashes what is normally beyond human capability: genuine, unadulterated kindness.
Because love goes against the default self-serving human mindset, no, it is not natural. It’s a learned behavior. It isn’t failsafe either; it is fragile. And it always involves a choice. There is always the choice to love someone. It may be difficult, but we always can. For example, doing something kind for someone you hate is love just as much as buying your girlfriend flowers is. One just comes more easily than the other.
So really, saying I love you is not the admission of some unquellable surge inside you as much as it is a promise, an avowal not that you ‘love’ that person, but that you will love that person. That you will wake up every day and choose that person, all over again, with every loving act that you do.
Love is powerful, but it is not unavoidable. It must be nurtured and maintained and revered. It is unnatural–inhuman really, in its strangeness—and it is the closest we will ever get to heaven while on earth.
Author: Rachel O’Connor
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Charlotte Astrid on Flickr