Before I attempt to answer this age old question, I’ll start by first telling you what love is not: love is not the butterflies in our stomachs, the goosebumps when skin touches skin, the long day dreams and feelings of “walking on air.” It is not the racing heart, the tingle all the way down to our toes, and the excitement of the first kiss. These things are good and wonderful until we mistake them for love.
What I’ve described is what Gary Chapman calls “the in love feeling.” When we mistake these things for love we tend to chase this feeling. We chase the buzz of the beginning and become dissatisfied or feel as though we’ve fallen out of love when they’re gone. Believing that the in love feeling is love sets us up for serial dating, one-night stands, fantasies about past relationships and/or affairs.
As a counselor, I like to ask my clients how they define love. Their answers tell me a lot about their past and current relationships. You see, the way we define love can set us up to fail or to be successful in relationships. When someone tells me that love and happiness are synonymous, I worry. We tend to buy into what the movies and fairy tales tell us: that one person will come and make all our dreams come true, complete us and make us feel whole, happy, and attractive, and that love is easy. We believe that if we find the “right” person we will be happy when we should instead focus on becoming the right person.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the “right” definition of love will guarantee marital or relational bliss. I am, however, saying that really understanding and believing that love is not butterflies and tingles, but a conscious choice can help us toward marital satisfaction. Understanding that love is a choice can help us practice fidelity and remember that relationships require nurturing and care.
So what is love? Love is a choice made by an imperfect person to love an imperfect person. It is a choice to stay with that person even when it’s hard. It’s a choice to try. It’s a choice to let your differences be meet with understanding, acceptance, and even joy. Is there passion? Yes, but after a while it’s mostly not the explosive kind. It’s the kind of passion that comes from true intimacy: the gift of truly knowing someone and choosing him or her anyway*.
*Please understand I am not advocating staying in marriages or relationships where there is any kind of abuse.