“I don’t know if I love her.”
I hear this over and over again when my friends talk about their relationships. The single guy who is anticipating marriage says, “I don’t want to commit to marriage because I am just not sure if ‘it’ is there.” Or the married guy who has been hitched for a few years says, “I just don’t ‘feel’ it, I don’t think I love her anymore.”
Some are hesitant about entering a relationship; others wonder whether it’s time to activate the ejection seat. This constant refrain, this question about whether love is present in a way that warrants lifelong commitment, is paralyzing for these conflicted souls.
Yes, we all know that marriage must be grounded in love — and the search for it is noble — but how we define “love” is critical to “finding” it in our relationships. The problem for my friends is that they have imbibed a definition of love preached by popular culture: a euphoric experience, primarily manifesting as butterflies in the stomach or a tingling sensation in other organs (wink). And I think this is the root cause of their ailment.
The ancients understood love as a virtue that can be cultivated, like a musician learning to play an instrument. There is something painfully awkward about watching an amateur guitar player trying to play and sing for the first time. It usually turns into: strum, pause, sing a line, repeat. I usually smile nervously at this graceless beginner because he’s uncomfortable to watch (OK, I admit, I was once that guy).
But, if he keeps practicing, there does come a time when the sound evolves from a “joyful noise” to a something more tolerable. The ability to play music has to be developed; it is not just “there” like a mystical force.
Love is the same way.
The way we understand love is critical. A definition that swims in the shallow pool of euphoria, idolizing the smutty, narrated by popular culture, is a recipe for dysfunction. We need a more virtuous understanding that rebels against anything that eschews gritty commitment.
When the Apostle Paul writes the definition for love, his description has sweet nothing to do with a flimsy euphoria that comes and goes. He says,“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Paul assumes that moments of impatience, hopelessness, dishonour, self-seeking, and anger will exist in human relationships. Love is not the absence of these things; rather, it is the gut-wrenching act of rebelling against them.
“I don’t know if I love her.” The entire phrase is a misnomer; it’s grounded in a misunderstanding of the essence of love. If you are waiting for a prolonged sense of euphoria, you’re waiting for something other than love. Don’t expect love to mystically appear before you commit — because it won’t. Love exists where it is practiced.
Photo (Flickr CC) by ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser.