Sunday, January 01, 2006

Is Love a Choice?

I once had a long debate with my mother about whether or not someone can choose to love. I was talking about the non-romantic sort...that between friends or family. I believe that you can love anyone you decide you're going to love. You see the good in them, you believe in them, you support them, you listen to them, and you are there for them when they need you. Sure, there are a lot of people that we choose not to love, because most of us probably only give our love unconditionally to our children. For almost everyone else, we have to feel that the love is reciprocated. If it's not, then we just worry that we're becoming a pest or we're being used. We can have a range of negative emotions with unreciprocated love: anger, hurt, insecurity, embarrassment, rejection. Should we feel this way for loving someone just because they don't love us back?

So, let's move on to romantic love. Is it the same? Can you choose to love someone? I read that there are three C's to romantic love: Chemistry, Compatibility, and Commitment. The chemistry (the attraction) and compatibility (what you have in common) are probably things you can't control. But, I believe we have the power to choose to commit and that it is a major component of love. Both people have to commit or they won't find love. That commitment piece of love is what I'm talking about when I talk about loving friends and's what I described in the first paragraph. But all those emotions involved when it's unreciprocated are magnified to the degree that many people don't want to take the risk.

Twenty-two years ago I was dating a man that I didn't love. I liked the attention he gave me and there were things about him I liked, but I repeatedly told him that I didn't want a serious relationship. Our courtship was very on-again, off-again. But during one of the on-again periods, I ended up pregnant. We decided to get married and it was at that point that I decided I needed to commit to this man. For the first time, I felt fully in love, but it was a choice that I mentally made. I went from a dating relationship full of turmoil to a marriage full of love because of a conscious change on my part to be committed.

I had a 19-year marriage and during that time I didn't question my love for my husband. We had our ups and downs as husbands and wives do, but he was my husband and regardless of changes with the chemistry and compatibility pieces of love, the commitment, especially because of the kids, was enough for me to feel secure in what I thought was mutual love. In the end, he lacked the commitment piece and so we're divorced...but that's another story.

What's my point? If you're dating someone that you feel you have chemistry and compatibility but there seems to be a lack of commitment, why not just "fake it 'til you make it"? Suggest to your partner that you both try giving your full commitment to one another, even if only temporarily to test it out. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the freedom of loving someone fully without that fear of rejection..with the knowledge that they were going to give it back to you?

I decided to try this little experiment When I was dating FB it was he that had that lack of commitment. I was never free to fully "love" him because I knew it would scare him and he'd feel pressure to reciprocate or worry about hurting me. Last year we went away for Valentine's weekend. I told him that I knew he didn't want to "have a serious relationship" yada, yada, yada, but I wanted a weekend full of romance and I wanted us to "act in love." For one weekend I wanted him to give up the commitment-phobia. I give him a lot of credit. He bought me roses and did all the classicly romantic things. He tried to give me what he thought I wanted. But, I guess underneath I knew that it was an act and that it would only last the weekend. FB was not really choosing to commit, but pretending at my request. I used to rationalize that he wouldn't have done that much if he didn't feel some love for me. Why wasn't it OK for me to keep loving someone just because he didn't love me "as much"?

But now, I have experienced being on the "other side." When someone offers their love and affection to me, I worry when I don't feel the same way. I don't want them to feel the same hurt and rejection that I've felt. If I were to "choose to commit" rather than naturally wanting to commit, I'd feel like I was being dishonest, leading them to believe I have deeper feelings than I really do.

On the other hand, maybe many of us are subconsciously (or even consciously) choosing NOT to commit. Maybe we want to wait until the chemistry and compatibility factors are off the charts and THEN decide to commit. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, I probably never would have gotten married and I would have missed out on love, a 19-year marriage, and my 3 children.

When it comes to romantic love, I don't know what's right...choosing to love or hoping it happens naturally. As for friends and family, I firmly believe we have the power to choose to love and should take every opportunity to do so. So on this first day of 2006 I'm going to resolve to love more often and more freely. Happy New Year! I love you, blog readers! :-)

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