Today is St. Valentine’s Day and people have very different attitudes to that. Some, like Ebenezer Scrooge, say, ‘Bah humbug!’; others say, ‘You should show your love every day, not just on February 14th’; and others – like me – say, ‘I love a good excuse to celebrate – and I think love is worth celebrating!’.
Over the last few weeks, I have been asking people what the difference is between loving someone and being in love. Today I will share some of their answers and then over the next few days we will hear from a few guests who have written their own posts for me.
I asked a couple of married friends who were visiting us. The wife said that you could love anyone or anything (you could love your boss or you could love an orange), but being in love for her was that special dimension which meant that she wanted to do special things to demonstrate her love for her husband every day. Her husband, on the other hand, thought that the feelings of being in love could be transient and shallow, while really loving someone within the commitment of marriage involves a much deeper kind of love.
My friend Eva said: ‘In my experience “being in love” is a fantastic experience but needs to be followed by or become true loving – in sickness and in health. The”being in love” phase is passing but love develops and grows. Ken and I have been married for 50 years and I could and do cheerfully rage at him sometimes for silly things like never closing cupboard doors or never putting anything back where it belongs, but that doesn’t stop the love!’
Anne said: ‘On the 4th November we celebrated 51 years of marriage ….We were both young – 23 and 27 and very much “ in love”, expressing our love and commitment to one another for the rest of our lives together…..”to love and to cherish, …till death do us part.” There were lots of unknowns ahead of us as we began our married life, not least for me, leaving Canada for Ireland, which was both exciting and scary! …… When I think about how special my husband is to me, I’m humbled by the way God has blessed my life with his faithful love. He is my closest friend and the encourager that helps me believe in the purposes God has called me to. He is a very special person in my life, together always! I love him dearly.’
Being in love is a ‘you make my stomach tingle’ kind of feeling
For Isabela and Caroline, ‘being in love’ includes ‘feelings of romance, passion, excitement, and a sense of being intoxicated with the other person; an emotional feeling that is wonderful, fleeting, exhilarating, exhausting (it’s difficult to sleep much), one-dimensional, intoxicating and fun’. Isabela’s 15-year old daughter said, ‘It’s romantic in nature, full of surprises, unable to be apart, constant reminders of how much you’re thinking about someone, a ‘you make my stomach tingle’ kind of feeling.’
Caroline thinks that these intense feelings ‘tend to give way to deeper levels of love and commitment (such as companionship and sacrificial love) as the relationship progresses‘ but ‘couples can continue to reawaken these affections as they invest time and energy into cultivating the art of “being in love”. Loving someone is a state of the will that is demonstrated through action.’
Loving someone is akin to tending to a beautiful garden
Isabela made this beautiful analogy: ‘Loving someone is akin to tending to a beautiful garden which grows more stunning over time IF properly nurtured, watered and cared for with buckets and buckets of love and humility and regularly removing weeds and thistles such as bitterness, pride, dishonesty, selfishness, anger and others……. As someone has said, love “can never be perfected, only made better over time with practice and commitment as an athlete or musician improve with patient discipline.” ‘
Alison echoed this theme when she said, ‘Real love begins much deeper down than feelings and often needs adversity or difficulty in which to grow and develop. It is when we are up against the tensions of living together, when we are confronted with flaws and character traits (in the other person and ourselves) that feelings can plummet and disintegrate. Contrary to what we could think, this is where true love begins and not where it ends. It is the place where the will and commitment come into play. True love begins in choosing to love and in choosing to be committed to that person no matter what. Our relational roots begin to go much deeper down than the unstable, superficial level of feelings into something much stronger and secure – “I am committed to you and to this relationship!”
This deep, lasting, sacrificial kind of love was wonderfully illustrated by a remark I heard recently from a man who has been married for almost 50 years to a beautiful, strong, courageous woman who is battling a terminal illness with faith and dignity. He is caring for her with that commitment which only comes from a long-lasting relationship which has been tried and tested. They have both maintained their humour through the hospitalisations, treatments, surgeries and the loss of dignity which go along with them. He says, ‘I spent the first years of our marriage trying to get her into the shower with me – and now I have to get into the shower with her!’
I have an image etched in my mind forever. When my mum was on her death bed, she had been a bit agitated, trying to pull tubes away and blankets off….until my dad arrived in a wheelchair by her side. She couldn’t see him or hear him, but they held hands, just as they had done for 60 years. And she knew. She knew it was him and he had come to say goodbye. She calmed down and shortly after that she slipped away, at peace. Now that was love – the deep, strong kind, forged through years which were made up of days when they felt in love and days when they felt out of love, years of choosing to love when they didn’t feel like it, years of tending to the garden.