Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Love is a Decision

At Rosh Hashana services this year, our Rabbi used a throwaway line in her sermon that really stuck with me: "Love is a decision." The quote was part of a sermon that discussed house and home and family and how our spiritual temple community fits with all those concepts, but it was this particular line that stayed with me weeks later.  The line is actually a central tenet of popular Christian marriage encounter weekends and marriage counseling, but it's a simple, non-denominational idea that firmly fits in with my philosophy of what this whole forever-love idea means to us and what it means to chose your partner and accept both their warts and wonderfulness. To paraphrase some of the quotes from around the internet,

"Love is not an emotion, love it not a feeling, love is not happen-stance. Love is a decision. Love is waking up every day committed to honoring your mate. Love is daily action."

The idea that love is daily action and commitment based in the decision to love feels right to me as I enter into marriage, which is the most monumental love-decision I have tackled.  I've had butterfly-in-the-stomach love and tortured unreciprocated love and love-him-despite/because-he's-wrong-for-me love, but with J, it's the first time I've every had comfortable, trusting, completely-right love. At first, it took me a while to recognize what I had with him, since I was so unused to healthy, supportive, balanced relationships. About six months into our relationship I knew this was different and deeper than anything I'd felt before, but it was so different from the tumultuous love of previous relationships that I didn't know how to define whether I was in love this time around. Being the giant nerd that I am, I started researching - yes, researching - love to figure out if that's what was happening between me and J.

What I discovered was that I defined love differently at 26 than I'd defined it at 20.  My priorities were less about the heady rush of emotions and more about whether I trusted my partner, whether he made me laugh, whether I felt comfortable to be my most honest self, whether he challenged me to improve myself, whether he was reliable and honest in his everyday interactions, and whether we shared the same core values about family, religion and life-goals. I sat and assessed each of these factors and came to the conclusion that I was in love with J.  The words "I love you" didn't happen in a moment of emotional joy - I decided to love my partner.      

These last few months have clarified that I made the right decision. We've had setback after setback, but the one constant has been having each other to come home to.  The morning after our engagement, we found out my mother was in a foreign hospital and my family is still managing the repercussions of that incident. Then my back went out, leaving me incapable of walking for several days and permanently changing how I approach exercise and health.  Several people in our family have recently been laid off due to the economy, including J (though we are extraordinarily lucky that he found a new job and starts next Monday).  And these last few days I have been sick with a horrific flu - sicker than I've been since my childhood, and J has been here for me the entire time, taking care of me despite the grossness and serious inconvenience for him. 

Although these last few months have been challenging, they've also been some of the most incredible months of my life. I know that I have a partner to strengthen me against all of life's grossness and inconvenience and downright awfulness. Being with J makes the good times amazing and the bad times bearable. We've decided to love each other, which is deeper and stronger than emotional happenstance, and which will fortify our commitment to each other even when life plays havoc with our notions of stability and success.

When we didn't live together, I never let J visit when I was sick.  Being sick was too personal, letting him see me in a weakened sickly state terrified me and I was insistent that I could take care of myself.  But now, having come out on the other side of these last few months and these last few days, I'm revising that earlier impulse to push him away. His emotional support and caretaking have shown me the man he is at his core, and prove that I am right to trust him so deeply. We've seen each other at our worst and fiercely continue to love each other anyhow because we're sticking with our decision to love each other.  Love is deeper than a feeling or emotion because it hits at the very core of where life's ugly and beautiful intersect. It makes me shiver with both joy and anticipation that I finally really understand what it means to commit to "for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, til death do us part."

J, I choose you.

11 comments:

  1. Dude, you should really read bell hooks' all about love (which you may remember we used for one of our readings in our ceremony); very much about this love as a decision thing. Very powerful stuff to think about, and I agree, very centering when things are hard. Wishing you the best and a speedy recovery!

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  2. this post resonated with me immensely. mike and i have been through a lot, as you know. our love for each other at 20 years old was completely different than it is now at 26 or even what it was two years ago at age 24. i understand part of that was growing up and dealing with the change that comes in our crazy 20's. two years ago, i feel like we were given a second chance to really understand what our love is and what it means to be a truly devoted partner to one another. it was a choice - it was a decision - one that i know we made with a clear head (this time around). and i'm so thankful for it - because knowing for sure that your partner is going to be your LIFE partner, is the best feeling in the world.

    thanks for this post. and glad you're starting to feel a little better. it's nice J was able to be home with you through all the grossness ;)

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  3. I totally relate to so many thoughts in your post. I could easily copy and paste this onto my own blog and switch out the names :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I often tell people that for the first time in my life, I feel like I have a truly 'healthy' relationship. There's no other way I can best describe it. So happy for you and J and wishing you good health soon.

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  4. yes this is something i've learned. it seems like we decide if someone is right for us, if their good qualities outweigh also putting up with their bad qualities, and it's a very personal decision that no one can make for you because what works for one couple might not work for another.

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  5. *Claps*
    This is a great post and I'm glad you shared it. Love definitely feels different now at 26 than when we met at 19. I had a lot more questions back then about love and relationships, mostly of the "ohmygodhowcanIlivewithouthim" kind of love. I'm glad I've made it this far and have found a life partner.
    I gotta find that bell hooks book now.

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  6. Great post. Love is a decision. Such a powerful and true statement.

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  7. My brother, who is a brilliant psychologist but that's beside the point, made this toast at my sister's wedding. "When in doubt, choose in the direction of love."

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  8. So true. Its tough letting someone see you when your not at your best. But letting someone in, for better or worse, just makes the bond stronger.

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  9. Great post. Totally with you on love being a choice.

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  10. Fantastic post. This is actually a point that was made at our pre-cana retreat before the wedding. A couple who'd been married 50 years said that love is a decision, whether it's a good day or a bad day, you decide to love one another and make life-giving decisions, and sometimes sacrifices, to nurture that love and relationship. It's not always flowers and rainbows and steak dinners, it's finding peace and comfort with someone who understands you and loves you at your very worst and best.

    I love reading your blog. Thank you for writing it.

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