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.