Monday, May 7, 2007

Love is Not Love

....It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.....

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Last Saturday was my wife's 40th birthday. She was expecting some kind of big party or event after having thrown me a wonderful surprise party for my own 40th birthday, four years ago. Obviously, I had to launch a campaign of disinformation and distraction to keep her off the trail. I told her all sorts of rot about how I couldn't do much for her, given time and money and so on. I don't think she believed any of it, but it kept her on her toes.

In the end, I whisked her off to New York City with no more than a few hours' notice for a weekend of food, fun, and friends she hadn't seen in almost a year. It was a great weekend, and she gave a good impression of someone who was truly surprised.

With all of the flights and train rides and cab rides, we found ourselves with more time alone --just the two of us--than we had had in almost seven years, since our older son was born. It ended up being one of the nicest parts of the trip.

At some point during one of those flights or rides, we fell into talking about LOVE and relationships and marriage and all that stuff: why it seems not to work so much of the time, for so many people, why it seemed to be working for us, why it hadn't worked for us way back when we first dated, back in the late 80s when she was in college and I was in grad school.

It's something I had given a lot of thought to, years ago when we first got back together, a mere three years after my divorce. I was loathe to rush into anything just then, and terrified of making all the same mistakes.

Here is what I figured out back then, and what I have tried to live by, ever since:

As a culture, we put way too much emphasis on Love, the noun. All we care about is the thing--whether we feel it for someone, whether the other person feels it for us--whether we're falling into it our out of it--oh, when is it going to happen to me? What's wrong with me? I just don't feel it.

What has gotten short shrift, I think, is Love, the verb. Love is action; it doesn't happen to you--you make it happen. Love isn't what you feel; love is what you do. Or don't do.

Viewed this way, it's much more empowering--and also puts a greater burden of responsibility on you. Because you can't just sit around waiting for it to magically happen to you...or moon about because it's suddenly, magically gone. If love is gone out of your relationship, it's because one of you has stopped loving. Actively loving. It didn't just "go.' One of you stopped.

After all, who can truly judge what any other person feels in his or her heart? And ultimately, who cares? It's really none of my business how my wife feels about me on any given day. How she feels about anything can change so often, it's crazy to try to keep track of it. And anyway, she's entitled to her the privacy of her feelings, as am I (this is why men are always driven crazy by girlfriends demanding to know WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? HOW ARE YOU FEELING?).

What matters is what we do for--or to--each other. Love is what I do in the relationship, from little things like buying her a coffee on my way home from dropping a kid off at school (instead of just getting one for myself), to big things like planning birthday parties, to huge things like changing careers to help provide for a family.

(So those guys who say, "you know I love you, baby" right after they've slugged their wives or girlfriends in the jaw...fuck them. No, they don't.)

Love is a choice you make, not a destiny that happens to you. You choose to love someone--really love them, over all others--and you act accordingly, regardless of how you might feel on any given day. Instead of sitting around wondering, "Is she the one?" you make her the one through your actions.

And that's where the magic is--not in the passive waiting for Something To Happen, but in the active making of something. You endow that other person with the Special One-ness that you're seeking, and she becomes the person worthy of that endowment. That other person--some fabulous, mysterious other--decides to love you--and that love--that active, day-to-day loving of you--changes you--makes you the one worthy of her love.

That's why we make wedding vows--and that's why wedding vows are different from saying, "hey, let's move in together." It's why folks on the conservative end of the political spectrum are often queasy about no-fault divorce laws--because choices like that are supposed to be serious choices, weighty choices, not so easy to dismiss or walk away from.

But that's a whole other discussion for...well, someone else's blog, probably.

1 comment:

Baly said...

But how do you decide who to love?

Also, this idea of the privacy of feelings is something to chew on.