“I just don’t love her anymore,” he said. Years had passed, circumstances had changed, affection had waned, love had diminished. He recounted a few memories of the early days—the blush of young love, the tentative first dates, the romance, the anticipation, the wedding. But that was then and this is now. “I fell in love with her back then. I’m not in love with her today.”
We like to speak of “falling in love” as if love is a state we suddenly find ourselves in. We speak of falling in love as if this love thing simply unfolds in us and through us without our assent, as if it all happens somewhere beyond the realm of reason. Love sweeps us away, takes us over, and holds us wondrously captive. And while there is a sense in which love almost seems to unfold in this way, there is so much more to it than that. It is far more complex. Or is it far simpler?
The reality is that love is a million little decisions. True love demands great acts of the will. Lasting love—even romantic love—is made up of countless day-to-day commitments to act in the best interests of another person. Though love is sometimes great swells of emotion, it is at many more points acts that are willful, conscious, and deliberate. We take hold of love and apply it with care to another person. Love doesn’t take us over as much as we take over it.
The problem with this notion of falling in love is that it permits us to also fall out of love. If love is something that just happens to us it is also something that can just un-happen to us. If it is the action of an outside force, that same force can depart or a competing force can displace it. Then we can blame these forces, as if love’s rising is the reason we began to love and its waning is the reason we ceased.
But the reality is, no one has ever fallen out of love. We do not fall out of love; we only ever stop acting in love. The conscious decision to act in love toward another person gets replaced by passive neglect or active disregard. Instead of acting in loving ways we act in unloving ways. Instead of committing to the joy and comfort of that other person we commit to the joy and comfort of ourselves. Love doesn’t walk out the door–we hand love its coat and send it on its way.
Let’s revisit that first paragraph. I had written it in the passive voice, but let’s change it to active where appropriate so it will better reflect the reality.
“I just don’t love her anymore,” he said. Years had passed, circumstances had changed, he had neglected his wife so his affections had dimmed, he had ceased acting for her good and this had diminished his love. He recounted a few memories of the early days—the blush of young love, the tentative first dates, the romance, the anticipation, the wedding. But that was then and this is now. “I chose to love her back then. I’ve chosen not to love her today.”