Sunday, April 29, 2012

My New Philosophy on What it Means to Be In Love

Love: The Universal Language
I read somewhere that the Sanskrit language has over ninety words for the word "love."  In American Sign Language, there are at least three different signs for the word "love."  I'm curious as to why the English language, which has such a broad vocabulary, still only has that one word: Love. Love really is a difficult word to define.  The kind of love you can have for a spouse is very different than the kind of love you have for your child, for your dog, for you favorite food, or for your Heavenly Father.  I sometimes think of love as this giant disco ball, with thousands of little facets that send thousands of independent beams of light on the surrounding area.  Sometimes I find myself asking the question, "Do I really love this person?  If I do, how do I know?"  Things especially get complicated when dealing with romantic love.  "Am I really in love with him, or is this just a fleeting feeling of lust or infatuation?  Can I really see myself spending an entire rest of my life with this one guy, or do I not love him enough for that?"  I am positive that others out there have felt the same confusion.
Swans:  They mate for life.

There is one aspect of romantic love, however, that I think I've gotten a handle on.

When you read a book or watch a movie, or even talk to other married couples, you often hear the phrase "falling in love."  I have always been under the impression that "falling in love" with someone was something fundamentally different than just "loving someone."  That being "in love" was a whole 'nother kind of love altogether -- another facet on that giant disco-ball.  I still maintain that argument.  Being "in love" with someone has its own place on the grand spectrum of human emotion.

However, I don't believe being "in love" is all it's cracked up to be.  I believe you can fall in love more often than just once or twice in your life.  Falling in love is pretty easy.  I think it's just as easy to fall in love as it is to fall into anything else.  Falling into debt, falling into a rain puddle, falling asleep -- to fall is a natural process because gravity exists.  So, while love doesn't really have anything to do with gravity, it does have to do with the natural desire of all human beings to not live this life alone.  No man is an island.  We are social creatures.  We all want to BE with someone else.  EXIST as a unified whole rather than just a lonely part.  So when you suddenly find yourself emotionally careening off a cliff because someone has suddenly shown up on the scene, you've fallen in love.  Happens to everybody.

I still don't entirely know.
I do not mean, however, to debase or cheapen this emotion.  Being in love is definitely a big deal. What differentiates the feeling of "in-loveness" from other, more petty emotions like lust, infatuation, or just "liking" someone is a matter of great importance.  When you are in love with someone, I believe that the way you see that someone deeply changes.  When you are in love, you don't just see that someone as just a simple human being anymore.  Being in love has the power to transform a regular, everyday person into a Godlike figure in your life.  Nothing -- nothing -- is wrong with him.  Others may bring up his faults and his shortcomings, but to you, he is perfection in human form. Suddenly, this person is incapable of making mistakes.  He's put up on a high pedestal of the ideal that all other layfolk can only dream to become.  This person becomes the epitome -- the encapsulation -- of everything in your life that makes you happy.  Even if he's got a huge nose, it is the most beautiful nose you have ever seen in your life. If he likes baseball, then there MUST be a good reason for it.  Often, the feelings of being in love are accompanied with feelings of submission, tolerance, even unworthiness.  You put your desires and beliefs on hold to cater to his, because he is everything that is good and right and perfect.

The delicate condition of In Love
Now, ideally, this really isn't a bad thing to feel about a person.  It's good to see the good in people, and it's definitely good to consider and accept the values and opinions of another human being.  When my mom married my dad, she had to sacrifice a lot of things for him, but for her it was all worth it because she was in love with him.  Yes, there are times when these feelings can get out of control and you have no personal autonomy of your own, but that's a different discussion.  My main point is:  When you are in love with someone, you become blinded to that person's weaknesses and foibles and see only perfection in that person. I think this happens to people all the time, whether they are aware of it or not.  Even if they do realize that the item of their affections has a flaw, people who are in love simply gloss over that flaw and either pretend it isn't there or they don't think it's important.

Now that's all well and good -- in the beginning.  But I truly believe that you cannot hope to maintain a lasting relationship like a marriage if all you ever feel for someone is "in-loveness."  I have already said that it is very easy to fall in love.  I also argue that is it equally as easy to fall out of love with a person.  Let me explain.

People who are in love live in a fantasy.  It sounds harsh, but think about it.  They believe in a person that doesn't really exist.  There is no perfect human being in this world.  Everyone makes mistakes, big or small.  And because we all make mistakes, there are such things as pride, anger, hurt, misunderstanding, depression, and even abuse.  In the world of In Love, such feelings cannot be tolerated.  In the world of In Love, a person can only yield feelings of happiness.  The person is perfection and cannot be anything otherwise.  If negative feelings begin to grow, something must be wrong and there goes the In Love.  Now we are in the land of Out of Love in the blink of an eye.  We see it all the time these days.  Couples who looked so happy on their wedding day end up divorced or separated in a matter of months, simply because they fell Out of Love with each other.  I predict that these couples start having problems when these other emotions -- pride, anger, and selfishness being the big ones -- start to enter into their perfect equation of happiness.  It's like they are living in a delicate little bubble, and with the slightest faulty move, the bubble pops and there is nothing left. Then they come to the horrid realization that their spouse (*gasp*) ISN'T PERFECT.  Those flaws and mistakes and weaknesses then stick out like huge wine stains on the white fabric of the relationship, and that's all they end up seeing.  There is no other form of love there to keep the relationship alive, so it dies.
This is not a good place to wear your heart.

I, myself, have fallen in love at least four times.  The first time I could safely say I was "in love" with someone was back in high school, when I met a guy in theater.  He was a year older than me, had a beard on his chin and crooked teeth, and he eventually became one of my closest friends.  I wasn't in love with him right away -- I do think you have to substantially get to know someone before you can safely say you are in love with them -- but as time progressed, I realized that this guy was not all that I imagined him to be.  He was pompous, rude, and disrespectful towards my core values and beliefs.  For a while, I thought maybe he was right.  After all, if he was PERFECT to me; how could I disagree with what he said?  But my self-deception did not last long, and soon I broke.  I felt angry, confused, and very very lonely.

It happened to me again -- this time at an even bigger extreme -- during my sophomore year of college.  I realized I was in love with someone very early on, and I let that In Love feeling run wild on me.  I was already imagining our wedding and how many kids we would have and what a perfect life we would lead within months of just knowing -- not dating, just knowing -- him.  But all my fantasies and dreams completely CRASHED when he made a big enough of a mistake for him to be sent home from a mission.  For a long time, I justified it.  I said, "This guy is different.  He's special.  I can forgive him. It's not that big of a deal."  But the mistake left a huge hole in my perfect world that was just too large to ignore, and eventually I cracked again.  I didn't want to admit that I no longer felt the same way I did before, but could not hide my anger or disappointment.  In time, I realized that there was something missing from my feelings for him that needed to be there in order for our relationship to survive. I had been in love... but that was it.

Life ain't just a walk on the beach.
That's the sad truth.  Being "in love," as I have heard it described, is not enough to make a marriage.  It's not enough to make a family.  It only results in a short-lived fantasy happiness which usually ends in heartbreak if not founded and stabilized by another, more enduring emotion.

And what is that emotion?  You could call it love.  But as we have already seen, that word can mean so many things. It took a while for me to find a fitting term, but I finally decided on the word DEVOTION to describe this emotion I am referring to.

DEVOTION, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, is a feeling of love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for someone.  Often, it is seen in a religious context.  Now, I don't mean to say that we should worship the person we love, but I do detect a sense of lasting allegiance that can easily be tied to the way we DEVOTE ourselves to God, even in trial and adversity.  DEVOTION transcends disappointment and failure.  It extends itself beyond the feelings of simply tolerating a person.  Along with the need to not be alone in this world, I think all human beings also have an inherent desire to find something that lasts.  DEVOTION LASTS.  

DEVOTION requires faith.  Faith that even though things are hard and your spouse isn't perfect, that you'll still get through it and there will be blessings in the end.  Faith, as many of us know, is the belief in something hoped for, but not seen -- at least, not immediately seen.  Faith is built on the principle of patience, trust, and longsuffering.  If you take a look at any relationship that has really worked, you will see these things.  I guarantee that.  If being In Love is a bubble, then DEVOTION is a rock. Instead of living (dare I include another Mormon reference?) on SAND, these couples live on a firm foundation.  They have accepted the fact that their marriage will not be perfect.  In fact, there will be days when they will downright piss each other off.  A wife may wake up one day, turn to face her husband sleeping next to her, and seriously wonder, "Why the heck did I marry this guy?"  But the faith and DEVOTION will still be there, deep in the core of her soul, and it won't be moved.  It's like the deep strong undertow while the weaker waves crash on the surface.  It's okay to be angry.  It's okay to make mistakes.  It's okay to not be perfect.  Being In Love is great.  But there must -- must -- be more than that when you decide to get married.  Love is not easy.  But DEVOTION makes it possible.
Don't have a hard heart, but build a firm foundation.

I don't think I have yet felt this way about anyone.

I don't really know how this is going to apply in my life, yet, but I do know that I have become more aware of my own feelings as I have developed this whole philosophy, and it has changed the way I feel about other people.  I guess I've become more accepting of myself when I do fall in love with people, because now I know that that's not the end of the journey.  I suppose that means I can invest in someone a lot less if it's just this In-Loveness and nothing more.  And if I fall out of love, that's okay, too.  No need to make a big deal over such a simple feeling.

I also resolve to find someone out there that I can find myself falling in love with again and again and again.  My mom and dad have that down to a science.  When the spark begins to fade, they go on a romantic date, or one of them does something nice for the other, or they take some time to just be together, and that gets the fires of passion and In-Loveness burning once again.  I would highly suggest that all married couples continue to date, even though the courtship process is over.  Maybe that's easier said than done.  I don't know, I'm not married.

BUT... when I do run into someone that will stick around for a while, I can start building the foundation of DEVOTION right away. Brick by brick, date by date, experience by experience, the two of us can create something that lasts forever.  Isn't this the main goal?

Listening to:  "Once I thought" by Aaron Copland
Things going on today:  Ward Prayer.  Homework.
Blessings:  A great sacrament meeting talk, a good long nap.
Learned:  The word anangalekha in Sanskrit means "love letter."

1 comment:

  1. Hannah, you are amazing. I think I am going to print this out and read it every time i feel broken-hearted. Amazing thoughts and eloquence :)