I used to believe that love was like a light switch: Something flicks on. You get an overwhelming sensation. It hits you like a bag of bricks—or a strong arrow. It's when you know that you've found the one, right?
Not so much.
After 38 years and an expired marriage, I don’t see love that way anymore. I’ve placed Cupid right next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Love, in reality, is a series of choices. The first choice is based on many factors, including chemistry, principles, logic, humor, intelligence, body type, where we are in our lives, what we want or need, etc. The list is endless and the weight of each factor varies depending on the individual. Based on these factors, we either choose to begin the process to love or not. If we decide to enter this process, the action of loving can bring “light switch” moments: The way he looks at you. How hard she makes you laugh. The notes he hides in your purse. The way she makes you feel when you don’t feel anything.
But like an airplane flight, there is turbulence. Fights. Disagreements. The little things that bother you: His socks, her shopping. You start wondering if you’ve made the right choice. And once you are in doubt, you have to make another choice: to continue to fly with this person or parachute out of the plane. This choice is based on a many other factors, but again depend on the individual and where they are in their journey. If you decide to jump, the scary free fall will either make you stronger (grow) or miserable (depressed). Yet sooner or later you find yourself back at the airport waiting to board another plane. And then you hit turbulence again—or maybe, this time, there is no turbulence. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind about the destination. Either way, you have to make another choice: Jump, or continue to fly?
Love is making a choice every day, either to love or not to love. That’s it. You either continue the process or you don't. We fall in and out of love. Even in relationships—especially in relationships. This doesn’t mean we don’t love the person; it means we are left with a choice.
There is a difference between feeling love for someone (caring about a person) and loving someone (choosing to love that person). You may have love for someone forever. But that doesn’t mean you choose to love that person forever. The choice to love is not a feeling; it is an action. That is why it's so difficult. Love requires you to do something—and I’m not just talking about buying flowers. It might mean putting your wants aside. Also, like chemistry, the ability to love is not a constant; it is a variable. It fluctuates, depending on where you are in your life and what you’re struggling with. Sometimes it is easy to love; sometimes it is extremely difficult. But at the end of the day, it’s always a choice.
Although love varies, it also deepens. The longer you stay on that flight and share a journey together, the more fruit the process will bear. Your investment pays off. Your choices become easier. You become stronger as a couple, but also as individuals, assuming the love process is healthy—which means that both of you are doing the work. The choice to love creates opportunities to hit notes in your life that you could never hit alone. That's what makes your choice worth it.
So how do you know if it’s love? That is not the question to ask. The question to ask is this: Do you choose to love this person or not? Right now. Not tomorrow, but today. Make a choice: Yes or no. If the answer is yes, love as hard as you can. Love with everything you’ve got—that is, your capacity right now at this point in your life. If the answer is no, promise me one thing: Let the fall make you stronger.