Monday, August 5, 2013

The Myth of Falling in Love

stark beauty

I have been re-reading Scott Peck's old book, The Road Less Traveled. He published the book in 1978 and it remained on the top 10 list of the New York Times bestselling books for an unprecedented 10 years in a row. I wish the book would make a comeback because it is filled with some great wisdom.

I can still remember the first time I read, The Road Less Traveled. Dr. Peck's chapter on "love" was such an eye-opener for me. In fact until I read that chapter, I realized that I hadn't actually understood what "love" really meant.  I finally came to understand the clear distinction between "falling in love" with someone and "loving" someone; and this distinction makes all the difference in the world.

I think of all the love songs, the poetry, movies, cards, fairy tales, soap operas, popular books and today's reality TV shows about "falling in love" and "falling out of love." Love is popularly portrayed as a feeling you get and you want to keep; and when you lose that loving feeling, you are no longer in love.  However, there is a big difference between having romantic feelings for someone and actually loving another person - a big difference!

The truth is that "love" is not a feeling at all. Love is an action. When I "do" something for the welfare of another person I am "loving" that person. When I make a sacrifice for the good of another, I am loving that person. When I break out of the bonds of my own ego and extend my life on behalf of the other, I am loving. 

In his book, Scott Peck writes:

Real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking. When we act lovingly despite the fact that we don't feel loving, we are really loving. 

I remember the first time I read this and thinking that now I finally understand what Jesus meant when he commanded his disciples to love one another. Now I get it when I read the gospels and hear Jesus say: "love your enemies." After all, how can you command someone to fall in love or how can you tell people how they are supposed to "feel" about someone else?  

When I realized the distinction between having that loving feeling and "loving" someone, it all made a lot more sense. Jesus isn't telling his disciples that they should have nice tender feelings for all people - people you do not know, people you never met.   He isn't telling those who follow his "way" that they should fall in love with their enemies. Rather, he is saying, "Lay down your lives for the welfare of others and act on behalf of the good of others." 

You don't have to like the people you love.  

There is a certain myth that surrounds the popular idea about "falling in love."  We all know the fairy tale story of two people with tender never-ending romantic feelings, falling hopelessly in love and  living happily ever after.  The truth is that if a relationship lasts long enough, people will always fall out of love. They may continue to enjoy one another's company, but they will inevitably lose that "loving feeling." The honeymoon always comes to an end.

But that doesn't mean that when the feeling is gone, you can't or don't continue to love the other person, especially if love is understood as an action done on behalf of another's welfare.

Often times people walk away from one another when they fall out of love. But as I see it, losing  that loving feeling can sometimes be a new opportunity for people to really and truly "love" the other. When you willingly walk hand in hand and persevere together through all life has to offer and support and do good for the other person come what may in both the good times and in the bad times -  then, you are truly loving. 

You don't need to "get back that loving feeling" to be in love.

When I "love" the gates of my soul spring open,
Allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom
and forget my own petty self.
When I "love," my whole being streams forth
out of the rigid confines of
narrowness and self-assertion which makes me a prisoner
of my own poverty and emptiness
(Karl Rahner)

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