Two decades ago, when I was in my early twenties, I remember talking to an acquaintance who was planning her wedding. She and her fiancé were incredibly different people: they had different interests, different personalities. I asked her how she felt certain that he was The One.
"Well, Karen," she said, "I am of the firm belief that love is not an emotion. It's a decision."
"How's that?" I asked.
"Well, I think that when you get married, you're telling everyone that you commit to deciding to love that person every day for the rest of your lives."
At the time, I assumed that she was talking about what you're supposed to do when the blush and the rush of new love fades away. I thought she was saying that when your spouse isn't as gorgeous as he used to be, or isn't as romantic as he was when you dated, you're supposed to make the decision to love him anyway. And at the time, as a young wife myself, that seemed to make sense to me.
As I think of it, it's probably no surprise that I'm no longer married to the man who was my husband back then.
Twenty years later, married to my husband of 8 years and mother to our daughter, my idea of the concept of love-as-a-decision has changed -- or more, expanded. For me, there's still an attribute of love that is inexplicable: it's the part of love that made me say yes without hesitation to Marcus when he asked me to marry him 18 days into our relationship; the flood of emotion that I felt as soon as I held Alex for the first time. But some recent events -- watching a friend make some somewhat self-destructive decisions in her own life -- are teaching me that there's a part of love that is, after all, a decision. But it's not about loving someone when the adrenaline rush of love disappears or romance fades; it's more about making the decision to love someone when they're having a hard time loving themselves. It's about the commitment you make to not give up on that person, to rush in to help when necessary, but also knowing when to step back, mindfully, watchfully, ready to be there when the time is right.
It's a difficult lesson. But I've come to believe love is an emotion and a decision. The trick is to cultivate and care for both.
Happy Love Thursday, friends. May you decide to love someone who needs it today.
Image: One from the archives. Photographed with my Nikon D300 and (I think) my 24-85mm zoom lens.