On Being in Love
This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
As I was growing up, and especially in my college years, I often wondered what being in love felt like. I didn’t really date in high school, and although I had some relationships in my early twenties, I still was left curious. What was being in love, and how did you know what it was when you were in it?
I had heard my friends describe it to me, of course, but hearing love described and then actually experiencing the gut-wrenching, brutal, ecstatic intensity of love are two very different things.
And I did experience these gut-wrenching, brutal things when I started dating my husband. I remember sitting on the pier with him, overlooking the dark waves of Lake Michigan and suddenly becoming aware that there was a catastrophic burning in my soul that was singing out love. I knew in an instant that I loved this man, and the feeling was so raw that I really had no idea how to handle myself for the next few days.
I remember going home for the first time with his jacket and snuggling into bed smiling until I thought my face would burst just thinking about how magical and beautiful it was to love him. My family, who knew me as the cold-hearted, no-nonsense thinking type, was pretty much at a loss for what had happened to me. I was like the pathetic girl you read about in books, who can’t eat or sleep because she’s so in love. I was like Tolstoy’s Levin, who is so enraptured in his love for Kitty that he weeps and squeals with the sight of everyday, plain old things as he walks down the street:
“And what he saw then, he never saw again after. The children especially going to school, the bluish doves flying down from the roofs to the pavement, and the little loaves covered with flour, thrust out by an unseen hand, touched him. Those loaves, those doves, and those two boys were not earthly creature….all of this together was so extraordinarily nice that Levin laughed and cried with delight.”
Well, this feeling didn’t last long for me.
Having been married for about a year and a half now, I can tell you that this incredible feeling of love, the immeasurable joy of having found your soulmate, and the thrill of it all mixed together, is no longer burning.
It rears its flames at times, still. Sometimes I do feel that same intensity. But the once explosive fire of love has calmed into embers.
I had always heard that being in love doesn’t last, or that feelings tend to fade after a while. I thought that was so depressing. I imagined myself being in a boring marriage, being so ingrained into a routine that I had forgotten what it was like to be in love with your person.
And yet, I am so glad I am no longer in that type of love. I am glad that it has been replaced by a deeper, more sustainable, more beautiful thing.
I remember the intense joy and excitement that have laced many moments of my life. They were all beautiful to experience, and I am achingly grateful for the meaning they provide and the memories they solidify. These were moments like qualifying for the World Championships, walking into the Sistine Chapel, being offered my dream job, and meeting my best friends. I cherish these. However, if I had sustained that level of excitement for a long time after they took place, it would diminish how precious and unique they were in and of themselves.
They were gifts of happiness. They were grace. And experiencing them made me richer, and better. But I am glad they have had finality.
And it’s the same with being in love. It was always the prime goal of my existence to find the person with whom I would fall in love, have little children, and bask in the security and warmth of a family. I’m certain that so many of my friends crave that same dream.
But the feeling of love, the dream of love, subsides. It passes. It passed for me at moments in our engagement when we were painfully dying to our own desires to honor boundaries. It passed when we ran into financial woes in the weeks after the wedding. It passed when we realized how incredibly different we are as people and how communicating about even doing the dishes was a full on dramatic event.
But, as being in love passed, acting and willing and dwelling and living in love was kindled.
The sight of my husband doesn’t light a fire inside of me anymore. Instead, the way I look at him in love is built upon years of sacrifice, compromise, dying to self for his own sake. I look at him with a deeper and ever more real love. The explosion in my heart on the pier that night was the start to a lifetime of feelings, actions, and giving.
Being in love was the firework that shot up into the sky, and we have the rest of our lives to watch the sparkling lights slowly flutter down over us.
And I am content with this. I am okay with not being in love anymore. I am so thankful for to have experienced it, but what I see now on the other side is immeasurably more precious to me. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last but feelings come and go.”
What I feel for my husband now is not coming and going. It is concrete, and it is tangible. It is the ground beneath my feet and the wind beneath my wings now. It is the type of love that will continue to burn in a steady flame as we create children, enter into old age, and finish the good fight by each other’s side.
I know that so many people crave being in love and having that ecstatic feeling of romance. I see this wanting everywhere I look. Well, it’s out there, and I admit that it does add greatly to one’s happiness. But it is not, and cannot, the reason for which we pursue love. Because it dies. It withers. And unless being in love is guided, directed, and informed by a deeper love that sings of sacrifice when the feelings are dried up, the happiness which we crave will never come either.
As Dietrich von Hildebrand writes: “happiness is love’s outcome, never its motive.”
Please, stop chasing happiness and chasing being in love. Because it’s in the most unexpected places that happiness will open its arms to you, and you must be still enough to stop running and breathe it in. And let the feelings pass; cling to what you know to be unchanging.