I have a confession to make. I read cheesy romance novels. The kind of novels where the woman has a great career and doesn’t need a man, but that doesn’t matter. She finds one anyone in an epic adventure of suspense, mystery, and yes, passion. Sure, at first she doesn’t think they’re a good match and she might even (gasp) hate this man, but as the story unfolds, it’s obvious that they are made for each other. Love descends upon them both in a flash of brilliant desire and boom, happy ending for our couple.
Of course, these novels aren’t realistic in any sense, and no one really takes them seriously. Hidden between the pages, however, is a misconception that has permeated our lives. It’s the idea that “love happens magically,” as if meeting the right person at the right time will ignite it. Only those of us who win the love lottery will get to experience true love.
I’m not talking just about romantic love either. Whole industries are built around helping people whose parents didn’t love them enough. We expect strong and enduring loyalty from our deepest friendships, and when we don’t receive the high standards we expect, friendships break. Fights with our siblings can turn to days, weeks, even years without resolution. Why? Because we expect certain relationships to be full of love without reservations. That’s how it works, right?
Well, maybe not. Consider this: Love doesn’t just “happen.”
It took me a long time to figure this out, and even then, I probably wouldn’t have figured it out on my own. I was going through a particularly bad point in my life where I withdrew from most of my family and friends. One friend, though, decided that I needed love and gave it to me, even when I didn’t appreciate it, even when I didn’t want it. He put up with a lot of negative emotions from me, up to and including me telling him he should get out of my life. Yet, despite that, he stayed. When I asked him about why he was being so nice to me, he wrote this:
“I have always believed that love is a choice, not an emotion, and as such it can be freely given without conditions.”
And he’s right. Love is a choice, not an emotion. Once I started looking at my relationships as a choice, and not just a series of obligations, my life vastly improved. Because like many gifts, love reciprocates. The act of giving love often makes it come back around, in a form much fuller than if you just wait around expecting it to happen.
Of course, choosing to love someone means you might not always get back what you want in return. However, that’s the beauty of choice. If the act of giving love makes you feel sad, angry, or miserable, you should rethink why you’re giving love in the first place. But you may also surprise yourself. Sometimes, giving love is enough that you don’t even need anything in return, and may create more love for you despite how the other person treats it.
So take a moment and consider the love contained within your life. Instead of wondering how much you’re getting, appreciate how much you’re giving. Find ways to make giving love a more central part of your life. And don’t forget that you don’t have to win a “love lottery” to find love; you can create it yourself.
Photo by Courtney Carmody