In America, we speak of “love.” We also speak of being “in love.” John Mayer croons that “you love who you love.” Yet many assert that “love is a verb.” Do we choose whom we love? Do we choose with whom we are in love? Is there any big difference between “love” and “in love?”
Ah, being in love. That special someone makes you senses swim and your stomach melt. All he or she does is beautiful.There’s just no one else on earth who can compare to that wonderful person! Being in love is said to make you crazy. It rearranges your priorities. The overwhelming emotional attraction to a person creates a driving motivation to pursue, be with, and bond with that person. This emotional state of being in love is what Dr. Neil Clark Warren calls “passionate love” in his book Finding The Love Of Your Life. He says passionate love is a good thing, something you want to experience with the person with whom you spend your life. He says that this passionate “in love” feeling is a powerful motivator that prompts two people to break from their individual lives and merge together into joint living. Thus, it’s important.
But notice what “In love” is. It’s a state, an emotional state. “In love” isn’t a verb. You would never say, “I in love you.” You would say, “I am in love with you.” But that expression reveals how “in love” truly is a state. It’s the state of experiencing strong emotional feelings and attraction to a person. Like any other state, it can change. It can be strong, weak, or absent. It can come, go, and then return. And like many other states, “in love” is something we often don’t choose. Many, including myself, have experienced becoming “in love” with someone when they didn’t expect, intend, or even want to. This is what Mayer is referring to when he says “you love who you love.” He uses the word love, but he’s really talking about “in love,” the emotional attraction that often is no choice of our own.
“In love” is highly valued in our romance-driven American culture. However, since it’s a state it has its limitations. A person shouldn’t stake all their hopes for a meaningful relationship on it. In Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot shares a line from a letter she received from a young man who always seemed to be falling in and out of love. His habit caused him to think that a relationship couldn’t succeed without continually feeling in love.
“Darn it all,” he said, “here I thought I’d found my dream girl but ‘it didn’t work out.’ Just couldn’t maintain the feelings.”
The poor fool thought that “in love” was the force needed to maintain a lifelong relationship. He didn’t understand that the state of “in love” will naturally change. Dr. Warren, after spending a chapter talking about how passionate love is important, spends the very next chapter talking about how passionate love should naturally evolve into what he calls “companionate love.” Companionate love he describes as more of the faithful, unwavering love of friends bound by natural affinity and camaraderie. He says this love is not as absorbing as passionate love and thus is needed for maintaining a relationship that spans years. This doesn’t mean that “in love” can’t or shouldn’t be present years into a relationship. It certainly should as it adds a healthy bonding to a long-term relationship. But since “in love” is a state that comes and goes, something else is needed to support a relationship through both the highs and lows of life.
Ravi Zacharias shares a story of when his brother was in his mid-twenties and decided he wanted to marry. In keeping with the Indian culture of their family, Ravi’s brother asked his father to make the match for him. The result was that Ravi’s brother committed to marry a woman he had never met. Ravi was concerned that when his brother finally met the woman he would decide he didn’t want to marry her. So he tried to caution his brother.
I said, “I don’t want to challenge anything you’re doing, but I do have a brief question. What are you going to do when you arrive in Bombay, come down the Jetway and see a young woman standing there with a garland in her hand, and say to yourself, Good grief! I hope that’s not her. I hope that’s somebody else! Or she looks at you and thinks to herself, I hope that’s not him. I hope that’s his brother! What on earth will you do? Are you going to take her aside, talk it over, and then make an announcement saying, ‘We have met . . . we will not be proceeding with our plans’? Will you get on the telephone or write letters to everybody and say, ‘Folks, we’ve met. The wedding is off.’”
My brother just stared at me. He said, “Are you through?” I told him that for the moment I was just awaiting his answer. Then he said something that was absolutely defining for him: “Write this down, and don’t ever forget it: Love is as much a question of the will as it is of the emotion. And if you will to love somebody, you can.”
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. Love wants what’s best for others. All these things are choices. You may not be “in love” with someone. You may even be “in anger” with him or her. But you can still choose to be patient, kind, selfless, forgiving. You can choose to “love” because “love” is a verb. You can say, “I love you.” This “love” is what should truly be called love. It’s this love that’s extolled in Christian doctrine. It’s of this love that the Apostle John said, “God is love.” This is the love that we are commanded by God to practice. This love is found in good romances, yes, but it’s also found everywhere else in life. This is the love God speaks of when he says, “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s this love that’s the true foundation of every long term relationship. This love allows a couple to overcome conflict and difficulty because it’s not a changing state. It’s a personal action. A spouse may say, “I’m not in love with you anymore.” The right reply is, “Yes, but you can love. And, as you do, you may find that one day you will be in love again. Regardless, you can love.”
“Love” and “In Love” in Life
Like many, you may desire to find a lifelong romance. It’s good to look for someone with whom you find yourself “in love.” But you will surely also need to choose to Love him or her in order for your marriage to last a lifetime. Practice Love now in every relationship you have with family, friends, neighbors, and, yes, even enemies. Then, when you find one with whom you fall “in love,” you will already be practiced in Love. Blessed is the marriage marked by both “love” and “in love.”
What do you think? What has been your experience with “love” and “in love?” If you think knowing the difference is important, please share the post!