“I LOVE you, I’m just not IN LOVE with you.”

Ouch.

I have always thought that being “in love” is delightful, but it is the pre-phase to the work of actual love. That verb, “to love” is active and fluid, and self-motivated. It implies choice, and service, and simpleness. We love our children – we can’t help it – we have strong biological impulses that help fuel that bond. And it’s still not easy all the time. It’s way more work than you think it should be, and yet more rewarding than you ever expected. The love that we share with an equal, on the other hand, with another consenting adult, is more challenging because it involves choice, free will. We can choose to love, or not love. 

I have two friends going through a hard time. He said he would never be able to love her the way she wanted to be loved, because although he loved her, he had never been “in love” with her, and that would forever colour his feelings. I’ve never been able to understand this. As delightful as it is, the state of being “in love” is a trick, like being pushed into a pool and then learning to sink or swim. Maybe they waded in up to their knees instead, and over the course of time found themselves up to their necks. Maybe it’s not as fun as jumping in, with the thrill and shock of surprise. But once you’re treading water, it’s really all the same how you got there, and requires the same amount of work to stay afloat.

Or maybe it’s like having dinner with someone who can’t enjoy their steak because they never ate the calamari first. You can choose to focus on the appetizer you never had, and let the steak turn to ashes in your mouth, mourning the loss of something that was never there. Or you can let those expectations go. So you didn’t have the calamari. Too bad. You know what? This steak is really amazing. If I focus on the steak I’m having right now, I’m actually getting a lot out of it. That’s how I feel about romantic love. 

And if relationships are hard work, they are the best kind. It is work you do out of love, out of service to another – whether that’s your children, or your pets, or your partner. It reaps the best rewards. In Robert Waldinger’s Ted Talk “What Makes a Good Life,” research seems to say couples live longer, but not because of constant butterflies and the uncertainty that comes with being “in love.” Folks live longer, healthier lives when they are in loving relationships where they feel like their partner is supportive – where they feel they have someone they can count on, who will put in the work even when it’s not all fun and games. And all people receive health and happiness benefits from strong family and community relationships. It can be hard to love other people – we are all so imperfect, so annoying sometimes – but to choose to love people with all their faults included means that we can allow ourselves to be loved in return, and we all know what crazies we are deep down, too. 

This Valentine’s Day, let’s all focus on being in the moment with love, wherever it sits with us. And remember that it’s about doing something – about being loving. Whether it’s the love you share with children, or pets, or family, or community, or friends, or the planet, or even someone you were once “in love” with, or someone you never were but love deeply now – let’s all take the time to work a little harder – and love a little more today.

Sending you all love on Valentine’s Day, NZ.