Have you ever been in love? In conversation recently, my friends and I came to the realization that to fall in love is not a choice. In fact, if it were a choice, it would cease to be love.
I intend to defend this position, since as a Catholic, we are often told: “love is a choice.” I do believe that. So if falling in love is not a choice, but love is, what does that mean?
Now, I want to make a distinction before I go any further. There is a difference - impossible to describe though I will try - between love and infatuation.
If you have been in love, then you know what I mean without my trying to describe it to you. And if, so far, you’ve only experienced infatuation, then no description can truly communicate the depth of love (but don’t worry - you’ll get there.)
- Infatuation engages the senses and emotions, driving out every other reality.
- Love engages the entire person: mind, body, and soul, and leaves command of the emotions.
- Infatuation makes the person selfish, even if she doesn’t mean to be, for she is so full of the other person and the good feelings she’s experiencing, that she has a hard time seeing other people.
- Love brings the person out of herself and able to see people, beauty, and good things in abundance, for she sees suddenly the futility of little things, and begins to engage with reality on a deeper, more personal level.
- An infatuated person sees their beloved in everything. Anything, even the littlest thing, reminds him of his beloved.
- A person in love looks for aspects of his beloved in things of quality. He seeks to go deeper into beauty, goodness, and truth. Knowing that his beloved is a thing of precious quality, he seek for themes of precious quality in all around him.
- Infatuation either leads to love, or dies away into oblivion.
- Love endures, even if it changes. It either changes it’s tone into a lasting affection, fades away into a pleasant memory that never ceases to bring inspiration, or else it lasts until ‘death do us part.’
- Infatuation does not change the person, other than to bring transitory happiness and/or stress.
- Love, on the other hand (while not automatically making him a better person), calls the lover to a higher virtuous standard. He suddenly recognizes and adores virtue, and has the powerful motivation to be a better person for the sake of his beloved. Love transforms.
- Infatuation is neither a good nor a bad thing, in and of itself. It partakes of goodness, and can be a necessary and beautiful aspect of the human experience.
- But love is higher, deeper, more glorious, and closer to God.
So why is it that to be ‘in love’ is not a choice, but love is?
When I and my friends have fallen in love, we noticed the common theme of resistance. Every one of us resisted the idea of accepting that we were ‘in love.’ To fall in love is unnerving for the very fact that we do not choose to fall into it. Would you choose to fall into a pit? No. To fall is an unsettling feeling. It makes your stomach drop, your heart pound, your life change direction (literally - we go from traveling horizontally to vertically). For this reason, the expression ‘falling in love’ is very appropriate, for it is an unwilling fall.
But to be in love is where choice comes in. It is to accept Joseph Campbell’s Call to Adventure, and to embrace that life is about to take an unexpected and potentially disastrous turn. To be in love is to accept that there is a higher reality in life than oneself. It is to recognize beauty and goodness, and to seek after deeper understandings of these realities. To be in love is to ascend in mind and soul.
In God’s inneffible wisdom, He has allowed us to experience this call through the presence and companionship of another person in romantic love. He could have left us with Him alone, for he is, after all, Love itself. But in the Garden, he decreed that it was not good for man to be alone, and so he created a helper fit for him, and in Adam’s moment of awakening to see Eve, he was struck into declaring his love and his joy. It was Adam and Eve’s call to grow deeper into God through knowing and discovering the other. (Gen 2)
“Do not arouse, nor awaken love, until it so desires.” (Song 3:5) This awakening is outside of our control. It seems as though the love itself is a living entity, coming to life and fluttering outside the doors of our hearts, begging for us to let him in.
Will we choose to let him in? To efface ourselves?
My friend, when he spoke of falling in love, of now believing in magical love, was speaking of this total self-effacing love. It makes one want to live forever with the person, if she can, or else die to prove her love. It is the celebrated love of Romeo and Juliet, of Victoria and Albert, of Christ and the Church. It happens in a moment - in one instant of existence - and it changes the trajectory of one’s entire life. One instant, we are our regular self, trying to figure out who we are and what we’re meant for in this life, and the next: everything else is eclipsed. Nothing small can enter our world any longer. Not, that is, unless we choose to deny our call and shut the door on beauty, truth, and goodness. For this arousal, this awakening of love, is in truth a call to the highest realities of life: to enter into the Love of God himself, who is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.
This love can only come to you when you are already seeking virtue. It can only come when you are not living in sin. And ultimately, it only comes when the Lord has decreed that the time is right.
This love may lead to marriage, or it may be a stepping stone of your journey. But I assure you that when you fall into love and you open your door to let it in, you have done no harm. You have chosen beauty, truth, and goodness, and you will ascend to see the Lord in his Highest Places. You will ascend to see the Lord in his house of Glory. And there He waits for you; waiting for you to complete your journey.
Do not despair of ‘magical’ love. Do not seek to arouse it. And most of all, when it comes, do not deny it entrance.
Praise the Name of the Lord, Now and Forever!