I hope that you caught the play on words in the title of this post. I finally told flowergirl that I have feelings for her. This wasn’t a romantic confession and I didn’t ask her out, it was just something that came up in a conversation. We had a nice little chat about the fact that she thinks I’m really great, but just not what she’s looking for, which wasn’t in any way a surprise. I have to admit that, even though I’ve know this for a while and generally come to terms with it, I’m still a little disappointed. Nonetheless, I am still striving to reach a place in which I can simultaneously strive for those things that I desire, and those desires that I believe God has put on my heart, and trust in him for their timing. I’m generally good at doing one or the other, but I’m really not good at doing both.
That being said, flowergirl said something to me that I’ve heard all too often. Something that I find is very common in women, and increasingly common in men. When I asked her what she was looking for her response was: ‘I don’t know, a feeling I guess’. She didn’t elaborate much, and I didn’t ask her to. However, I’m guessing that I know what that feeling is, even though she doesn’t. American culture has built a view of ‘love’ that is focused entirely on romance, or on feelings of passion. I hear people commonly say that ‘you know you love someone when you get those butterflies in your stomach’ or ‘I want to just be swept away by love’. Here’s the problem with these ideas: while they are commonly portrayed in the media, and while ‘love at first sight’ is a real thing (I can say this from experience) it is also incredibly stupid. I’m not saying that it’s stupid to believe in love at first sight, or that its stupid to follow those feelings (though I will argue that it generally is), but that this form of love is, in and of itself, stupid. To be swept away by feelings of passion for someone is a good thing… when that someone is a person who you can be confident cares for you, values you, respects you, and will put your best interests first. To be swept away by feelings of passion for someone you’ve known for five and a half minutes is a very bad idea. ‘Love at first sight’ is based entirely on an initial feeling of passion that cannot take into account the kind of person the passion is focused on. It can’t take this into account because it can’t know the person in any real or meaningful way.
The thing that the movies repeatedly leave out is that healthy passion is something that you build in a relationship. It comes from time invested with the person. It comes from repeatedly seeing that person actively care for you and put you first. To follow passion is an act of absolute trust in the person towards who that passion is directed, and to be healthy that trust must be both given freely and given carefully. If this following of passion is forced on you by another person, whether through emotional manipulation, charismatic charm, etc, it is not freely given and extremely unhealthy. Similarly, if this following of passion is not given carefully, then it is unhealthy because it cannot take into account the nature and personality of the other person. This passion is similar to handing over everything you own to a stranger. He might be a philanthropist, but he might also be a thief. You have no way of knowing.
Similarly, healthy passion is something that you create and something that you control. By choosing to repeatedly to act towards another in love, you create that passion for them in your own heart. Love is, first and foremost, something that you choose to do towards others, not something that you feel. Honestly, I think that many of use know quite well how to say this, but have no actual concept concerning how to do it. Something that flowergirl told me yesterday, and that I’ve heard before, is that I work harder to love others than anyone she’s ever met. This didn’t used to be true, but it is something that I have put a lot of effort into developing. God loved me through some very difficult times, and now I try to always choose to love others, even when it is difficult. Sometimes I have to work hard not to be swept away with passion for the people (well… the women) that I work hard to love because I know that they do not love me in return. However, this is how I know that repeatedly choosing to love someone creates a passion for that person.
What I am trying to say here is that chasing after passion as the foundation of a relationship is similar to buying a bachelors degree and assuming that you’ll do the work to build a necessary knowledge base later. 1) You haven’t done anything to earn it, 2) since you already have it, you aren’t going to bother putting in the effort to earn it, and 3) just like the bought degree, this passion is meaningless and fickle. As soon as any real pressure is put upon it the passion will fall apart, and shortly after the relationship will also fall apart. There was a young woman several years ago who broke my heart (gave me a heart attack actually). I’ve mentioned this before. While I am not seeking after a romantic relationship with her (primarily because of some things that she did during the years when she wasn’t speaking to me), I still love her with all of my heart. My love for her was not built on a feeling, it was built on a series of choices, and the passion with which I feel that love may have changed its focus, but it has not dimmed in any way. This is what we should be looking for, but I’m afraid that the majority of us have forgotten that.