(And a ton of candy, flowers, dinner plans, movie dates, and all manner of romantic expectations. In fact, according to a study quoted by Nasdaq, the economic value of Valentine’s Day this year is expected to peak around 417.3 Billion! That’s a lot of money spent on love.)
For all the romantic expectations placed on this Saturday’s annual celebration of love, not to mention the unbelievable amount of money that will be invested in the occasion, it is no insignificant date on our cultural calendar. The question is, do we really get it?
I love Valentine’s Day, but I also think we need to be honest with ourselves as a culture and admit that we have probably lost the genuine meaning of the event amid our rampant consumerism, our obsession with sex and sexuality, as well as our elevation of erotic or romantic love above the more relevant aspects of God’s genuine love. Here are 5 reality checks that are intended to not only enhance your own Valentine’s Day celebration, but cultivate a more meaningful love life overall!
1. Falling in love may happen before you know it, but being in love is a deliberate choice.
Falling in love is, perhaps, one of the most amazing human experiences imaginable. It is awesome. It is mind-blowing. In spite of the brilliantly creative work of poets, songwriters, and artists, there truly is no language or expression powerful enough to describe the sheer blessing of falling in love. Problem is, falling in love is more of a chemical, biological, and emotional response to a very visceral and hormonal experience. It is not true love.
I know, that doesn’t sound very romantic. Bear with me, please.
God hard wired our brains and limbic system to respond with all the powerful romantic feelings associated with falling in love. It is a beautiful aspect of our essential humanity. Celebrated in scripture (I love the Song of Solomon) as part of the joy of loving and being loved, it is easy to associate such powerful feelings with genuine love.
On a personal note, I vividly remember the first time I saw the woman who is now my wife. The physiological excitement and arousal that flooded my brain was unmistakable. I fell and I fell hard! The second time I saw her, it was even more intense. I see various women all the time. Some of them are very pretty. Yet, nobody had the intense physiological effect on me that Kimberly did—and still does! It is because Kimberly had that effect on me that I then chose to get to know who this amazingly beautiful and intoxicatingly attractive woman was. Now, many years later, I still choose to love her every single day.
Falling in love is amazing! As wonderful and exhilarating as those physiological sensations are, however, they remain the byproduct of specific neurotransmitters in the body and brain responding to particular chemical baths of hormones produced by particular glands in the body. So much for romance, right?
This is where the choice comes in. Attraction is still largely a mystery of behavioral science. Yet, what happens is that that initial feeling of ‘falling in love’ triggers within our conscious mind a definitive reality. This person has my attention! For true love, both individuals must choose to truly—and unconditionally—love the other. That means loving with the heart, not just the biochemical bath of hormonal excitement. Guess what? The biological “love” that we experience in our limbic brain will ebb and flow. Choosing to love over and above those amazing physiological highs and lows will not only make the difference between feeling good and truly being in love, it will prolong and enhance the ability to genuinely feel in love with that person indefinitely!
Falling in love may just happen, but being in love is a daily choice that makes the “falling” part happen over and over again for a lifetime with the same person. The point is, we have to make the choice!
2. Love may involve sex but sex is not love at all.
Let’s be honest. At some level there is probably an exception among many this weekend that physical intimacy will be part of the celebrations to be enjoyed. That’s fine. God did give us the gift of joyous sexuality so that we can enjoy the blessings it has for our lives. The problem is, if we listen to most of modern cultural communications, media messages, and pay attention to only the hormonal highs that come our way, we could get the false message that if you have one, you must have the other. It is a lie! Sex and love go together quite well, but they are not interchangeable.
The fact of the matter is, sex can be enjoyable with, or without, love. There are a lot of people who have sex and never care one bit about the partner, only their own pleasure. Likewise, there are a lot of people who “fall in love” as described in the first point, and quickly fall into bed before they choose to really love. All too frequently, people just assume that great sex must mean true love. This is why the casual association of sexual expression and love is so dangerous. We live in a culture that is increasingly sexualized and the pleasure of intimate contact does fool many couples into believing they are in love when, in reality, there is only sex. Regardless of one’s own personal religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding sexual intimacy outside of marriage, the fact is there are a lot of people enjoying such intimacy and, increasingly, the physical intimacy is happening long before genuine love—let alone marriage—can grow and mature. Yet, if we wish to achieve the greatest blessing such intimacy affords, simply ‘getting it on’ will never be enough. We have to truly work to be in love and that is the choice we can make, even after we have somehow managed to fall in love.
3. Love changes a life as it merges with the life of another, but if one feels controlled or the need to control, what you have is not love at all.
In my 20 years of Christian ministry, I've dealt with a lot of controlling people. What makes controlling people dangerous is when they think they are acting out of love. I’ve seen many marriages destroyed, lives crushed, churches devastated, families enraged, businesses fail, romances sour, and unrelenting hatred erupt; all because someone could not separate their concept of love from their desire to control.
The fact is, being in a relationship—any kind of relationship—with another person requires that neither individual have control. Even if one desires to control another in the relationship, ultimately, there cannot be any ultimate control without destroying the humanity of the one controlled. Think about that for a moment. If there is controlling behavior in a relationship, it means one of two things:
A. The one being controlled loses their humanity
B. The one who believes they are in control is living a delusion
If one’s humanity is lost, genuine love cannot be extended and, in many cases, one may reach out to whatever means believed to be available to restore the feelings of lost humanity. Drugs, sex, obsessive behaviors, infidelity, depression, out-of-control spending, or outright criminality may be just some of the ways it comes out. When control is only a delusion, the controlling person will have to exert unbelievable amounts of energy, rage, power, fear, emotional terrorism, and manipulative behavior to both maintain the delusion and, reinforce that delusion in the life of the one controlled. In either case, this is not love. It is dominance, abuse, and terroristic behavior. There is no love.
Sometimes the controlling behavior can be “justified” as caring for an individual, protecting, or even trying to keep them from having to struggle with the challenges of everyday life. Yet, even when cleverly costumed in the appearance of compassionate behavior, control and love will not coexist in the same relationship.
4. Love joins two lives into one, but never at the expense of genuine individuality, independence, and health autonomy.
Part of the illusion of falling in love and the delusion of fairy tale marriage is the idea that when the two become one flesh and are joined in marriage, the two cease to be individuals and wholly become one entity. While there is a degree of truth to this notion, nothing can be further from the truth. A marriage is a blending of two individuals into a new whole that gains strength because of the individual traits, personalities, and lives that are joined in the marriage.
All too often, an individual believes they are loved if their lover becomes completely one with every one of the partner’s likes and dislikes. Yet, what is really happening is a subtle (and destructive) slide into controlling behavior. (Look again at number 3 to see what that looks like.)
You and your marital spouse are one flesh—just not the same flesh! You both bring strengths to the partnership that the other person does not have. You both have interests that the other person does not share. You both have life experiences that the other does not know. It is the combining of all that diversity into one, new complete, and diverse whole that makes a marriage thrive.
Yes, take an interest in what your spouse enjoys. Yes, there is nothing wrong with wanting your spouse to like the same things you like. Quite often, it will happen and you both will be the happier for it. To be sure, plan time to do those things you enjoy together and be intentional about always sharing in those special things together. Yet, never feel you are somehow obligated to become just like your spouse. Likewise, there is no need to expect the same from the beautiful person you fell in love with, and are choosing to love!
5. Love is wholly altruistic, focused on the needs of the other, and totally unconditional so it not expect anything in return but when one’s care of the beloved sacrifices self-care, and gives to the point of exhaustion it’s not love at all.
Love always gives of itself and asks nothing in return. Right? Well, yes, but …
True love is unconditional so when I give my love, it is not true if I desire love in return. Right? Well, yes, but …
The unique and powerful love that bonds people together in the sacredness of Holy Matrimony must be mutually altruistic and unconditional or it will become unbalanced and unhealthy. To put it simply, you cannot love if you have nothing left to give in love.
The choice to love your soulmate is, as I've already noted, a very deliberate choice that has the potential for some very beneficial and pleasurable returns. Your ability to truly love your spouse absolutely depends on your willingness to be wholly unconditional in giving that love. Your capacity to love is also largely dependent on how well you are able to care for yourself and receive the natural benefits of that love.
Imagine a large barrel of cool, clean, refreshing water. It is there for you to enjoy, quench your thirst, and refresh your soul. Understandably, you may become quite appreciative of that water and its availably for you. But wait. Unless you do something to replenish this source of water that you enjoy so much, you can only come back so many times before it has run dry and there is nothing left to give.
This is a large reason why, as lovers, soulmates, and marriage partners, we absolutely have to do two things as a part of loving the other as fully and completely as possible. First, we have to take care of ourselves. This means honoring our individuality and cherishing our unique interests just as was noted in number 4. Second, we must love our partner in return which is, essentially, the choice discussed in number 1.
By taking care of yourself, you ensure that your barrel of love remains full for your true love to receive the unconditional blessing it has to offer. And by choosing to love your partner, it helps ensure their reserve of love is replenished for you. What’s best is that when the love is mutually altruistic and mutually unconditional, the two of you will never run low on love to give.
So live, love and be filled with God’s blessing for your marriage!
On this Valentine’s Day, go beyond simply gifting your beloved with a few nice gifts, a night out, or a special night of intimacy. Pledge yourself to choosing to love the one with whom you have fallen in love, enjoy the sex but nurture the bond that makes it even better, let your partner be free to be who God has so wonderfully and beautifully created your partner to be, cherish the individuality you both who each of you truly are, and let all love be wholly mutual.
After all, true love is not a day that comes up every February 14th on a saint’s birthday. True love is life lived in love with the one soulmate God has blessed you to love!