Being that I was sick, I watched Dan in Real Life yesterday. This requires no spoiler alert, but just enough information to get to my point. In the movie, Dan's daughter is fifteen and has a little boyfriend named Marty. The two of them say that they are in love and Dan does not believe them. In one particular part of the movie, Marty says something pretty profound, "Love is not a feeling. It's an ability."
This quote made me reflect on a conversation I had with a friend of mine a few days ago, about how we thought we loved our wives while we were dating, but how we love them so much more deeply now. Did we really love them when we were dating? Was that love?
In the conversation, I shared something that I have believed about love for a long time, and it was backed up by Dan in Real Life yesterday. I believe that we are always able to love, but our capacity to do so grows over time, so when we look back, what we thought was love looks so shallow that we question it. For example, when I was sixteen I had a girlfriend. I told her that I loved her. We argued a lot, hurt each other a lot, and I ended the relationship in one of the rudest ways possible, but I did love her as deeply as I was able to at the time.
Since that time, I have been one of those guys who probably said the dreaded three word sentence several months before he was supposed to, but I never lied when I said it. I have loved several women, but only as deeply as I was able at the time, and I refused to hide it. With each relationship, and with each break up, I learned to love more and more deeply until I met my wife. I noticed that I loved her "more" than anyone I had ever loved before. She made me feel great. So, I proposed, and we got married. We both look back and say that what we had was wonderful, but it was nothing compared to what we have now. I think about that, and I disagree with us. What we had was true love, as true as what we have now, just not as deep.
I also remember being in Junior High, and having a teacher talk to us in a class about the difference between love and infatuation. They even gave a hand out (that I wish I could find). I do remember two columns though, one labeled love, the other, infatuation. Words were written under each, separated by a dark, thick line. What was in the columns is pretty easy to guess. Under infatuation were words like, jealousy, needing to be together all the time, and high emotion. Under love were words like, commitment, joy, and trust. They then went through a series of scenarios and we were supposed to label which were love and which were infatuation. Basically, if it was a Junior High relationship, it was infatuation, if it was a marriage, it was love. The line seemed so clear and distinct. So clear, distinct, and crushing to every relationship I would have in Junior High or High School, because each would be labeled "infatuation."
So, going back to Marty's profound statement, "Love is not a feeling. It's an ability." I agree with Marty. Love, in and of itself, is not an actual emotion. It may bring on other emotions, like happiness, joy, frustration, sadness, peace, euphoria, etc., but Love is an ability. The more we allow ourselves to love, the more capacity we will have to feel the feelings that come along with that skill, until we start feeling the need to commit. When that feeling comes we marry, and in a few years, look back at how naive and young we were. We look at how our love has blossomed into feelings we didn't know were connected to love, like worry, protection, and grief. We put our foreheads together, tears running down both of our cheeks, and whisper that we love each other, and somehow, that whisper is a million times more powerful than when I yelled it from my car to your window, and you yelled it back.
Once again, this makes me think about Marty, and when I have teenagers. Marty and Dan's daughter yelled I love you as Dan's daughter drove away, and then again when Marty drove away (trying not to give spoilers). Their love seemed to ooze passion, and the more cynical of us, like Dan, saw it only as infatuation. He knew what it was like to hold a woman's hand while she gave birth, to feel the responsibility, fear, and joy that love brings. He didn't see Marty holding his daughter's hand in a delivery room, he saw them yelling through glass. What I propose, is that what Marty and the daughter had was, in fact, true love. It was as much love as what any married couple feels. The difference comes in the depth. Their love was a puddle, while our love is an ocean. Neither is necessarily better, because puddles can become oceans. The real challenge in life, is to be in an ocean and see the relevance of the puddle, and to be in the puddle, and see the wisdom in the ocean.