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Love is Worth It
February 16, 2005
by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D.

Everyone who sells romance looks forward to Valentines Day. Romance is worth big bucks for florists and chocolate companies, not to mention greeting card manufacturers. According to the Greeting Card Association, more than a billion Valentine's Day cards will be sent this year.

Why? Because we all want romance in our lives! But do we want love and marriage in our lives? Every adult knows that there is more to love and marriage than romance.

So what's up with this? Why do we want romance, but fear marriage? I believe it is because we misunderstand the real nature of love, and so confuse ourselves about the place of love in both romance and married life.

I give many talks around the country about love and marriage. When I tell the audience that love is worth the effort, I explain that romance is not the same as love.

Romance is about feelings. When our husbands bring us flowers, they hope it will make us feel special. When we fix our husband's favorite dinner, and serve it by candlelight, we are trying to make him feel that he matters. And when we ask for more romance in our marriage, we usually mean that we want the other person to take the time, trouble and effort to make us feel special.

Now all that is very well, but it is not quite the same as love. To love is to will, and to do, the good of the other. Sometimes, real love means listening when they have something negative to say about our behavior. It is in our best interest to know when we are doing something destructive or wrong, or just plain stupid. A gentle word from a spouse can be an act of love.

And that is the basic confusion that we have about love. We think we are "in love" if we like the way we feel when we are with another person. But every adult knows that those good feelings are not enough to sustain a marriage for a lifetime. We don't always like the way we feel at work: that doesn't necessarily mean we should quit our jobs. We don't like the way we feel about our children: that doesn't mean we should disown them. It doesn't make sense to gauge the strength of our marriages on the basis of how we feel minute to minute.

But if we see that loving is wanting the good of the other person, then we realize that feelings are only a small part of the big picture of love.

I am reminded of St. Valentine, who was a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius the Cruel eventually ran out of willing soldiers for his endless and ruthless military campaigns. So he cancelled marriage. He figured that if men were not married they would be willing to go off to war. St. Valentine continued to secretly marry couples. He was apprehended and martyred on the 14th of February about the year 270. Obviously St. Valentine believed that marriage was worth any cost, even when the marriage was not his own.

Love is fundamentally not a feeling at all. Love is a decision. If we see ourselves and our feelings as the most important issue in marriage, we miss out on the opportunities for learning and growth, giving and sharing, that true companionship with another person offers us.

If we insist on being the center of the universe, we confine ourselves to being the center of a very small universe. But if we are willing to BROADEN our view of the good to include the genuine good of the other, we come to value things that never mattered to us before. We can learn about things we never knew existed. Love expands our world.

I remember the weekend of Thanksgiving. My husband's father and brother were visiting us from Northern California. We decided to take them down to see the U.S.S. Midway, which is now a museum in San Diego Harbor. So we loaded up grandpa and uncle, and our kids: our birth daughter, our two foster children, and our adopted son who got us all started on this business of what love really means. On the way home, I noticed that our mini-van was completely full. "Not bad," I thought to myself, "for a couple that were told they could never have children."

But then I realized that all these people were counting on my husband and I to love one another. Obviously, our kids are legitimately dependent on us. Our love for each other sustains them. We couldn't really be much help to the foster kids if we weren't able to work together as a team, for their good, as well as the good of the whole family. Without our love for each other, our middle-class lifestyle would be an empty sham, and not nearly so valuable for them.

And there was grandpa nodding off in the front seat. Because my husband and I love each other, he doesn't have to worry about us. A lot of elderly people end up taking care of their grandchildren because their adult children's marriages have collapsed, or exploded. In the back seat, my husband's brother was tickling the nieces and nephews we provide him. Our marriage enriches him, even though he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. If we didn't love each other, my husband and I wouldn't have that van full of people who love us and count on us.

And that is, in the end, what community building is really all about. A man and a woman love one another. They take care of each other, and their own children, and maybe their elderly relatives. Maybe they have something left over to help support and sustain others. How else could a community be built, given that everyone is dependent on others at least some of the time?

Love is a lot of work. Everyone can see this. But it is worth the effort. Romance is a wonderful feeling, but it can't hold a candle lit dinner to committed love.

(Reprinted from the Source.)

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