I'll be the first one to admit that I love me a good rom-com . I don't know what it is (maybe the softer side of myself that I'm almost too in touch with), but I love the story of just about every romantic comedy movie. You know the one...boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy, boy does something stupid, girl hates boy, boy tries to win girl back, boy fails to win girl back, boy enters emotional tailspin, boy recovers, boy does grand romantic gesture, boy and girl live happily ever after. You know, that story.
But after watching enough rom-coms to build a life-size statue of Nicholas Sparks, I've caught myself believing some misconceptions about love that I'd like to clarify (for you as the reader, but mainly for myself).
The first thing I've noticed about rom-coms is they have a consistently difficult time defining love. What is love? Apart from being an excellent song by Haddaway (don't click that link - the music video is weird), no one seems to know a great answer to that question (you clicked the link didn't you? You freakin rebel).
But here's my definition of love according to movies: Love is this I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it-but-I-know-it’s-real-because-I-feel-the-butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling that, for the most part, is completely outside of our control.
Now, I don't think that's quite right. In fact, I think that's quite wrong. But I know what you're thinking, "Hey idiot, what do you know about love? Just because you've never felt the warm embrace of true love doesn't mean you can tell me what's right and what's wrong about love." To that I say: First, no need to resort to name calling. Second, you're right and you know me so well it's scary. But let's forget about whether or not I'm qualified to speak about love because what even are qualifications on this thing we call the Internet?
For a moment, let's pretend I know exactly what I'm talking about. You're allowed to have your own opinions (just know that if they aren't the same as mine, they're wrong), and I'd be more than happy to discuss them in great detail later. For now, here's my opinion (*cough* the truth *cough*)...
Love exists in three forms:
- Emotional - an internal feeling
- Verbal - an external vocalization of an internal feeling
- Physical - an external action on an external vocalization of an internal feeling
You'll notice they build on each other, both in definition and importance. The first (emotional) is the least important form of love, the last (physical) is the most important. The problem with movies (and possibly even society as a whole) is they overstate the importance of love as an emotion.
In movies, love is a feeling that no one can really control. It comes from out of nowhere and goes wherever it wants, dragging its victims along behind it. Movies teach us that love is something you fall in and out of (notice, even the idea of "falling in love" emphasizes our own lack of control) and that it’s not really your decision whether or not you're in love (or who you are in love with for that matter), and it's up to your heart to tell you how to feel and if you want to live happily every after you should follow your heart blindly wherever it may lead you.
To this I say, "nay!" Love is patient, love is kind, but love is not blind. Feeling love is only the first step in the process of experiencing real love because here's what I do know: feelings are temporary. If I went through life acting solely on my feelings, I would be a DISASTER ("You pretty much are a disaster," said a mocking voice in his head. "Hey, you don't say that," he responded, wiping away a single tear). The only thing I know about feelings is that feelings must be informed before they are followed.
Here's an example: I'm writing this in a coffee shop right now and there is a girl sitting two tables over from me. She has brown hair and from the looks of it some nice teeth, and you know what? I think I love her. On second thought, I definitely love her. She's the one. I guarantee it. Should I go ask her to marry me? Should I strike up a conversation? Maybe start with, "So how many kids do you want to have?" No, I should go get to know her. I should make sure she isn't a psychopath, or even worse: already married. Obviously, I'm not actually going to go over and talk to her ("Because you're a coward," echoed the voice. "Shut up," he whimpered), but you get the point.
Now, I know what you're thinking, "You may be the type of person who falls in love with a girl simply because she has nice teeth, but my feelings aren't so fickle." To that I say: First, don't underestimate good teeth. And second, aren't they though? I mean, objectively speaking, feelings are pretty fickle. Yesterday, I was halfway through the drive-thru at Burger King when I realized I didn't feel like a burger anymore and I wanted Chick-Fil-A (what type of fool chooses BK over CFA anyway?). So maybe it's just me, but I don't believe feelings are a reliable source for decision making, which is why I think love is so much more than an emotion. And honestly, if you think love is nothing more than a feeling, A). You're mistaking love for infatuation and those aren't even close to the same thing and B). You're missing out on the best part.
Because the best part of love is when someone verbalizes it. Am I right or am I right? Nothing better than hearing someone say, "I love you." I mean, the affirmation is enough to fill my heart to the very brim. Who cares if they prove it? Words are more than enough. So what you cheated on me six times? Water under the bridge, I say. You told me you love me and that's all I need to hear...(Disclaimer: this paragraph is verbal irony. Please recognize it for the literary device it is).
The verbal manifestation of the emotion of love is better, but it's still not the best. If we think of the three forms of love as good, better, best, it's the physical action of love we should really look for. Because in reality, verbalizing love is nothing more than a stepping stone to the real thing.
Quick recap: love is not something we feel or say. Sure, love starts as a feeling, which is strengthened through information and then verbalized, but here's the bottom line: love is not real until it's exhibited through action. I know my mom loves me not because she tells me (she does) but because she shows me with her never-ending support (thanks mom!). When a friend calls me just to hear how I’m doing, I don’t need them to tell me they love me before they hang up. The call itself already told me all I needed to know. When my roommate brings me toilet paper as I'm stranded in the bathroom, that roll of paper shows me more than any verbalization of love ever could. That's love.
Think back to movies. There's a reason all rom-coms end with a grand romantic gesture (see here, here, and here). It’s not enough for these guys to simply explain how they feel. They have to prove it (movies may not have the right definition of love, but they have the right application). Love is not something you say. It’s something you do. Love is not something you feel. It's something you show. It is an action. There is a big difference in "I feel like I love you" and "I love you." Why? Because @@love is only real when it's a verb@@.
But, let's be serious for a second. I joked earlier that I don't know much about love, but that's not really true. I've actually been on the receiving end of an incredible love for my entire life. I've been writing specifically about the love between humans, but the only reason I know anything about earthly love is because of the heavenly love I have received. I don't define love based on my limited experience with interpersonal love. There is a greater love than the love between two humans, and it's in this love where I find my definition
"We love because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19
I bet you didn't think this post was going to end with a Bible verse, but here we are...The reason we are able to know what love is, let alone are able to love each other, is because we are loved by God. And the reason I believe love is a verb is because that's how God loves. I know God loves me not because he told me so, but because he showed me so. When God loves, God acts, which is exactly what he did with Jesus.
The cross was his grand romantic gesture. And what the cross showed is that love is ultimately self-sacrifice. Love is acting in a way that puts someone else above yourself. All the romantic movies ever made couldn't combine to create an image as beautiful and strong as the one of Jesus dying on the cross. And it's for this reason we shouldn't look to culture to tell us what love is. We should look to the one who first loved us.