Some interns are helping my mom with a memory book for my upcoming wedding, and one asked me to write about love.
I believe that much like happiness, love is a skill that you can develop, and that the real test and triumph of love isn’t found in nouns or even actions, but in reactions.
Let me explain.
Many people want to find the perfect person to love, just like they want to find the perfect life in order to be happy. I learned that happiness has a lot more to do with you than it does with the world around you, and that happiness is a skill you can practice. Perfection isn’t necessary. Challenges help you grow. Likewise, some people make it much easier to love them than other people do, and some people can be dangerously toxic, but there are always opportunities to grow (although that may mean practicing tough love, or even getting out).
Advertisements describe love as expressed through nouns: flowers, a diamond ring, a clean house. Books often describe love through actions: going on a date, giving a massage, spending time together. I think the most interesting part of love is revealed by people’s reactions.
After surviving the Holocaust, Victor Frankl wrote:
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Love is in that choice, and it is something you have a million opportunities to practice every day. For example, sometimes W- is preoccupied with work. I can feel lonely, or I can admire his concentration and look for ways to make things easier. Sometimes I misplace things. W- can get annoyed with me, or he can help me become better organized. Sometimes conversations with my mom can get awkward. I can become more distant, or I can get closer. Sometimes the cats throw up on the carpet. We can scold them, or we can accept that as part of the price we pay for their company and focus on cleaning up the mess.
You can make lists of loving actions to take, but the truth of love comes out in your reactions. When someone does something to tick you off, do you fall into a fight, or can you focus on the silver lining? When someone uses that tone of voice or that choice of words, do you get enraged, or can you mentally translate that into what was probably meant? It takes a little work, but just like happiness, love gets easier.
Reaction becomes action. I frequently tell W- that I love him, but it is not really an action—it is a reaction to the joy and the gift of life with someone like him. Far too many times, we think of love as something we initiate almost as part of an exchange: I will do this for you, so you will do that for me. Everything changes when your loving actions come from gratitude and joy.
This idea of love can go far beyond romantic relationships. To love life is to take it as it is, to throw yourself into it, to embrace it and see the best of it and choose that it brings out the best in you. My goal is to learn how to reply lovingly to everything that happens: to get better at seeing the best, and to become more deeply and more intimately human in response.