I met my wife when I was 12 years old, and I started dating her when I was 17 years old. Yes, we were high school sweethearts. Shannon is the only girl that I've ever dated (unless you count that one awkward time when I went to a dance with a fan of my comedy... but that's another story for another time). Actually, Shannon is the only girl that I've ever even kissed.
When I told her for the first time that I loved her - we'd been dating for a little over four months - I led with a grandiose speech about what the word "love" meant to me. I won't burden you with having to read the whole thing, but here's a quick synopsis:
- There are many degrees of love in the world.
- I love chocolate, but that's a very simple love.
- I love my friends, and that's a deeper love.
- I love my family, and that's a deeper love still.
- I love you, Shannon, and it puts all of those other loves to shame.
I thought I had love all figured out. I'd watched the movies and seen what real love was all about; I'd talked about the meaning of love with my friends and mentors; I'd even read the books about dating (or not dating). I knew what love was.
This feeling that I had for Shannon went beyond a merely physical attraction - it was a real, emotional connection. And I knew that it wasn't just a temporary emotion, either (after all, I'd been feeling it for four months at this point!). As a senior in high school, I was seriously thinking that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this girl. I knew that I knew that I loved her.
But I really didn't understand it yet. Even though I was (correctly, as history shows) confident that my feelings went beyond the physical desires awakening within my teenage body, my concept of love was still wrong because it was based on the feeling of love.
As I've grown up, I've learned a lot more about what it means to love.
I have yet to meet a single person in this world that I find inherently lovable. No one can be cute, nice, and affectionate all the time. Everyone, including myself (gasp!), has times when they are completely unlovable - even I get grouchy, obnoxious, and arrogant sometimes. I get obsessive, rude, even hateful.
Love is choosing to care for someone in spite of their flaws. Love is a conscious, ongoing decision - it is not a feeling.
Our culture latches onto stories of irrational, incurable attraction - two people that should never be together but fall hopelessly in love anyways. I tend to think, though, that those narratives are boring and un-romantic. If fate were responsible for pulling two people together, why would anyone consider that love? Where is the self-sacrifice, the nobility, the character?
The Beauty of Love
The stories that I find beautiful are the ones where two people choose to love each other and commit to doing so for the rest of their lives. They know each other's darkest secrets, oddest quirks, and deepest failures, but they agree to be together forever anyways. Each of them spends the rest of his/her life serving the other.
"Falling in love" is easy because we are able to place it in the hands of fate. Truly loving someone is perhaps the most difficult thing a person can do, and that is precisely what I think makes it so beautiful.
When two individuals spend an entire lifetime choosing every single day to love each other, that is, in my mind, the epitome of romance. That is the love story that I want to live.