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Valentine's Day: all we need is love, or is it?

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Those who've read my Wisegal blog postings titled, “Deliver me, deliver me” or “When the moon hits the sky, like a big pizza pie” will understand my sentiments on this matter.

Take for instance the character played by Sandra Bullock in The Lake House. She is a young doctor who has a hard time finding true love. In one scene, she explains to a friend that she has spent her life running away from love only to finally find “someone who [she] could give [her] heart to completely.” Yet, she can't have him because although he is on the same planet, he is literally from another time zone. I wanted so badly to change her silly proclamation to “someone who I could learn to love.”

If we literally give our hearts away, we know we couldn’t survive that because, after all, everyone needs their own heart. Why in heaven’s name would anyone think that handing over our metaphorical heart (the source of our loving energy, our wisdom and our humanity) to another person is a good idea? Losing our hearts appears to be synonymous with losing our heads in many cases.

Some give away their power, sensibility and self-esteem in the name of love. The media seduces us with images, songs, movies that promote the silly idea of total but conditional surrender – I look my whole life for someone who will take over management of my heart and become responsible for its well-being from then on.

Giving my heart wholly to someone may be fine if I mean to be emotionally and physically faithful to him. However, if the handing over is conditional upon that person 1) loving me forever, 2) never ever betraying or hurting me (in other words, being responsible for how I feel), 3) never leaving me, and 4) staying the same person I fell in love with – then I am setting myself (and my partner) up for a whole heap of trouble. Because, first of all – people do change, grow, evolve over the course of time, hopefully into better, more mature and more loving human beings. No one stays the same, and no one knows how they will feel in the future. And even the most trustworthy person may inevitably do something hurtful or betraying. Making promises we cannot possibly keep sets us up for failure, as does buying into fairytale romances in which we expect to live happily ever after.

Fairytales begin and end with falling in love. We do not get to see what happens when Cinderella wakes up one morning and realizes that as charming as her Prince was when he swept her off her feet, she did not sign up for more housework and playing a subservient role to his highness. She wants to be more than a pitiful stepsister and a rescued maiden. She would like to take back her power, but in a fairytale there are no mentors or teachers to show her the way. Likewise, when the good prince wakes up to the fact that his new wife does not simply want to ride in carriages and make babies for the rest of her life, he is confused and clueless as what his options are.

The thing is, love is really a verb. The act (and the art) of loving is far different than the behavior of and feelings associated with falling in love. But that is not what popular culture teaches us. Most people have the delusional idea that a feeling (of love) is enough to sustain a relationship. They couldn’t be further from the real experience of loving. You see, real love, is the result of the act of loving. Now, we are honing in on the truth of it.

Falling in love is evolutionarily important because all the good feelings and intentions entice us into relationships that might otherwise not happen. The promise of further good feelings leads us to commit to them, but that is hardly enough in this day and age where procreation is often not the only purpose for people getting together.

The complexities and confusion of modern relationships make it critical that people have the skills necessary to work through conflicts and stuck points in relationships. That is where the love songs and fairytales fall short.

What I want to bring into my relationship is a level of emotional and spiritual maturity. By that, I mean that I want to be a person who can 1) take care of my own heart (i.e. be responsible for my own feelings), 2) choose with whom and how I am vulnerable, 3) commit to working through my own psychological baggage and thus not dump it onto my partner, 4) respect and value that person for who he truly is and not who I want him to be, and 5) support my partner in his growth and development, and ask for his support, similarly.

I can’t possibly make any promises for a future I can't predict – I can, however, assert my willingness to do the work of loving everyday.

Love is much more than a many-splendored thing. It is ecstatic, awesome, incredible, majestic, breathtaking, miraculous, and it is gruelling, inconvenient, heart-breaking, sobering, humbling, and sheer hard work. Loving requires skill and maturity. It's not for those living in castles in the sky.

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