I found this quote on Instagram quite a while ago and I feel like it goes perfectly with the thoughts I have about this post.
We’ve all experienced them: the sermons, books, lectures, and online articles about love as a verb. They tell us that true love is an action, not just a feeling. They say that long after the euphoria wears off, we must choose to love every hour and every day, even if we aren’t feeling particularly loving at that very moment.
These thoughts are well-intentioned and carry a lot of truth. The issue comes in when people use them in the wrong context.
These posts or sermons are usually aimed in one of three directions. By far the most common is the application to marriage, where the author or speaker tells us that love extends beyond feeling and includes staying committed and acting lovingly even if we aren’t feeling it at the moment. Secondary applications that I’ve seen are either in reference to our relationship with family or to our actions towards people with whom we may be having conflict.
One area that this topic is not intended for is a dating relationship.
In my world, at a relatively conservative Christian college, most people take dating seriously. We aren’t casual; we “date with a purpose”. In general, this means that most people are proponents of not dating someone you couldn’t see a future with. This can absolutely be a good baseline – I mean, who wants to waste time with someone that you don’t feel compatible with?
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that in this high-pressure, marriage-oriented bubble, many people, especially girls, start to treat dating like marriage.
I know because I was one of them.
The problem is that dating is not marriage and was never meant to be. When you’re dating someone, you should be with them because everything feels wonderful and perfect and not because love is a verb.
It took me a long time to realize this. I stayed in a wrong relationship for way too long because love is a verb, right? I made a commitment to this person, right? I should stick with this even if I’m not feeling it, because love is an action.
He was a good person with a lot of great qualities. He checked all of the boxes on my theoretical checklist. He was smart, funny, and a great catch by anyone’s standards. Everyone thought we were perfect together. People asked me regularly when we were going to get married. He’s a good person, I told myself. He’s a great catch, I said. I could have a good life with him, I said. I love him, I said.
It didn’t feel quite right.
Don’t dwell on it, I said. No one is perfect, and I myself am very imperfect. I’m lucky to have someone like this, I said. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. I could have a good life with him. I could make this work, I told myself.
Love is an action, not a feeling, I said.
I started to get sad a lot. I was anxious a lot. I had giant swings in how I felt about the relationship from day to day and even from hour to hour. It occupied my mind all of the time.
You’re lucky to have someone who puts up with all of this, I said. You’re falling apart but he’s holding you together, I said. If this ends, who else would want to deal with you? You have a lot of problems. You’d fall to pieces.
Something feels wrong, but I can’t articulate anything. I’m being paranoid, I said. I love him, I said.
And love is a choice, right?
So I chose. I chose to stay, and stay, and stay.
This relationship wasn’t saving me. It wasn’t holding me together.
It was shredding me, and I let it, because no one is perfect and love is a choice. Love is a choice. Love is a choice. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated that to myself, over and over, until I was sad and numb and confused and I spent another day and another week and another month deciding to stay.
Until one day, I realized that it was all a lie.
Love in dating shouldn’t be all about commitment and choices and careful rationalization and deciding to stay.
It should be about being insanely, giddily, head-over-heels in love with some unbelievably perfect person who seems to incredible to be real. It should be about deep happiness that overshadows everything else when you are with that person. It should be about quiet contentment and feeling safer with them than with anyone else.
It shouldn’t be about anxiety and depression and fear of failure or of falling apart or falling out of love. It shouldn’t be about making it work and putting your shoulder to the grindstone and riding it out. I mean, sure, you could do that, but do you really want to? Do you want to spend the rest of your life having to force yourself to choose love day after day and week after week and year after year?
It shouldn’t be about having a pretty good life.
It should be about having a great life that exceeds your wildest dreams.
He was a good person, but he wasn’t my good person. He checked all of my boxes, but it turns out that there are more important things than box-checking. He was smart and funny and good-looking, but that couldn’t make it right. Everyone thought we were perfect, but I outgrew the relationship.
He could have given me a good life.
It took a lot of courage, but I finally decided to choose a great one.
I’m happy most of the time now. It was strange at first. I had forgotten what it was like to be happy, every day, for no particular reason. I had forgotten what it was like to feel excitement about my future instead of dread.
I had forgotten what it was like to be me.
So that’s why I feel that it’s so, so important for girls like me to hear this message. Don’t stay stuck in a dating relationship out of obligation. Dating comes before marriage for an enormously important reason. Don’t skip out on that or turn it into a pseudo-marriage. Don’t stay in a relationship where you feel ambivalent, because that shouldn’t be where marriage comes from.
Don’t settle for “good enough”.
I chose to search for a great life.