Whenever I hear the words "love is a choice," my ears perk up and I see red warning flags. That is what happened this morning when I clicked on the new post from A Practical Wedding in my reader. The author writes about how she teaches her Catholic school students this shocking notion that love isn't a feeling, and how she "practices" loving her soon-to-be husband. The comments on the post were mostly "Yes! I agree!"
A Practical Wedding is not a religious website, so I was a little surprised by the wholehearted support of this idea. I had previously been taught that "love is a choice" only by religious groups. And later in life I learned that extreme religious groups use this doctrine to force women into loveless, often abusive marriages.
The first time I was introduced to this idea was in junior high when I attended weekly youth group meetings. We were asked by the leader, "Is love a feeling or a choice?" I was confused. Everyone was confused. We all knew what love was. We felt it for our family and friends. But the question was obviously leading us to challenge that notion. Love is an action, we were taught. I came away from that session feeling a little empty. I felt as though the love I had for people was now less meaningful, because all that mattered was what we did. And I felt an obligation to do things for other people without developing relationship first. After all, why develop a relationship if what you're doing already equals love?
In recent years, I have taken an interest in reading about spiritual abuse, particularly as it happens in extreme religious groups or cults. A common thread throughout many of these stories are people who have bought into the idea that love is a choice and have taken it to its logical extreme. Young women who are being courted by a man are told to dispel their girlish notions of romance. "As long as you serve each other, you are loving each other. That is what love is. Feelings are fleeting, and if your marriage is built on the feeling of love, you will break apart when the feeling leaves you. The heart is deceitful." People are taught to ignore their emotions and gut instincts. People like that are easy to control and abuse. Even when they feel utterly unhappy, they will stay where they are because all the factors they were taught to trust are telling them they're in the right place. Some people believe that any Christian man could have a successful marriage with any Christian woman if they followed the principles of "love is a choice."
Elizabeth Esther wrote about her struggles with trying to separate feelings from actions of love, and how it led her into deep depression and nearly ruined her marriage. She felt "inherently unlovable." She knew her husband loved her but she didn't feel it.
I think that the majority of people who like to spout off "love is a choice" don't really mean it. They're just trying to emphasize the importance of demonstrating love through actions by using confusing terminology to catch people's attentions and make them think they're hearing something new and revolutionary. Most of them probably take for granted that everyone will continue seeking and living the feelings of love. I do not like these tactics. At least not in a religious setting. You can't take things for granted there. People love to jump on revolutionary ideas and test them out in their lives, hoping for miraculous results, when it comes to religion.
Let's just say things how they are, without the confusing language. Love is a feeling. Choices, actions, and commitments are separate things, that often go hand-in-hand with love. They can be born out of love. They can maybe even lead to love. But they do not equal love. They are not a replacement for love.
There is wisdom in feelings, just as in reason. We need to use both.