Love is the most fascinating concept in the world. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by the way love works. How is it that two people just by looking at each other suddenly feel an enormous attraction to one another?
Can we choose who we love? If yes, why do people still stay in abusive relationships or cheat on their longtime partners? And most importantly can we just stop loving someone?
Everyone has their own opinions and beliefs when it comes to something as complicated as love. Some people think that falling in love is a matter of timing; others, that it’s something that can be attributed to pure luck.
So, what’s the right answer? Do we have a saying in who we’re gonna fall in love with? Is love, after all, a matter of chance or choice?
The Difference Between Attraction and Love
I think the first step to answering the question of whether love is a matter of chance or choice, is to differentiate between attraction and love. That’s necessary because people often misinterpret their attraction for someone as love.
In reality, those two are completely different feelings.
The physical and unconscious feeling of attraction
You know that feeling when you first lock eyes with someone and immediately find them irresistible? Then you get into a conversation with them and after that, you cannot stop thinking about them; the way they look, the way they talk.
That’s what attraction is. And it often feels like it just happens to us, like we have zero dominion over our romantic tastes.
Psychology professor Glenn Geher says about attraction:
Attraction can spark at first sight or sneak up on us, stealthily and unexpectedly. At other times, it’s a disappointing no-show: We’ve probably all wished we could fall for a loyal friend or a date who sounded great online.
Additionally, former psychotherapist Sandra L. Brown states about the feeling of attraction:
“Attraction is not only unconscious but also largely physical. There is actually something called “erotic imprint” which is the unconscious part that guides our attraction. Our erotic imprint is literally “imprinted” in our psyches when we are young — at the age when we begin to notice and be attracted to the opposite sex.”
So, the feeling of attraction seems to be a matter of chance, after all. It’s unexpected, unconscious, and mainly physical.
It’s also something that easily fades.
You don’t need a psychologist to help you realize that. How many times have you been attracted to someone, only for this attraction to fade after a couple of weeks or months and leave you wondering what the hell did you see in that person in the first place?
But what about love? Do we choose who we love or is love an uncontrollable, sweeping emotion?
Love is all about choices
We often hear people saying things like “the heart wants what it wants” or “you can’t choose who you love”, especially when it comes to adultery, staying in an abusive relationship, or being attracted to someone inappropriate(such as your best friend’s boyfriend).
Although you may not be able to help being attracted to someone, you can actually choose not to give in into your feelings, not to get closer to someone or stop investing in your relationship.
Real, genuine love is a series of choices.
It is a choice to see the good in your partner every day rather than to focus on the negative things about them. It’s a choice to stay committed through the difficult times, through the less than romantic moments.
It’s a choice to keep investing in your relationship, to keep the fire of love burning. It’s also a choice to remember the reasons why you love your partner. It is easy to focus on what you are not getting out of a relationship, on all the things that are far from perfect.
Dr. Kurt Smith agrees that love has much to do with choices:
“Who we love is as much of a choice as it is a feeling. Staying in love takes a commitment. After the rosy glow of the new relationship wears off, we have to make a decision: Do we want to love this person and commit to a relationship together, or are we going to let this person go?”
Love is making a choice every single day, either to love and continue investing in your relationship or not to love and end things once and for all. That’s it. Love is a process. You either continue this process or you don’t.
One of William Jennings Bryan’s most interesting quotes is:
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
The same words can be applied to love.
Attraction often feels like it just happens. But true, genuine love, is voluntary. It’s not a matter of chance — it’s a choice. And above all, it’s a lot of work.
Love needs the investment of time, commitment, nurturing, and patience.
There is a difference between falling in love and loving someone. We can become attracted to someone and fall ‘in love’ with them very quickly. That’s because falling in love is about the physical connection we make with someone, sprinkled in with what limited intellectual and emotional connection we’ve made with them.
On the other hand, truly, genuinely loving someone, and being loved in return for that matter, is more about the intellectual and emotional intimacy that comes from deciding to get to know someone more, to get closer to them, and invest in the process of creating a strong connection.
In the end, love comes down to a decision. You have to consciously decide that you love your partner and that you’re gonna stay with them, and you need to decide this every day for the rest of your shared life.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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