February 14 provokes many feelings in people throughout the world. For some, it is the official day of romance. For others, it’s a commercial holiday, one more way for consumers to be exploited. Others experience this day as a painful reminder of their loneliness. The one thing we can all agree on is that February 14 is associated with love.
What is love, anyway? Is it feelings of butterflies in your stomach? The desire you feel to spend time with the person who has become the focus of your affection? Is it a biological reaction to pheromones and oxytocin? Although all of those things may play a role in love, it would be hard to reduce the experience of love to one simple component.
While love can be romantic, exciting, joyful, and exhilarating, those are only some facets of love. It is not always walks on the beach at sunset and dancing with ecstasy. Love, like all facets of life, cannot always be perfect or ideal. Sometimes love is being silent when you’d rather scream. Sometimes love is waking up early to make breakfast for your lover when you would rather sleep. Sometimes love is going to a play you don’t really want to see or a sporting event for a team you don’t like, simply because your partner enjoys that activity. Love is not merely a feeling; it must also be a choice.
Rollo May once said: “Intimacy requires courage because risk is inescapable. We cannot know at the outset how the relationship will affect us. Like a chemical mixture, if one of us is changed, both of us will be. Will we grow in self-actualization, or will it destroy us?” Whenever we are presented with the opportunity to love or be loved, we are setting out on an unknown and uncharted course. We are launching out into the great frontier without a map, with only our hearts to guide us. We are stripping away our defenses and protective barriers and allowing ourselves to be “naked and unashamed.” When we are loving, we are vulnerable. Being open to allowing love to pierce our existence also means that we are open to be pierced by pain, suffering, agony, and despair. What fills me with wonder is that we never know how our particular story might end and yet we continue to be willing to reach out and try.
If I could have one wish this Valentine’s Day, it would be for an awakening to happen; that people would realize that love, as Maroon 5 reminds us, is “not always rainbows and butterflies,” but that no matter if one falls flat on his or her face or soars with the birds, the experience of love is always worth it. I would also wish that those who have had their hearts broken and trampled would not allow that experience to shut them off or change them negatively, but that they can see that the broken heart simply allows for expansion. I wish that the courageous remnant willing to risk loving another would begin taking tentative steps toward one another in a gentle reaching, seeking the deeper connection we all crave.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa M. Vallejos, PhD, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado
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