What love really is: A choice

Love one another. John 15:12

The 1965 music hit, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” is a bouncy little tune by Burt Bacharach. The lyrics, by Hal Davis, go like this: “What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love sweet love, no not just for some but for everyone.”

Like many shallow songs about love in that era, it goes on to say that we have 
“plenty of mountains, oceans, rivers, meadows, corn fields, wheat fields, sunbeams, moonbeams but not enough love.” It’s a nice song, but it never tells us what “love” is.

It gets a lot worse. A new commercial has made its way onto TV that begins with a stylized beating heart with the announcer proudly claiming, “We believe that love is a chemical reaction.

Chemistry has a good chance to make the world a more harmonious place. That’s why we don’t just make chemicals! We create chemistry! BASF! The chemical company!”

Actually, our culture has been pushing that idea for a very long time, and massive numbers of people buy into it. One website summarized it best: “Love is about how the other person makes you feel. The fact of the matter is that love involves non-verbal reactions — synaptic (chemical) connections within our brains.”

No wonder the world of relationships is in such shambles, with some highly publicized marriages now lasting only a few days.

Of course, the problem is not that the chemical company and Hollywood are wrong about the reality of strong feelings of attraction, but that they continue to use the wrong word for it.

What they refer to as “love” should more precisely be called “cathexsis.” Of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” (cathexsis) is “love.”

“Love” is not a feeling, but a choice we make regardless of our feelings. Many people with “feelings of love” act in all manner of unloving and destructive ways. A married man, meeting a married woman in a bar, can be overcome with “feelings of love.”

If they consummate their “feelings of attraction,” they are acting in a very unloving and destructive way. Previously scheduled appointments are abandoned, commitments are violated and family stability ignored.

On the other hand, a genuinely loving individual will not only override his or her “feelings” in such a situation. He will often take loving and constructive action toward people he consciously dislikes and finds repugnant. Real love is not about chemistry, but spirituality.

It might be a good idea to remember this distinction when we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. Even though St. Valentine has been hijacked by the romantic love industry as the patron saint of strong feelings of attraction, it might be good to remember that he was a priest-martyr who was beaten with clubs and beheaded for not renouncing his Christian faith. That certainly didn’t “feel good!”

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