What Is Love Anyway?

This is a longer post, but if you really want to know what love is and what it is NOT then please read on.

Recently someone I care about deeply was is a difficult place.  She turned to me (which is an honor) and asked me a couple of questions.  Let me set it up with a paraphrase of her part of the conversation:

“I read a lot of quotes about love, but what are they supposed to mean?  What does love truly mean from a man’s point of view?  In the beginning they tell you daily that they love you, that they want to spend the rest of their lives with you and that nothing matters but you.  However a few months or years down the road all of the affection and attention is gone.  Then they say that they love you, but are not IN love with you.  Does that mean it’s over?  That I need to face this painful reality?  Is it hopeless?

Following is my (edited) response


Wow. Those are big questions. I really should do a long blog post (or short eBook) about what love truly means. (that’s what you are all reading now :-))

First, most of us (guys and gals) most of the time use the word “love” incorrectly. We say, “I love ice cream” or “I love the Cardinals” when we really mean “I have a strong preference for ice cream” or “I prefer the Cardinals over the Cubs.” In this case it’s not “love” it is “prefer” or “really like”.

Second, there are two other common misuses of the word “love”. They are cases of lust or limerance (hang with me a moment friends). We all understand lust. It’s a strong desire for the physical attractiveness of another person. Lust happens more commonly in men than women (at least in my experience) but women are not immune.

The truly tricky one is something called “limerance”. This is a term referring to the chemical reactions in a someone’s brain when they first meet a new person to whom they are attracted. It’s often mixed in with lust, but it is more than just physical. Limerance is the exciting time when the other person can do no wrong, when you want to spend every waking moment with them, when you could be on the phone for hours. They have no flaws and everything they do is AMAZING! They are the perfect person to you and no amount of input from other family and friends can convince you otherwise. (Hence the old saying “love is blind”.) This is the classic “falling in love” stage. Every Hollywood romantic comedy is really all about limerance and so is every fairy tale that closes with, “and they lived happily ever after.”

Limerance is based on feelings and emotions that come from chemical interactions in the brain. Here is the secret very few know about the limerance or “falling in love” period. It has a scientifically proven and measureable lifetime. Limerance lasts, on average, 18-24 months. This is why couples “fall out of love” or say “I love you but I’m not IN love with you.” They have lost the head over heels, butterflies in your tummy, can’t wait to see you feelings. They had limerance, they probably also had lust, but they never had real love.

Here is the big difference…and it’s likely to be a shocker.

Love has nothing to do with feelings. Love is not an emotion.

Don’t get me wrong. Feelings can be the gateway to love. Most long-term happily married couples start out in limerance (and possibly lust). Sally and I were INTENSELY in limerance when we met. But not love. Not at first.

In fact I would go out on a limb to say almost NO couples start out in a state of real love. So, what characterizes the change from limerance to love? One word. Choice.

Love is a choice.

Love is a choice a person makes every day and many times a day. Love is a choice to serve the other person when you are tired, or frustrated, or angry or when you simply feel nothing. Love is the difference between doing what you feel at the time and doing what you committed to do at the altar. Love is acting by doing what you know is best for the other person more so than yourself. Love is a choice.

So when someone says to another person, “I’m not in love with you anymore” it means two things. 1) They likely don’t understand what real love is and never had it in the relationship and 2) They have chosen what THEY want rather than what the other person wants.

But THERE IS HOPE even in this situation. I’m a Christian, do you know why? Not because I deserved to be saved from my sins. Not a chance! Not because God FELT like He should save me. No, I am a Christian because Jesus, in LOVE, CHOSE to die on a cross for my sins. He chose to love me and I accepted that love and now I choose to love Him by serving Him in various ways. Love began with God.

Is it possible to “fall out of love”? No, because love is not a feeling, it is a choice. Is it possible to “fall out of limerance”? Absolutely…and it usually happens within 18-24 months. Couples will often stay together much longer out of obligation or fear. Years longer, in a miserable relationship either characterized by simmering anger and frustration or with no feeling, only deadness and more like roommates than a happy marriage.

Let me wrap this up on a happy note! Can a couple with no feelings, or feelings of anger ever get good feelings back? Yes, yes a thousand times yes!! It’s very simple. Choose to love. Choose to love by serving the other person, by saying kind and uplifting words, by physical touch, by small gifts, by simply spending time together in shared activity. Feelings follow actions and if we take the actions which characterize the choice of love then we WILL have feelings for the other person.

Oh boy, will we have feelings! Deeper, more powerful feelings of love than most have ever experienced! This is SO possible and unbelievably worth it. Sally and I learned these principles from a book we received early in our marriage. It is called The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. Pick up a copy and jump into it! If you’d like my take specifically on that book check out The Book That Started It All.

Now go out there and CHOOSE to love each other!

Love you all, truly I do…because I choose to do so.

-Troy

 

  • MBranson6

    I tried, over and over again, to tell my wife that love was a choice. She had yearnings only for those “feelings” that she used to have. She swears ~ and I believe her ~ that her limerance period lasted at least 5 years. Unfortunately, her feelings won out, and we were divorced about two weeks ago. There is obviously a LOT more to the story than that, but I appreciate your article and hope that everyone who reads it will finally understand the difference between Lust, Limerance, and Love.

    • Lilyputian

      Me too. I even bought the two books “Love is a choice” and ” love is a decision,” which he later told me was my manipulative way of trapping him into a relationship he decided he didn’t want anymore. He said he tried to get his heart to “move in a direction,” but just couldn’t do it (perhaps because his attention was often directed toward trying to get the attention of other women in his life). He pushed back on the love is a choice notion. He even asked me once during our separation if I’d ever been in love. Yes, I was in love with you, and I thought you were in love with me too, until you rewrote our story to say that you never loved me to justify your decision to divorce me. Yes, he professed Christianity. But he had drifted far away during our marriage. God was not at the center of our marriage, and without Him, the notion that love is anything other than those butterfly feelings (that they are having for new people in their lives) is a foreign idea they will reject so they can do what they want. And get forgiveness later.

      • http://happierhusband.com Troy

        Lilyputian you have also seen the issue when someone has made a decision to decide to follow limerance and not love. So common but so sad. In addition you hit on the truly central issue. If both people are not centered on God then neither is the relationship. I talked about this in the post First Place (http://happierhusband.com/?p=99). Be sure I will pray for you as well. God has an abundant life for you yet! “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing, now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19

      • MBranson6

        Well, now that Troy has revealed that there is a word for that initial, fluffy feeling, I’m gonna share it with all the pastors I know so they can get on the ball and explain to people what love is NOT, and then what it IS. There are a LOT of people ~ Christians, like our spouses ~ who have no idea what love is or what it looks like. God bless you on your journey.

        • http://happierhusband.com Troy Stoneking

          Thank you for the kind words! Please share the post, blog and of course Dr.Chapman’s book with as many people as possible. I am called to make good marriages great and I believe that what both of you have gone through will allow you to move into greater things for the Kingdom AND help others as well.
          God bless you both!
          -Troy

    • http://happierhusband.com Troy

      I’m so sorry that you have gone through that. It is sad that she didn’t choose love and get feelings back. But God is faithful and will get you through this trial. Things can be better than they ever were before if you choose to love Him as He has chosen to love you. Every day. I’ll be praying for you my friend!

  • Tonya Eddins

    Troy…I truly enjoyed this post! You did a wonderful job of answering the questions. Some days it can be difficult to choose Love because feelings want to intervene; but God has given us the Holy Spirit so we don’t have to accomplish love in our own strength …wow when I think about it the word choose has a lot of weight and it is freeing. Love allows freedom to choose…when we freely choose Love transformation takes place. Thanks for loving us …. Loving you all back!

    • http://happierhusband.com Troy Stoneking

      Thank you for the kind words Tonya! You are so right that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to choose love, even on the difficult days. If you think the blog is worthy I would much appreciate you sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or any other way. I want to reach as many folks as possible and help their marriages!

  • Pingback: Choose Wisely | A Happier Husband()

  • Pingback: The Personality Problem | A Happier Husband()