As I sat down to write about love, someone sent me this quote: “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”

If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them,” from Thomas Merton.

I immediately started playing Billy Joel’s “just the way you are” in my head. The lyrics immediately contradict the title. “Don’t go changing…” he sings. We are always changing. The man I married 40 years ago is not the man I live with now, though he has the same name. Nevertheless, I still love him, even though I am not the same person I was 40 years ago. Thank goodness we have both learned and developed over those years. How boring it would be to remain the same.

Perhaps that’s why Merton speaks of “the beginning of love.” The messy middle includes all those things we don’t love about the other person, and the determination to remain in relationship with them anyway. Loving my husband means living with his piles of stuff even though it drives me crazy. I would prefer a neat house, where everything is sorted and stowed away. I remember the day I tried to clean his stuff. It did not go well. My vision of our lives together needed to change.

Brené Brown talks about love as connection and defines it as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

I like that definition, but it makes it sound like love is a static state. In my experience, love energy is always moving, ebbing and flowing. We make the decision to love over and over again as difficulties arise. Marriage, in particular, is a vow to keep choosing love.

Love is to see, accept – and even celebrate – the other as they are. To maintain a long relationship requires choosing love again and again.

In your journal:

  • What is your definition of love?
  • How is love different at the beginning? How does it change over time?
  • Write about the choices you have made in a relationship.