Love. We hear the word and our thoughts can vary from childhood crushes to a man and woman standing at the altar saying their vows. But when trying to describe love, more often than not our explanations begin with, "It's this feeling when...." or "It's when you feel..." Yes, love can involve some amazing feelings and emotions. God desires our happiness and His design for our lives is amazing. But I hate to burst your bubble... love is not just a feeling. It is so much more than a feeling.
As John Paul II described in his Theology of the Body, love is a decision to will the good of the beloved. It is a decision, something we choose to do or not do every day of our lives. Do you wake up every morning feeling butterflies when you think about your mother? Probably not, but you love her, and would probably do anything for her... because you love her and this love is unconditional.
Feelings can accompany love, and this "head over heels" physical feeling that someone gets is more than just happenstance, it is programmed into our bodies. As explained in Theology of the Body for Teens, one reason for these physical reactions is, "Because of the chemical known as phenylethylamine (PEA). It is a natural amphetamine in your rain that triggers a release of dopamine, giving you blissful feeling. " At the same time, "Another chemical known as norepinephrine kicks up the level of adrenaline in your body, making your blood pressure increase."
Great! However, it is hypothesized by some scientists that the body can develop a tolerance causing the chemicals to "wear off" somewhere between eighteen months and fours years. For teenagers, the duration is believed to be even shorter: between three and four months.
"So, then what happens," you might be asking yourself. I think this is where the confusion lies among many today. We date and then when we feel like we don't love him/her anymore we break up. And we do this...over...and over... and over. So why is marriage any different? What is to stop is from wanting to call it all off once the butterflies calm down? It is this choice, the choice to continue loving even when the feeling is gone. The love does not diminish as the feelings lessen in intensity, the love actually grows.
John Paul II says that the true magnitude of love, "Is put to the test most severely when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker, and sexual values as such lose their effect. Nothing then remains except the value of the person and the inner truth about the love... If their love is a true gift of self, so that they belong to the other, it will not only survive, but grow stronger, and sink deeper roots."
When you see that cute old couple still holding hands as they walk down the street, do you think they have butterflies every time they look at each other? Probably not. "Young love is a flame; very pretty, very hot, and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable." Their love is more than a flickering flame, so much deeper, more pure and true... definitely more than a feeling. I wonder if Boston knew how profound they were when writing that 70's hit?