Scene 1, Act 1
I cringe whenever people make love out to be a whimsical thing or some mysterious feeling that comes out of thin air.
I cringe at my younger self.
What were you thinking?
This irreversibly pervasive but altogether inaccurate perspective on love, fuelled by the romantic idealism peddled through films, books and the lyrics of sappy R&B songs, is a key reason why relationships fail.
You see, when we assume that love is a freak of nature, we are inadvertently making these claims:
1. There is no recipe for love.
2. Its expression cannot be controlled.
3. It must be unconditional.
All wrong, by the way. All utterly wrong.
Looking conversely could yet wake us from the nightmare of misplaced expectations of ourselves and the world we live in.
Scene 2, Act 1
Love always has an origin and, if we care to pay attention, its course can be traced.
Let’s go to church briefly.
Depending on what you believe, God loves us all. In fact, He loves us so much that He gave us the most precious gift ever – His Son.
Now, God’s love for us did not emerge suddenly from a cloud of mist. It was not a love borne out of pity neither was it grudgingly given.
From the scriptural account of the creation of the world, God looked at everything He had made, including us, and concluded that “it was good.”
He was delighted, and in human terms, we tend to love the things that delight us.
It is safe to say that in that moment of divine assessment, the godly love for humanity was set. The events (no need to rehash) that gave form to this love suggest a master recipe made up of four steps:
perception, evocation, (re)action and proof.
Or in a simple sense, our experiences produce feelings that we act on or react to, and those (re)actions are proof of our feelings.
Even simpler, it means that love is an action driven by feelings, and feelings are reactions to certain experiences.
It follows then that when God gave His Son to save humankind, it was an action that proved His love for us beyond a shadow of doubt, depending on what you believe.
And while I admit that we may not have any control over how the recipe comes together, it is clear that we have the power to decide how our love is expressed.
Scene 2, Act 2
Love is not (a) madness.
Throughout history, love has been described in an almost endless variety of ways, not all of them desirable. For example, it has been called a force, likened to a fever and guaranteed to be blind. But of all the colourful descriptions of love that exist, none is as disturbing as calling it a madness.
The term madness suggests shockingly abnormal behaviour or, more mildly, a lack of order. Yet, the very nature of love is orderly.
Love is rational.
It leads us to be considerate of other people. Love reminds us that we are just as human as they are, so we bend a lot more than our natural selves would. It’s a beautiful thing to be that flexible.
Love is mature.
Seriously, love has to be grown-up to be love. And being grown-up means accepting that we will not always have our way. We step aside and we are better for it.
We cannot claim to love yet be so caught up in our little lives that we cannot be bothered. That just doesn’t add up. Love drips kindness, and kindness is involving. We cannot be remote about it.
Does any one of these things strike you as a form of madness?
I hope not.
If love is mad, it cannot be love. Look again.
Scene 2, Act 3
Love is conditional until it isn’t.
Growing up, I ‘fell in love’ quite a few times.
First, it was the special Ghanaian girl in my primary school.
Next was my fierce secondary school crush.
Then came the deceptive freedom of adulthood and a succession of girlfriends, all of whom I claimed to love (some more vehemently than others).
Quite a trip, but all the stops had something in common: conditions.
I ‘loved’ Ghana girl because she looked amazing to seven-year-old me. As soon as those looks stopped being relevant to me (in about nine long years), my love took the next bus out of town.
Secondary school was mostly about books for me, so it makes sense that my crush was a straight-A student complete with adorable glasses and top-notch etiquette. Then school ended and I had new things to bother about. Straight As did not matter so much anymore and glasses were now just a vision aid. Goodbye, crush.
And the actual girlfriends?
For every person I dated, I was stuck on one thing or another for a while: she makes me laugh, she’s so spiritual, we complement each other, we look so good together or something.
I did not love these people (wholly), just things I found appealing about them. Or worse, I loved things I found appealing about the version of myself I was with them.
Surprise, surprise, none of these things was enough to power a lasting relationship.
But they were not supposed to be enough. I’ll explain.
Looking back, I have learned that for almost every ‘official’ relationship I had, the reasons to stay were much stronger than the reasons to walk away.
Yes, you were naive.
Hindsight is annoyingly cocky.
I have also learned something much more relevant:
The desire to love is powerful enough to help us build a great relationship on the conditions that spark great mutual interest.
When we really want to love someone (who also wants us, of course), we are receptive to learning more about them, nurturing the relationship and making time to make things work.
Wanting it that much can put us in a good place to be at our unselfish best and open up room to grow beyond the terribly limited comfort zone of ‘the things I like about you’.
When that happens, we begin to think less in terms of conditions and more about possibilities.
Complementary forces get stronger because we stop seeing from a position of judgement and we begin to look through the lens of “How can I make us better?”
And what is love if it does not make us better, both the giver and the receiver?
My conversion from romantic idealism is still in progress, but seeing love in a practical light has already taught me that its seemingly ordinary realities are by far more useful than the wildest fantasies.
We love better with our eyes open.