How do you know the difference between loving a girl and being infatuated with her?
What is love? I used to think of it as a warm, fuzzy feeling. When you see her, the world seems beautiful, the birds are singing, and everything reminds you of her. Your heart races whenever she walks into the room.
That is “being in love.” This spontaneous emotional reaction is a lot of fun, but we should not confuse these feelings with love itself. Some people think that they can tell how long a relationship will last based upon how powerful the feelings of attraction are. They spend massive amounts of time trying to decide whether or not they are in love. What they are overlooking is the fact that love is a decision to do what is best for another person, even if one’s attractions or emotions are not as intense as they were at the dawn of the relationship.
But it is not enough to want to do what is good for the other. We must form our minds according to the truth that God has revealed so that we know what is good for the other, and we are not just doing whatever feels good. Once we know what is good for the other, all that remains is to follow through and live out that love in our actions.
Love does not “happen” to couples—it is something they do. It is a task. If the initial excitement of a relationship tapers off and we conclude from this that love is gone, we can be sure that love was never there to begin with. After all, if love is simply about having romantic feelings, how could a bride and groom promise each other that their marriage will last “until death do us part”? More likely it would last “until boredom do us part.” Therefore, you cannot determine the worth of a relationship by measuring the intensity of emotions.
Suppose you are married and your pregnant wife has food cravings. It is four in the morning, and she wants you to go to the grocery store to get her fudge brownie ice cream and pickle juice. You roll over and look at your bride, and she does not seem to be glowing the way she did on your wedding day. At four in the morning, your world is not looking beautiful and the singing birds have gone mute. But after kissing her fevered forehead, you walk out the door and drive to the store. Has love gone away? Actually, it is more real than ever.
So how do you know if you love a woman? Pope John Paul II has answered this question perfectly in saying that “the greater the feeling of responsibility for the [beloved] the more true love there is.” The greatest example of this love is Christ. He alone perfectly reveals how to love a woman. If we ever need to know how to properly love a woman, all we need to do is look at a crucifix.
. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 131.