What is the difference between loving someone and being "in love" with someone?
My friend Lisa said she had been contemplating this question as of late and so she posted the question on her Facebook profile. The list of answers was interesting but incomplete. The interesting thing about most of the posts was the heavy emphasis on physical attraction as if that was the only great difference between loving and being in love with someone. Although I’ll admit physical attraction is a wonderful thing I do wonder if it is not a bit overplayed. I have certainly been physically attracted to women that I never felt any sort of “love” toward while at the same time I have deeply loved people where the physical attraction came much later and grew greater as time progressed.
Love is a deep and complex matter. It transcends reason. It transcends explanation and it has often been linked to a mild form of mental insanity. For me, love is an unconditional and involuntary mental state. To truly love someone does not mean that we praise their strongest qualities while overlooking their shortcomings. It means that we love what others may perceive as shortcomings because these attributes are just as much an integral part of who a person truly is as their more applauded features. To love truly and unconditionally means that we appreciate and respect every thought, feeling, and physical appearance of a person without reservation. That doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated, irritated, or confounded, it just means when we look back at the situation, we smile because any other action would have been inappropriate.
Love must mean that we value a person for where and what they are and not what we hope they may become. There is nothing sadder than to see people get married hoping that time, obligation, or manipulation may change that person into something other than they are right now. But it also means that we give the person we love the freedom to grow, blossom, and chose to become whatever they want. And the fascinating thing about this is that as they change, and we do as well, we still honor their decisions and choices without hesitation.
To love someone means there is no need for forgiveness, because even when perceptions of the reason for an action are different, every dumb, inconsiderate act is just as the endearing as the act that was perfectly timed and executed. Every success and every failure are applauded equally because we had the privilege of witnessing the growth that just took place and are humbled because we were allowed to share in the experience.
Love requires communication. Love means we can listen without judgment because we care, we want to understand, and we want to share in the feelings that the other person is experiencing. We want to be empathic without being sympathetic or judgmental. We just enjoy being included, to be trusted, and to be allowed to be supportive and understanding. It also means we must share and want to include the other person as much as we want to be included ourselves. We share not because we need to be understood or validated in any way, but because we want to trust someone else with all our fears, joys, doubts, and hopes. We want to include them in everything we are.
But how does that deep, unquestionable caring differ from the euphoric roller-coaster ride of “being in love?” And at the same time
How does the being in love differ from mere infatuation or momentary excitement? When I am “in love” with someone, they are constantly on my mind. Not that I am concerned with what they are doing or who they are doing it with, but because I feel like I am in a state of exited anticipation, waiting for the next time I will see their smile, or hear their voice. When I am in love, all of my sense are heightened and I can easily recreate in my mind the way that light sparkles upon their lip, the scent of their hair, the taste of their breathe, the warmth of their hand, and the melody of their voice. It is as if my very soul is somehow not quite complete without that person in my life. When I am in love, I am more confident because I know that anything I do, succeed or fail, is insignificant compared to the joy of knowing that they are still there for me. When I am in love, I am more ambitious because I want to be able to provide for them in ways that show my gratitude for their very existence. I know that I don’t need to change, or act, or be any different than who I am because I am accepted and complete as is, but I want to be a better person just because they are there.
I guess it is because I am a little older now, or maybe because I have been in and out of relationships for the past thirty years, that I don’t always equate sex to being attracted to someone. I have met a few women who have captivated my attention with their personality, their conversation, the magic of their presence to the extent that after the second or third meeting I still could not tell you what their body looked like, although I could recollect the small subtleties in their facial expressions and their speech patterns. When I was in their presence, the rest of the world simply disappeared because it shrank to such a level of inconsequence. Time stood still and a euphoria of sensual pleasures heightened every nerve fiber to a level of unconstrained bliss. When another person’s presence, or even a thought of that person, can raise your awareness of life to a level of sacredness, that is being in love, and no it didn’t always involve sex. It is a deep spiritual connection that unites you with the universe and all that is wonderful within it. It completes your soul, raises your consciousness, and leaves you speechless because the words are so inadequate to describe it. But it leaves your chest feeling warm and comfortable and satisfied and makes it impossible to ever settle for anything less.
After being single for the past ten years, I am now back to a point where I am willing to take a chance to experience this feeling once more. I am willing to share my life if and when the right person comes along. I am a hopeless romantic and believe in love or at least attraction at first sight but I also have the perspective to realize that time is on my side, and if it is meant to be, I am willing to let it take as long as love itself sees fit to do. Some people seem so desperate to find that feeling that they don’t give it time to develop. They jump from one relationship to another, or one date to another, expecting the magic to always happen instantaneously. Then, when it doesn’t happen on a first or second date, they rush in another direction hoping to discover someone who can make them forget that deep loneliness that eats inside. Love or being in love, doesn’t fix us it betters us; however, if we don’t love and accept ourselves first then it is like trying to grow a garden on solid stone. Those first few flowers may grow and seem to be quite beautiful, but they will not have roots and soon will wither and leave a barren rock once more. Love is patient. It is built upon respect and upon caring. It takes time to nurture, it takes time to grow, and it takes a lifetime to transform, and change, and hibernate, and then once more reinvent itself and grow some more. It takes commitment. It takes faith. It requires hope and it requires taking a chance.
Passion, love, and being in love are different steps along a long path. One does not necessarily precede nor preclude the others. Given time, energy, effort, and devotion they will each find their proper place and when they do, they will unite into a force that is greater than the limits of time, space, and man’s limited imagination.