One of my coping strategies while being marooned at home by Covid restrictions during this long, hard winter was to read light romantic fiction. Hilderbrand’s setting for most of her stories is summer-time Nantucket Island—think beach towels and sandals, lobster sandwiches and turquoise waters. Over the past three months, I binge-read 12 of her 32 novels, successfully enabling my mind to temporarily escape worries over Omicron, Ukraine and now trucker blockades.
Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to explore the mystery of that kind of love which chooses us. Let us set aside for the moment other dimensions of love: for a child or sibling, or for the kind of love we can choose–or not–for our neighbour or for the threatened world of nature.
On this special day in February, let us instead reflect on the kind of mysterious unbidden love that chooses to blossom between two people who happen to walk into each other’s lives. That mysterious love that begins with an involuntary attraction to that other person. It grows with a communication connection on multiple levels: intellectual, emotional, sometimes spiritual and only sometimes physical. It can be nourished or suppressed but its existence cannot be denied. Some would call it romantic love but it is not that simple.
Consider this story: Many years ago, while I was living in another part of Ontario, a female friend felt a need to clarify her relationship with our male neighbour. She explained to me: “I do love Tom, but I am in love only with my husband.” Many years later, I am now revisiting that conversation and pondering the differences between “loving someone” and “being in love.” I had assumed that my friend was describing a much deeper, more intimate connection with her husband than with Tom. But searching the internet for clarity of definitions from relationship experts only led to confusion.
According to Michael Arangua, “Being in love is usually at the beginning of the relationship— it’s infatuation and it’s short-term.” (BetterHelp, December21, 2020) He then contrasts that scenario with “loving someone,” which is defined as a long-term bond or attachment.
Rachel Pace writes that being in love wants an equal measure of reciprocity whereas loving someone does not require that emotion to be returned. (Marriage.com April 13, 2021) Finally, Sabrina Huang contrasts a key difference this way: While loving someone may end, being in love cannot. Further, “You choose to love someone; being in love isn’t a choice.” (Six Senses Healing, July 15, 2018)
Rachel Pace would agree with Hilderbrand’s views when she also notes: “If you’re in love, you have no choice but to love the person. It’s something that happens without your consent.”
On Valentine’s Day, let us celebrate the mystery of love which may be better left as undefinable. Perhaps it now lives as a memory for you, one that even now, years later, still causes your heart to flutter. Perhaps you are enveloped right now in the arms of a loving relationship. Or maybe one awaits you in some future day. Wherever and whenever love chooses you, welcome it and nurture and treasure the experience.