I remember a family member once asking me if I thought that the man that she was dating was “the one” for her. She had experienced real heartbreak before and she wanted to be certain that she was indeed with someone who truly loved her before she agreed to a lifetime commitment with him.
I was flattered that she thought that I might be wise enough to distinguish real feelings of caring from those that are often induced by runaway emotions. I also felt a bit inadequate to decide something so important for her. I chose to ask her a series of questions. The first being, “How do you feel when you are with him?”
Without hesitation she smiled and said that he made her feel like the most important person in the world. She has a very stressful job and he understood her need to relax and laugh once in awhile. She said that he seemed to like her and think of her as being beautiful whether she was all decked out in her best hairdo and outfit or she was scraggly and in sweats. All in all she insisted that time spent with him always made her happy.
I saw her description of their relationship as an excellent indicator that he cared deeply for her but I wondered if she had reciprocal feelings about him. Indeed she said that she missed him and his optimism when she was away from him. She had grown to see him as someone who was kind and caring, traits that she valued in a man. He made her smile and she wanted to spend as much time with him as she might. He was the first person with whom she wanted to share both her joy and her sadness. She admitted that he had become her very best friend.
The initial feelings that lead to love often have a physical attraction component but to flower there must be a great deal more than just liking the way a prospective life partner looks. Those of us who have grown old with our loves realize all too well that we never remain as wonderful in appearance as we once were. Our hair grows thinner and perhaps even gray or white. Our once supple skin wrinkles. Our eyes narrow. Our waists become thicker. If the love is true we hardly notice such changes. In our mind’s eye our partners are as gorgeous as they ever were.
It is also dangerous to base our feelings of love on success or income. Such material things may come and go. If we only admire someone for the titles and bank accounts that they boast we will be sadly disappointed if those things are somehow eliminated for one reason or another. It is better to appreciate wisdom, integrity, determination and other qualities that will last over a lifetime. These are the things that matter most.
When two people marry in a religious ceremony a passage from the Bible is often read. The one that most beautifully encompasses the definition of bonafide love comes from Corinthians:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evilbut rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Two people who love one another communicate well. They are able to discuss even difficult topics and admit weaknesses. They do not compete with one another nor purposely inflict spoken or physical harm. They rejoice in one another’s accomplishments but also console when there are disappointments. Their love is healthy and vibrant and based not on superficial accoutrements but on real appreciation for each other as wonderfully incredible but imperfect beings.
When I was a young adult just entering the world on my own there was a bestselling book called Love Story. It was a rather shallow tale of two college students who fall in love and then tragically have to endure the realities of illness and death. A rather famous quote from the book stated that “love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” I totally disagree with that stance. I think it was meant to indicate that deep and abiding love is unconditional but in every relationship there will be times when one person either accidentally or purposely hurts the other. That kind of situation must be addressed as quickly as possible and the one who has erred must always apologize to the injured party and demonstrate a willingness to change.
Mistakes will happen but if they are simply ignored there is rarely any hope of moving forward. If one of the individuals in a partnership has a bad habit of continuing offensive behavior again and again the love is tainted. One person should never have to carry the burden of making the union strong. True love is equal, a situation in which the two people share.
Few of us find perfection either in ourselves or another. That is why the Bible tells us to be patient and kind. We are constantly growing and evolving. Sometimes that process is painful and someone who loves us will help us through even the most difficult times.
Right now I know of a couple in their seventies who are being sorely tested. Both of them have serious illnesses. Their days are measured with pain and small steps toward better health. They have welcomed God into their home and depend on Him to help them when they falter. Their mutual faith has made them strong and resilient as a couple. Sharing beliefs and philosophies often binds two people more closely together.
The family member that I mentioned above ultimately realized that she had indeed found her life partner. The two of them married and have built a beautiful family. Their happiness radiates from their faces. They protect one another and their children. Their love is true and evident.
Somehow we really do know when we have found a kindred spirit, a soulmate. This person makes us feels as though we are capable of achieving our dreams and becoming our best selves. We want that person by our side whether we are walking through fire or floating on a cloud. True love is a two way street. It sometimes requires a bit of work on each persons’ part but it ultimately makes us feel complete. Someone somewhere is out there waiting to find each of us. Such love is a beautiful treasure, the perfect gift.