Feelings are strange creatures. At times they are appropriate and sensible, at other times they are irrational and ill-founded. They can come in with the wind and then leave with it, or they can hover in the heart beyond their welcome. They can lead us into dark places just as easily as they lead us into good ones.
Don’t get me wrong – feelings are good things. They are an essential part of enjoying life. The problem is that we let them control us. Our feelings dictate our actions. We make bad decisions because our feelings blind us from good ones.
The largest feeling we allow to blind us is love. This can be seen in the man or woman who leaves their spouse saying, “We don’t love each other anymore.” It is seen in the man or woman who stays in an unhealthy dating relationship because they “love them.” Love has been watered down to a good excuse; a reason for executing any action we please whether it is right or wrong, loyal or disloyal, healthy or addicting. We let this “love” control us. We let it dictate us. And sometimes, we even let it destroy us.
The Problem With “Love”
“Love” is a word we don’t define correctly. When we think of the word “love” we think of that feeling we get when we see a member of the opposite sex holding a cute baby, or when we have a fond memory of our parents, or when we see a picture of a pile of grammatically incorrect kittens. But none of these feelings are love. They’re good feelings, but they’re not love.
The root of the problem is limited vocabulary. Although there are many words for adoring something or someone, the default word we go to in the English language is “love.” Because it’s our default word, its definition becomes vague. If you say you love football and then you turn to me and tell me you love me, how do I translate it? Do you love football and me with the same intensity? Do you have one type of love for football and another type of love for me? And most importantly, does your idea of “love” match up with mine?
We say “I love you” when we feel affectionate towards something or someone. And since that seems universally acceptable, we decide that love is a feeling. Then we decide that our romantic relationships are supposed to be built on this feeling. So in our logic we decide that if the feeling doesn’t exist then the relationship doesn’t need to either. The result? Incredibly messy, painful, and complicated relationships.
Built on Love
So should relationships really be based on love? Not this kind of love. Not the kind of love that feels strong one day and disappears with the next. That sort of love is a fickle beast. There is nothing constant or solid about it.
So what, then, is the real definition of love? What love is solid and created to be built upon?
Take a look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Here we find what love really looks like
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NKJV)
As you can see by this passage, love is not intended to be rooted in feelings. Love is action taken despite feelings. We should base all relationships on love, but not on the type of “love” rooted in feelings; relationships should be built on the kind of love that exists when feelings don’t.
Real love involves commitment, loyalty, and hard work. Love goes beyond happy feelings, and pours into serving someone else even when affectionate feelings are absent. Love is what remains when infatuation has ebbed.
Does this mean that all dating relationships are healthy, solid relationships if they are built on the foundation of proper love? No. Just as there are those who leave a relationship wrongly because of feelings, there are those who stay in a relationship wrongly because of feelings.
The foundation for all relationships should be the type of love shown in 1 Corinthians 13, but a dating relationship needs a few extra considerations.
Romantic relationships heading towards marriage need to mix more elements into their foundation to make them sturdy enough for marriage. Dating relationships should be founded on:
Mutual beliefs – Your beliefs are the foundation of who you are and how you live your life. You can get along well with people of opposite religions and beliefs, and you can even have good chemistry with them, but that doesn’t mean you will do well as life partners. The idea of marriage is to become one unit; that is an incredibly challenging task if you oppose one another spiritually. Don’t enter into a relationship thinking that maybe later they will have a change in heart. No relationship should be based on “maybe later.”
Mutual relationship views – There is bound to be heartbreak when one person is dating with the intention of marriage while the other is simply playing the field. It is tempting to think that you can change someone’s mind when it comes to how they view relationships, but don’t place your bet on it. Find someone who has the same level of commitment as you do.
Mutual direction – If your greatest desire is to settle down and have six kids in the middle of suburbia, and your sweetheart’s goal in life is to be a missionary in the most dangerous parts of Africa, one of you is going to end up being miserable. Everyone has a calling on his or her life and it’s important to consider that when dating someone. This may not be deal breaker; if your callings don’t line up completely that doesn’t mean your relationship will fail. But do consider what sacrifices have to be made if your callings are in separate directions, and what roadblocks are going to appear if your callings oppose each other. You want someone you can walk towards a common goal with.
With feelings as fickle as they are, they should not be the main determiner of whether or not to stay in a relationship. We should not let our feelings control us. Although we should not deny or undermine our feelings, we should found our relationships on something stronger: a real love that exists when feelings don’t, and wisdom to realize when our feelings are blinding us from making the right decisions.