We Don’t Choose Love

“Love is a choice. It is the expectation of reciprocity. It is the possibility of a future, with a house, a picket fence, well-spoken kids, and a little dog. Love is the hope that it will be enough to build a life on, in the absence of anything else. Even when we know it can never be enough.” ~Anonymous

LOVE Bulb Sign

A friend and I had a conversation yesterday about love, how it can be the most devastating emotion in the startlingly long list of emotions that human beings can feel. She believes love is a choice, that we decide who we will love, when we will love, and how we will love. She thinks that when love leaves it is also a choice, that someone at some point decided to no longer love, to leave the space open that used to be filled.

I simply can’t get on board with that. For me, we don’t choose love. It chooses us. Think about all the times when a couple seemed perfect on the outside. They checked all the boxes that each other had down on paper. Yes, I also curl up on Friday nights in front of the fire with a good puzzle. Yes, I enjoy talking about long walks on the beach, but I would never in a million years actually do it. You too? Cool. We are meant to be together. This is love.

But we can’t just say “This is love,” and expect it to be so. We can’t think that just because someone fits our paradigm of what we think love should be, that we can make ourselves fall in love with them. It just doesn’t work that way, no more than saying that the best swimmer will win all of her races. It’s because emotion cannot be neatly put into boxes, and for every person who is drawn to someone similar to themselves, there is another one, equally pulled toward someone opposite. That’s the glory of love, but the devastating nature of the beast as well.

Because we don’t choose love. It chooses us. Love is not always neat and clean. It doesn’t always make things nice and tidy for us. It destroys as much as it builds and connects. Love is not something we can convince ourselves of just because everything else seems to work out perfectly. We either feel it or we don’t. Of course many of us have convinced ourselves that, with time, we can grow to love someone. But it doesn’t work that way. Love decides when, and where, and why. Only love. Never us.

That’s why love isn’t always reciprocated, because it isn’t something that can suddenly dawn on us. “Oh yes, I love you now, after you’ve chased me across several states.” Sure, we can convince ourselves it’s love, but real love doesn’t take convincing. Real love just is, and it is never a choice. We choose to give ourselves over to it or to pretend it doesn’t exist, but we don’t choose to either feel it or not. That’s not something even the most emotionally strong people can accomplish. Because love is more powerful than anything we can possibly imagine.

Yet love can’t keep us together. Because there are so many other reasons for people to be together and to stay together. Because there are so many other extenuating factors that determine the longevity of relationships. We are all human, and we make mistakes. We all have other defining factors to us than just loving another person. If it were as simple as “Love conquers all,” we would be living in a perfect world, a delusional world, but still a perfect world. And we all know that’s not possible.

So, no, we don’t choose love, but we do choose whether or not to let it guide us. We do choose whether or not we want to cultivate that love, whether or not we want to give it a seat at the table. And once we agree to its terms we can’t just let it sit there. Because love is fungible, malleable, able to be shaped or crafted to our needs, but also able to change with time, just like everything else. So when love chooses us, we have to first accept it for what it is, then we must commit to it, no matter what. As we all know, time is stronger than love, so we need to ride both like a tandem bike, to give our attention to growing that love over time.

And I understand where my friend is coming from. It’s a wonderful sentiment, that we can choose who we love, that we can choose when we love, and how we love. But it’s just not very realistic, in my opinion. It seems like a fairy tale to me, because I’ve seen so much that dissuades me from that notion. I just know that when love chose me, I let it wrap me up in its warm embrace, and then I went to work making sure that it would last for all time.


Being “Other”

“I, too, feel different in the world I live in. Most girls my age are married and have children. I don’t have either. It’s hard feeling you belong to a group of friends when everyone is different in that regard. I feel as though I’m the black person living in a world of white people.”

59349-Don-t-Be-Afraid-Of-Being-DifferentI spend so much time thinking about black and white that I forget there are so many other colors out there, more specifically so many different ways to feel like you’re an outsider in a world where it seems as if everyone else is inside. As a society we make it pretty plain that there are norms, and anything outside of the norm is to be ostracized. WE should feel embarrassed when we don’t fit neatly into the boxes crafted for us. WE should think less of ourselves for being “other.”

In turn WE convince ourselves that they’re right, that we should feel sorry for ourselves, that we aren’t normal. We look behind our backs at others who are whispering and we assume they must be whispering about us. And it’s not our faults that we’ve been programmed this way. After all, we’re only human. But just because we understand that we’ve been conditioned doesn’t make it any easier to live in this world.

Women are still expected to settle down at some point, to decided on a mate and have kids. In fact, even professional women are prejudiced against because they have ovaries and ticking biological clocks, getting passed over for promotions in fear that they will at one point be gone on maternity leave.

Once the kids do arrive these new mothers are expected to put everything else they love and appreciate about themselves on the back burner because the kid is supposed to completely dominate their lives now. They are mother. Hear them roar. In the opposite respect, men aren’t expected to drop their own personal identity when they become fathers. It’s this pressure (and double standard) that makes women feel inadequate in their own world, to feel deprived of their own individual selves.

And, you know, even if as a woman you don’t want that life, if you’re not interested in settling down and having kids, you’re made to feel bad about yourself for having different goals for your life. That’s when it’s time to search yourself. Do you really want all of that for you, or do you want it because you want to fit in? Do you want it so you won’t feel judged by women who are insecure with themselves and with their own place in society, who need validation by following prescribed paths for females?

It’s not black and white, either, which is the real problem. It’s not like being a black person living in a world of white people. It’s really like being a deaf person in the midst of people who are blind. We all have our insecurities. We all want to fit in with others, to have a place where we feel safe and loved for who we are. It’s just hard to figure it all out, especially when we don’t fit the norm for wherever we are, or for our society as a whole. And the baggage we carry along with us is getting heavier by the year.

Perhaps it’s time we shut our eyes and pretend we are blind. Maybe then we might be able to focus on what we really want, on what will make us whole.




“You look lost.”
“I do?”
“Where you headed?”
“Well, I was just about to figure that out.”

I remember in that movie Cast Away, at the end when Tom Hanks’ character should be happy because he has escaped the island, but he’s not because the woman of his dreams has made her choice, and he isn’t it. He accepts the loss with grace, but you can tell that inside his heart is breaking. And he’s at this crossroads in his life that is symbolized by him standing in the middle of an actual crossroads, having to make a monumental decision that will affect the rest of his life, or at least the rest of his day. Where should he go?

And when I saw that movie I couldn’t help but feel that he gave up too soon, that even though the woman of his dreams had moved on with another guy, he should have fought for her. I saw them standing outside of her house in the rain and my heart was breaking too, because I’ve seen that scenario before. I’ve lived that scenario before, when life was at a crossroads, and it was her decision, and she made it, and my heart broke.

I felt that my life was over, but in reality it had only just begun. She made her choice at her own crossroads, which created a choice for me. There was no chance to go backwards, but everything else was wide open. I recall thinking about how ironic it was then, that the choice I wanted to make was the only one closed off to me, that there wasn’t really possibility in the other ways to go. I was stupid because I was blinded by a love that refused to let me go.

So I went forward. I didn’t turn left because I knew that way led to regret, to torturing myself with the memory of what might have been. I didn’t go right because I knew I wasn’t the kind of guy who could drown his sorrows in a series of meaningless relationships, at least not if I wanted to heal, which I did.

So I went forward into the unknown, trying to cling to a hope that things would get better, that I would find myself again, whatever that meant. And I have, the choices I made somehow bringing me out to the end of a road I never knew even existed before. That’s the glory of life, and of the choices we make when we’re forced to make difficult choices.

And I’m no longer yelling at Tom Hanks’ character to go back and fight for his woman, because she’s not his anymore, and he’s not hers, and going back doesn’t help anyone move ahead to where they’re supposed to be.


We Don’t Need No Water

HouseFireYou know those exercises where you’re asked questions like which book you would take to a desert island, who would you want at the end of the world with you, or if you could talk to anyone living or dead who would it be? I used to read magazines that had those kinds of quizzes in them about what readers would do if certain situations presented themselves, and I always had a difficult time coming up with answers that could be calculated by the grid following the quiz.

But the one question I generally found easy was what I would save from my house if there was a fire and I was of sound mind enough to think rationally about what physical things are important to me. So, I sat down recently and thought about those physical things currently in my house that I would want to survive a fire, and I forced myself to narrow it down to the top five — in no particular order — (assuming all people and animals in my home are already safe)…

samsung-Galaxys415. My phone. Normally I would just assume it’s always in my pocket, but since I charge it at night it might be sitting in my living room. In which case I would grab it first because it is honestly my connection to the outside world. Maybe I rely on it too much, but in an emergency it’s probably the best way to get help for myself and my family.

4. My laptop. All of my writing projects are accessible through my computer, and indeed several of them are in files on the computer itself or on my flashdrives. So I would definitely cheat a little bit and include my flashdrives in this particular choice. They’re plugged into the USB ports anyway, so they count.

3. My journals. I have a series of journals that I’ve written in for practically all of my adolescent/adult life. Maybe this is cheating too, but I can’t separate them in my mind or in my process. My thoughts and commentary over the years SBC_spc-14257are encased in those books, and I couldn’t bear to let them burn. Just like my journal on here is personal to me, these are as well.

2. Our honeymoon scrapbook. Most married couples have a wedding album full of all the pictures from their magical day, but we’ve never been traditional. My wife spent a lot of time and energy creating a honeymoon scrapbook because we never had that traditional wedding but our time in Ireland was incredibly memorable. She captured those 8 days perfectly in the scrapbook, and I would like to save it.

1. My U2 collection. I’ve been collecting U2 music and memorabilia since 1993, and I think it defines me more than pretty much anything else. Those CDs are a part of my DNA, a record of my history through lyrics and sound, and even though I transferred all the songs to a digital format there’s something to be said for the physical albums, for the books, and for the concert tickets that tell my own story.

Of course back when I first asked myself that question, when I was thirteen years old, the answers would have been a pack of gum, the Back to the Future video tape, my record player, my Phillies ballcap, and the letter that I wrote to Alyssa Milano but that I never mailed. I wonder where that stuff is now.


That Thin White Line

thinwhiteline“Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white. And in between the moon and you angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.” ~Counting Crows- Round Here

It starts with a slide step, one quick lateral movement that changes everything. It’s easy to imagine you haven’t even moved at all. Blink and you’re gone from direct line of sight. But you’re still there, like a ghost slipping into the fog, where the contrast disappears and you can do whatever you like, not what you think others will justify. What would you do then, when no one could see you?

You see, the line between what’s wrong and what’s right is really a tightrope, so thin it fades to nothing if you stare at it long enough. And we all stare it. Don’t lie. It’s unbecoming. We’ve all thought about doing something on the other side of that line for one reason or another. You know, if no one was watching.

Because that’s the key, isn’t it? When others have their eyes on us we toe that line. We do what’s expected of us. It’s in those quiet moments, outside of prying eyes, when we make those big decisions and then later pay the consequences. As an English teacher I’ve often taught the term “soliloquy,” which is when a character makes a speech while alone on stage, or when he thinks he’s alone on stage. That’s an important distinction because believing something to be so makes it so in our minds. It gives us an excuse to cross that thin white line.

It’s who we we are in those moments of solitude, when we make those decisions that affect us and others, when we get that chance to slide over the line, that’s what defines us, what creates our lasting legacy. Even if we are the only ones who ever know what we’ve done. It’s enough. Those who stay in the frame, who avoid the line at all costs when they toil in silence, to them I tip my hat.

Because it’s hard to stay on this side of the line. But it can be done.


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