The Crisis of Love in America

There’s a song that came out back in the 1980s. Maybe some of you remember it, but most of you have probably never heard of it—or of the man who sang it. (He is still alive, so perhaps I should say “sings” it.) The title of the song is “Love Is Not a Feeling.” I grew up listening to this song, and it continues to influence me.

The tune is very catchy and the lyrics are simple—both of which make the song effective. It’s easy to remember. The refrain of the song says, “Love is not a feeling; it’s an act of the will.” I don’t remember most of the other lyrics or the tune that goes with them, but that one phrase is really enough to remember. It filters into every facet of my life, and it has reminded me continually of the reality that love is not an emotion that controls me; it is a behavior that I control.

If I’m being open about this, I would have to admit that I have not always exercised my power to love—or at least I haven’t always exercised it well. I have at times—again openness would suggest adding the word “many”—failed entirely to love, acting instead with disgusting selfishness and anger and pride. That doesn’t change my duty to love, my duty to choose to love.

My failures of love provide an opportunity. Again—I don’t always accept the opportunity and act on it, but my failures to exercise my power to love have presented me with further opportunity to exercise my power to love by showing compassion to others who may also at times have failed to exercise their own power to love. And some of them—if my second sentence is accurate, most of them (and most of you)—didn’t grow up with this refrain sounding in their brain. And perhaps they didn’t grow up with two parents who loved each other through thick and thin, and remained married for 39 years till one of them died, and daily demonstrated a deep and definite and discernible love for their children and their friends and their community and their enemies. And maybe, just maybe, I have something I can offer to others who need love, who need to feel love—because the feeling of love is always and only the response to the perception of demonstrated love by another, whether that love is being demonstrated to us or to someone else. The feeling of love is not spontaneous; something always prompts it. And I experienced this kind of love. I felt loved by my parents, even though I was a rascally, ornery, argumentative, conniving, deceitful, rebellious brat of a kid.

And this something that I have to offer others cannot be the stuff of pride, or it ceases to be something that I have to offer—at least it ceases to be something worthwhile that I have to offer. Instead it becomes something worthless that I have to offer. In fact, it becomes something worse than nothing that I have to offer, because if I add pride to my love offering, the offering doesn’t just lose its value, it becomes destructive of love. Pride ruins love. Any demonstration of love that is accompanied by pride becomes the very opposite of love; it becomes hate. When my pride puffs up, I cannot love; at best I can pretend.

So when I do something nice for my wife and while I’m doing it I pat myself on the back and say to myself, “My, what a fine chap you are, you champion of good manners and husbandly sacrifice”—in that very moment, whether my wife knows it or not, I’ve just given her a tainted love offering. It’s an offering that cannot provide her with a lasting feeling of love, even if it provides an immediate feeling of love. The truth will reveal itself in time and my prideful display of so-called love will bear its natural fruit.

America is full of people—everyday people who do everyday things. These everyday people show everyday love mixed with everyday pride. These everyday people have everyday problems and everyday joys. These everyday people have everyday needs yet everyday means. You and I are everyday, no matter what the self-help book says. And the only way to become extraordinary is to do the everyday better. But as soon as doing everyday things better becomes something of pride, it ceases to be better.

Everyday people need everyday love every day. And if they’re not getting it, they will find it hard to give it. It shouldn’t be this way. Our power to love is not actually dependent on our seeing love or receiving love, but we often act like it is. We pretend that “I can’t love someone who isn’t loving me,” by which we really mean, “I refuse to love someone who isn’t giving me what I want.”

Just because we pretend that our ability to give love depends on how much love we receive, doesn’t mean that receiving love doesn’t have any effect on our giving of love. It often does, even if only by way of perception. We have the power to love, regardless of whether we are given love, but we often don’t recognize our power or even recognize what love is, if we haven’t received—or at least seen—it ourselves.

The question must be asked: “So—what? . . . People need love. No s#!t, Sherlock. You have written 929 words, including the headline, that all amount to telling me something that everybody already knows: people need love. So what?”

Yes, people need love. Yes, people need to receive love. But more importantly, people need to give love. You and I need to give love. Love is nothing if we don’t give it. And the giving of love requires compassion. If there’s no compassion, there is no love.

If your first thought when you see somebody wearing a red #MAGA hat is “That jackhole! He’s obviously a racist son-of-a-bitch,” then you have no love in your heart. If your first thought when you see somebody flying a #MeToo flag is “That phlegmwad! She’s obviously a politically-correct bitch,” then there is no love in your heart. If your first thought when you learn someone is an illegal is to criticize and condemn, then there is no love in your heart. If your first thought when you find out that someone supports reducing welfare programs is to disparage and despise, then there is no love in your heart.

Love does not mean glossing over real issues, real problems, or real crimes. Love does not mean compromising your values just to get along. Love does not mean sacrificing your values to avoid trouble. Love does not mean denying the truth to avoid offending. Love means speaking the truth at the right time in the right way to the right person in order to demonstrate compassion and build them up in right behavior. Love means showing compassion to those in need, particularly to those who are oppressed by the more powerful. Love means seeking to build another up, not tear them down (even if that also means sometimes criticizing constructively).

In short, love means exercising my power for the good of others. And if my God put you in my path,

  • He meant for me to love you, even if you’re my enemy.
  • He meant for me to bless you, even if you curse me.
  • He meant for me to do good to you, even if you hate me.
  • He meant for me to pray for you, even if you spitefully use me and persecute me.

By behaving this way, I demonstrate that I am a son of my Father in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if I love those who love me, what reward do I have? And if I greet my brethren only, what do I do more than others? (See Matthew 5:43–48 for the complete passage.)

Love is always active, not passive. It is a behavior, not an emotion. It is essential, not optional. Begin with compassion, proceed by truth, and end in love.