Emotions are a beautiful thing. They allow us to live the full range of human experience, to know happiness at life’s joys, sadness at its trials, fear at things that can harm us, and anger at injustice. Emotion is a healthy, necessary part of being a human, and I would not for a second dispute that. But emotions, especially those associated with love, are a start, not an end. If you have ever fallen in love, you know that it is scary as hell, but that it also comes with a surge of happiness. That another human being can bring you to such heights is a beautiful thing. But feelings shift; they are based on the external. To fall in love is a feeling, but to actually love another is an act.
Ask any mother. Your mother probably had the biggest smile on her face when she held you for the first time. She was in a state of emotional happiness out of love for you. But she likely did not have such a smile on her face when changing your diaper or when you punched your sister. Chances are, you have made your mother cry. But she still loves you. A couple that has been married 50 years does not have the libido or red hot passion they when they first married, but they have made the choice to love each other. Our choices say far more than our emotions.
People have a diminished ability to love because they have substituted sentimentality for authentic love. We hate to see people suffer, and so out of sentimentality we offer the ill or unborn a way out through death. We are so scared of suffering that we kill people to prevent it. We do not value life; we value feeling good. And feeling good is what we base our choices on. A relationship cannot be sustained on feeling alone. When it is based only on feeling good, then one or both parts of the relationship will end up using each other, either for an emotional high or sexual pleasure.
Sentimentality disfigures love by trying to wish away suffering. It is love without sacrifice, and love without sacrifice isn’t love. True love requires some suffering. To really love another means embracing sacrifice. We sacrifice our comfort for the good of the other. Note, this does mean you should stay in an abusive relationship or be a masochist. I simply mean that because suffering is inevitable, we must let it transform us for the good and increase our ability to love. When we try to chase away suffering with good feelings, we end up suffering more. When we attach meaning and sacrifice to our suffering, we are better able to love those with us. No longer do we love them for how they make us feel, but we love them for their own sake. Suffering releases us from worldly attachments to goods, pleasures and people. Being attached to people can impede us from loving them fully, because it allows neither us nor them to be complete human beings.